All drivers in Pennsylvania must have automobile insurance (see “Automobile Insurance Requirements in Pennsylvania”). Among the required auto insurance in PA is “tort” coverage. Drivers have the option of choosing either full tort or limited tort coverage. We have found that many PA drivers do not fully understand the significance of limited tort versus full tort.
A “tort” is a civil wrong or injury committed upon you. In Pennsylvania, tort insurance permits you to collect for damages and injuries you receive in an automobile accident for which you were not at fault. Full tort and limited tort insurance options are included in Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL) as a method of reducing the number of auto accident lawsuits in PA courts.
We always recommend purchasing full tort insurance. Consider this: many of us live and commute through relatively rural areas of PA including Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Wyoming and Carbon Counties. We travel to cities like Scranton, Carbondale, Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre. We drive along Route 309, Interstate 80, the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Route 276) and the Northeast Extension (Route 476). We encounter other drivers and road hazards over which we have no control. And each year in Pennsylvania, large trucks are involved in nearly 7,000 of motor vehicle accidents. Knowing all of this, having the most comprehensive auto insurance possible is a must.
Full tort coverage allows you to sue the at-fault party or parties in an automobile accident for all of the damages and injuries you sustain. If you are injured in an accident, these may include medical bills, lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses, physical pain and suffering, emotional distress and/or anxiety, disruption of activities and other potential damages. While full tort may seem like the obvious choice, many motorists decline this coverage due to cost. Typically, full tort coverage commands a 15 to 20 percent higher premium than limited tort insurance. Nonetheless, we always recommend purchasing full tort insurance. Read on to find out why.
Limited tort “limits” the items of damages to which you may otherwise have been entitled had you selected full tort. Essentially, PA drivers who are injured in an accident and have limited tort coverage may sue only for medical bills, lost wages and out-of-pocket expenses. Limited tort does not permit policyholders to seek damages for pain and suffering unless the court determines that their injuries meet a very narrow definition of “serious injury,” which includes only death, serious impairment of bodily function, or permanent or serious disfigurement. Even in the case of serious injury, the amount of damages available will be limited.
While limited tort may seem reasonable at first glance, it is important to understand that what you consider to be a serious injury may not be considered serious by the court. And while we may think of fender benders when we think of car accidents, accidents can be, and often are, far more severe, leaving accident victims with permanent injuries and significant physical and mental suffering. We have also found that most people with adequate medical coverage who have selected limited tort receive little or no recovery for their injuries. By selecting limited tort, drivers are effectively signing away important legal rights, often without fully realizing that they are doing so. We therefore recommend foregoing limited tort in favor of purchasing full tort insurance.
Additional information about motor vehicle insurance in Pennsylvania is available through the Pennsylvania Insurance Department at www.insurance.pa.gov, which also offers an automated hotline at (877) 881-6388.