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Should I Choose Full Tort Or Limited Tort Automobile Insurance Coverage?

One of the major choices individuals face in Pennsylvania when purchasing automobile insurance is the question of whether they should choose the “full tort” or “limited tort” option.  Frequently an insurance agent may provide only a brief description of the differences between the “full tort” and “limited tort” options that simply stating that a “full tort” insurance policy will have a more expensive insurance premium than a “limited tort” insurance policy.  Unfortunately, while choosing the less expensive insurance policy premium may save you money in the short term, it may be a decision that you will sadly live to regret if you are later injured in an automobile accident.

When a person is injured in a motor vehicle accident, they frequently will suffer two different types of harm.  First, the person may suffer what the law calls “economic damages”.  “Economic” damages are those types of damages that many people commonly consider to be “out of pocket” expenses such as medical bills, lost wages or salary from missing work, property repair costs, etc. suffered as a result of the accident.  Second the person may suffer what the law calls “non-economic” damages.  “Non-economic” damages are those harms suffered by an injured person whose monetary value cannot be easily and objectively determined by a court.  “Non-economic” damages include items such as pain and suffering, loss of life’s pleasures, etc. as a result of a motor vehicle accident.

A person injured in a motor vehicle accident in Pennsylvania frequently can file a lawsuit to recover “economic” damages from the party that
caused the accident. However, Pennsylvania law imposes strict rules on when and how an injured person may file a lawsuit to recover non-economic damages for their pain, suffering, or other ongoing difficulties in life that result from an motor vehicle accident depending upon whether the injured person is covered by a “full tort” or “limited tort” insurance option.

With certain exceptions, under Pennsylvania law, a person who selects the “limited tort” option generally may recover non-economic damages only if he can establish that he has suffered a “serious injury” as that term is defined by the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law.  Under Pennsylvania law, only the following types of injuries are considered to be serious enough to permit a “limited tort” selector to recover non-economic damages as a result of a motor vehicle accident:

  1. Death;
  2. Permanent serious disfigurement; or
  3. A serious impairment of body function.

When determining whether or not a person has suffered a “serious impairment of body function” that would permit the recovery of non- economic damages, a court will consider the following factors:

  1. The particular body function impaired;
  2. The extent of the impairment;
  3. The length of time the impairment lasted, and;
  4. The treatment required to correct the impairment.

Although many people may believe that if they suffer injuries such as ongoing pain, difficulty moving, an inability to do all of the same things they previously did, etc. after an motor vehicle accident they must necessarily have suffered a “serious injury” that will permit them to recover non-economic damages this belief is incorrect.  Although each case is judged on its individual merits, it has not been uncommon for courts to find that individuals who claimed to suffer from ongoing and long term aches and pains or other difficulties as a result of a motor vehicle accident did not suffer a “serious injury” that would permit them to recover non-economic damages to compensate them for their pain and suffering.  As a result, it is entirely possible for a person to suffer from long term and possibly permanent aches, pains or other difficulties due to an motor vehicle accident and never be compensated for their pain and suffering if they chose the “limited tort” option on their automobile insurance policy in an effort to save money on the cost of the insurance policy premium.  Sadly the long term cost that an individual will suffer from the pain and suffering caused by a motor vehicle frequently will far outweigh any “savings” in reduced insurance policy premiums that were obtained by selecting the “limited tort” option.

In contrast, the “full tort” automobile insurance option is easily described and understood.  If the injured person is covered by a “full tort” motor vehicle insurance policy, that person has a full and unrestricted right to file a lawsuit to recover all non-economic damages suffered due to a motor vehicle accident.  Put simply, an individual with “full tort” coverage does not need to worry about whether or not he has suffered from a serious enough injury before seeking to be compensated for any pain or suffering caused by an motor vehicle accident.  Thus, while a “full tort” selection may cost you more money in the short term due to increased premiums, it’s a choice that provides you with the maximum amount of protection if you are ever unlucky enough to be injured in a motor vehicle accident.

Ultimately the decision of whether you should choose “full tort” or “limited tort” motor vehicle insurance coverage must be made based upon your own individual circumstances.  However, you should always keep in mind that while the selection of a “limited tort” insurance policy may save you money in insurance premium costs, that choice may cause you substantial regret if you later suffer injuries a court does not believe are “serious” in a motor vehicle accident.

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