Chances are if you've purchased car insurance since moving to Pennsylvania, or if you grew up here, you've seen the full tort and limited tort options on your car insurance. Unfortunately, many people living here in Pennsylvania don't know what those important terms mean, and so don't really know what kind of insurance they are signing up for.
What is Tort?
Tort, a legal term for civil wrong covers basically any instance of civil action or negligence that results in injury.
In this case, full tort coverage means that your insurance company is liable to pay compensation (when appropriate) to you in case of injury was a result of a car accident.
A limited tort policy only covers you if the injury is counted as severe. Unfortunately, the definition of a severe injury is very limited. So your insurance will only pay compensation on a limited tort policy in the most extreme circumstances.
To understand why there are these different policies, and help you decide which kind of policy is the right choice for you, we need to look at the history of this type of insurance, it's original purpose and the kind of coverage you can expect from each policy type.
Your car accident lawyer, or personal injury lawyer, is likely to ask about what kind of tort coverage you have pretty quickly after an accident. That's because tort coverage can, in many cases, determine what kind of compensation case you have.
Why Was Limited Tort Insurance Introduced?
The bill that introduced limited tort insurance was passed in 1990. At the time, Pennsylvania was looking to do a couple of important things.
The state wanted to:
- Reduce the number of personal injury cases that were being brought to court
- Ensure that a greater number of citizens received compensation after a car accident and injury
- Lower car insurance premiums
- Simplify the claims process after an accident
All of those sound like good things. The motivations were good. Unfortunately, the fact that many people don't understand the difference between the policies, and the fact that insurance companies aren't motivated to make it clear, can cause problems.
The bill, The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, introduced both full tort and limited tort insurance types.
Because you sign up for the level of coverage you want to receive, the law hoped to make liability cases easier to decide. If you have tort coverage, your insurance company is liable for compensation, and you don’t have to go through a messy fight with someone else’s insurance company.
If you opt instead of limited tort coverage, the understanding was that you would know that you were signing up for a lower degree of coverage, and therefore taking on greater financial risk as an individual.
Including limited tort options also helped to keep car insurance premiums more affordable for people
who otherwise would not be able to afford the higher levels of coverage. It’s a compromise between
requiring a certain level of insurance coverage without infringing on individual rights to choose.
Is there any benefits of Limited Tort Insurance?
The main benefit of limited tort insurance is that you'll generally have lower premiums. The cost difference tends to be about 15% of the total cost of your insurance, but the amount can vary considerably.
In exchange for the lowered monthly premium, however, you’re giving up a lot of rights when it comes to fair compensation and pressing injury claims after an accident.
What are the Benefits of Full Tort Insurance ?
Full tort insurance can make your life significantly easier after an accident. When you have full tort insurance it’s immediately clear who is liable should you choose to press for compensation. While there are still other things to figure out, like the value of your car accident claim, you'll at least know who you're working with.
The increased monthly cost of a full tort policy pays off if you even find yourself in a serious accident. The full damage of a serious car accident is rarely apparent immediately after the accident. Even seemingly minor injuries can cause serious problems down the line, especially if you can't get them addressed by a medical professional.
While the decision is, of course, yours, full tort insurance can help protect you and your family in the long term.
We can’t stress enough that the costs of a bad car accident add up quickly. Medical costs can skyrocket, especially if you need surgery, ongoing physical therapy, or medication to recover from your accident. Add to that the financial burden of lost wages, and you’ll quickly understand why car accidents can be so devastating your personal finances, as well as your family.
Can You Still Make a Claim With Limited Tort Insurance?
Limited tort does not mean that there are no options for compensation should you be in a severe car accident. It means that your injuries have to count as ‘severe’ before you can receive compensation.
If you are eligible for compensation under a limited tort policy, you’ll typically receive the same level of compensation you would with a similar injury under full tort coverage.
Many people, reading that language, assume that they know what qualifies as a severe injury. It also makes sense to most people that you don’t need to seek compensation from an insurance company for minor bumps and bruises.
However, the legal definition of severe is very different from the way people use the word in casual conversation. You might think that a broken bone or a laceration that required stitches is a severe injury, especially if it prevents you from going to work.
In the legal sense of the term, however, a severe injury is much more limited. Brain damage would count as a severe injury, but a broken bone usually won’t.
Even if you have to have surgery to repair the break, you might not qualify if the surgery is considered 'minor' a major surgery, like a full repair, is usually covered.
Some examples of cases where you might be eligible for compensation with a limited tort policy:
- Brain damage
- The loss or partial loss of a limb
- Loss of a sense (ie, blindness or hearing loss)
- Injuries requiring major surgery (but not, usually, minor surgery)
Other types of injuries, like broken bones, concussions, burns, and lacerations may still be considered. But it’s less likely that you’ll receive full compensation, and you’d need to consult with a car accident lawyer to know if you have a case or not.
The best car accident lawyers can still make a case in a wide variety of circumstances. But, it may be more difficult to make that case, and you may have to settle for less compensation than you’d otherwise receive.
Remember that one of the main reasons for this kind of coverage in Pennsylvania was to cut down on the number of personal injury cases in the state. That makes it easier to see why you might not be able to press a case for compensation if you opt for a limited tort coverage policy.
Limited Tort Exceptions:
There are a few circumstances that are exceptions to the rule, even if you have limited tort coverage. Usually, these exceptions have to do with the other driver or circumstances that are beyond your personal control.
Examples of Limited Tort Exceptions
- The at-fault driver was under the influence
- Your injuries were caused by a design defect in one of the vehicles
- The at-fault driver was intentionally attempting to injure himself or others
- Your injuries were the result of poor maintenance in the vehicle
- You were injured in a non-private passenger vehicle like a bus
- You were a pedestrian at the time of the injury
Even if your case falls under an exception to limited tort coverage, your insurance company might still fight back against a claim. Your car accident or personal injury lawyer will be the best option to fight back if you have trouble receiving compensation or feel that the compensation you are offered is inadequate.
Another important exception is in cases where the at-fault driver does not have car insurance of their own. This exception exists because the state doesn’t want to reward drivers who ignore insurance mandates. If the at-fault driver is driving a car registered out-of-state, they are also treated as having full-tort coverage.
Cyclists are also covered by the pedestrian exception, though motorcyclists are not.
Contact a Lawyer Regarding Limited Tort Insurance
If you want to learn more about limited tort insurance, need to consult with an expert on your recent accident, or have any other personal injury questions, you should reach out to a qualified lawyer.
As a personal injury specialist, Philly Injury Law will be happy to help. Even if you are uncertain whether you qualify for a car accident claim, you can reach out and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.
The days and weeks after a car accident are already stressful enough. You don’t need uncertainty about your insurance coverage and your option to press a claim to add to your difficulties.
Hopefully, we've helped explain one of the more misunderstood parts of your insurance policy, and your options moving forward.