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Full Tort vs. Limited Tort Options

One of the most important investments that you can make is electing full tort coverage on your auto-insurance policy. Unfortunately, many Pennsylvanians choose the limited tort coverage option because they are trying to save on insurance premiums, and they think they can beat the odds by avoiding a motor vehicle accident.  You do not want gamble with your family’s welfare. Know the facts before you sign away your rights.

What is a tort? Tort is another word for a ‘civil wrong’. In the insurance context, “tort” means a lawsuit for personal injuries caused by the negligence of others, where the plaintiff seeks monetary compensation.

What is the difference between Full Tort and Limited Tort?  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has passed laws designed to reduce claims for pain and suffering, and reduce insurance policy premiums. One of those laws requires all drivers to carry auto insurance and choose between full and limited tort on their policy. Those who select limited tort will necessarily pay about fifteen-percent less in premiums (which generally amounts to less than a dollar, or even fifty cents a day). However, a person who elects limited tort gives up important rights that they and their family would otherwise have if they had elected the full tort option.

Under full tort, a person may recover all damages that can be proven in court.

Under limited tort, parties cannot sue for “non-economic loss” unless they suffer a “serious injury” or fit within one or more narrow legal exceptions. To help explain this concept I will define the legal terms and provide a factual example of how limited tort coverage might affect you.

What is non-economic loss? Basically, there are two categories of harm for which you can seek monetary compensation in a court of law. Economic loss refers to those actual out of pocket losses: lost wages, medical bills, and property damage. Non-economic loss refers to physical injuries and even mental and physical discomfort, pain, and suffering.

What is a serious injury? Serious injury is defined as a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement. This includes broken bones, severe scarring, etc.  The question in any legal proceeding is whether the injury is a serious one.

Here is an example. Suppose John chose limited tort coverage.  John is driving his SUV along with his wife and two children. Their car was rear-ended by a careless driver of another family vehicle. The other driver admits fault under the laws of Pennsylvania.

John’s injuries include a bruised chest-wall and whip-lash to the neck and back.  All of his injuries are to the soft-tissues of the body.  As a result John missed 3 weeks of work, and has $1,000 in medical bills.  Before the accident John had an extremely active life, which included sports, playing with his children, and physical labor. He now suffers stiffness, aches and pains when engaging in life’s activities. Doctors tell him that he will likely develop severe arthritis in his neck and back as he ages.

John sues the at-fault driver. He can only ask the courts to award compensation for his medical bills and lost wages, because the courts will not consider his injuries to be ‘serious.’ Had John chose the full tort option, he could have potentially received upwards of $100,000 for his claim alone.  Unfortunately, the same rules also apply to any potential claims that his family members may have.

For most personal injury victims the most significant source of recovery is the money received as compensation for physical injuries and the pain and suffering associated with those injuries. Now that you know the facts, make the right choice for your family and elect the full tort option on your next renewal of your auto-insurance policy.

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