Updated: Jul 24
When a client calls our office with a potential car accident claim, one of the first questions we’ll ask is whether that person had full tort or limited tort insurance coverage at the time of the accident. Most of the time, the response is “I don’t know” or “what’s the difference?” The difference can be significant.
Insurance providers are required to provide consumers with a choice between full tort coverage and limited tort coverage. Insurance companies love to promote limited tort car insurance in Pennsylvania because those sales are a very, very good deal—for them. For the consumer, the value of the deal is questionable. Limited tort coverage is almost always cheaper and, because of that cost savings, can appear to be an appealing choice. Who doesn’t like to save money, right? That’s the problem – most of the sales pitch is focused on reducing premiums. Not enough time is devoted to explaining that it results in less protection for you your family.
If you own or drive a car in Pennsylvania, you must have insurance coverage. The law even tells you the minimum insurance coverage you’re required to buy:
Drivers must carry liability insurance worth at least $15,000 for one individual and $30,000 for all individuals hurt in an accident.
Car owners must carry at least $5,000 in coverage for car accident related medical expenses.
Of course, you are free to buy more than these minimum policies, or to invest in other forms of insurance protection. We generally advise buying significantly more than the minimum requirements as well as obtaining coverage against accidents caused by uninsured and underinsured drivers.
When you have decided the level of insurance coverage that fits your budget and your peace of mind, the next question to address is whether you will buy full tort or limited tort insurance. The difference between limited and full tort coverage is that limited tort coverage permits you to only recover out of pocket medical bills, wage loss, automobile repair costs, and other actual monetary loss. And all of that assumes that the person who caused your injuries has purchased more than the minimum insurance coverage required by law. Your damages will likely exceed that amount of insurance. The severity and cost of auto accidents has steadily gone up over the last decade, outpacing the rate of inflation significantly.
When you elect to have limited tort coverage, this election applies to everyone in your household, including your children. You give up their rights and your right to pursue compensation for non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, changes in the quality of your life or relationship with your significant other, inability to enjoy hobbies or recreation, and other losses that can’t easily be expressed in terms of money, even where you are not at fault. There is a limited exception to this general rule that permits you to recover these damages if your injuries are deemed “serious.” Serious injuries however, are not always clearly defined or proven. Certainly, if you require lifesaving treatment following an accident, those injuries would be serious and allow full recovery for pain and suffering. The problem is that in the majority of cases, the line that differentiates a serious injury from that of a non-serious injury is less clear.
If you elect full tort coverage, on the other hand, regardless of the extent of the injury, there are no self-imposed limits on your rights, so long as the accident was not your fault. You are not forced to first demonstrate that you sustained a serious injury from the accident before you can recover all of your financial losses. This is very important because what may initially seem like a non-serious back injury, may over time continue to cause inconvenience, annoyance, and pain which may have a significant impact on your daily life. These ongoing problems may affect your ability to maintain a home, fully perform your job functions, and other similar issues for which you would not be able to recover if you had limited tort coverage.
It’s true that limited tort insurance is cheaper. On average, the premiums for limited tort coverage are about 15 to 20 percent cheaper than comparable full tort coverage. Insurance agents like to hype the savings, too, because their companies are happy to sell as many limited tort policies as possible. Because Pennsylvania is a no-fault auto insurance state, the primary source of coverage after a car accident is your own insurance; thus, the insurance company gets significant savings on every claim that is filed under a limited tort policy rather than a full tort policy.
Of course, you have the mirror image of that perspective: with limited tort, you’re saving a little bit in monthly premiums, but you’re going to sacrifice thousands of dollars in a potential claim for you or your children if ever hurt in an accident. At that point, all the “savings” you have accrued in reduced premiums are wiped away by a single car crash. The bottom line is, if you want to be sure that you have preserved your right to pursue the full extent of your damages in a personal injury claim, you must make an election for full tort coverage.
Our auto accident injury lawyers deal with questions about limited tort insurance on a daily basis. We have been highly successful in helping clients with limited tort car insurance get the maximum available compensation for their claims. If you have a question or if you need help after a Pennsylvania motor vehicle accident, contact us to schedule a free, confidential case review.