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Auto Insurance Decision:  Limited Tort v. Full Tort options

In Pennsylvania, when you buy a car insurance policy you will be asked to choose either the Limited Tort Option or the Full Tort Option. Your choice is very important for you and for your household in the event that you or your family is hurt in a car accident.

First, what is a ‘tort?’ A tort is a civil wrong, or wrongful act, whether intentional or accidental, that results in harm. Negligence is one primary example of a tort.

Your automobile insurance tort selection determines if you will be allowed to seek full compensation for all bodily injuries.

If you choose limited tort, you and your household members will not be permitted to recover “non-monetary damages” for an injury unless that injury meets the definition of a “serious injury”. Non-monetary damages include things like physical pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of life’s pleasures, embarrassment, humiliation and similar losses. If you choose full tort, you retain all of your rights, including the right to recover compensation for all injuries. If you give up rights by selecting limited tort, you will receive an insurance premium reduction.

So, the question is exactly what are you giving up in exchange for a Limited Tort premium reduction?

Since you would be giving up compensation only for injuries that are not considered serious, you need to understand how the law defines such injuries. The law defines “serious injury” as death, serious impairment of bodily function or permanent serious disfigurement. However, other than the category of death, this definition creates substantial uncertainty as to whether any particular injury will qualify as a serious injury so as to allow you to seek compensation. Injuries such as fractured bones that heal without any residual disability have been be found not to qualify as serious injuries. Therefore, as we move along the spectrum of possible bodily injuries, it is very difficult to predict whether any particular injury will be deemed to qualify as a serious injury.

Even if you select limited tort, and even if your injury is not serious, there are a number of situations where you still would be able to recover fully for non-monetary damages. These situations include:

  1. When the at-fault driver is convicted of DUI or accepts ARD after being charged with DUI
  2. When the at-fault driver is operating a motor vehicle registered in another state
  3. When the at-fault driver has acted with the intent to injure himself or another
  4. When the at-fault driver has violated the law’s requirement to have insurance (or some other form of financial responsibility)
  5. When the injured person is occupying a vehicle that is principally used for commercial purposes (other than farming)
  6. When the injured person is occupying a vehicle that is owned by a corporation or other entity
  7. When the person who elected the Limited Tort option didn’t sign the form required by law, or the election form signed was legally inadequate
  8. When the injured person is a pedestrian
  9. When there are competing tort options that apply (under some circumstances).

You are permitted to change your tort selection at any time by contacting your insurance agent. Of course, any change will be applied from that point forward only.

If you have questions about limited tort and its application to any particular situation, you should talk to a lawyer. 3/16

If you need to consult with an attorney regarding serious injury resulting from an auto accident, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.