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Full Tort vs. Limited Tort

What's the Difference Between Full Tort and Limited Tort?

In Pennsylvania an insured is given a choice when purchasing car insurance. Full Tort is what every driver has automatically under the law in Pennsylvania. Simply put, you have the right to sue the at fault party for your injuries. These injuries include your medical bills, lost wages, damages to your vehicle and for the pain and suffering you experience because of the injuries.

Limited Tort, on the other hand, permits a person injured in an automobile accident to only recover for his or her out of pocket medical bills, wage loss, automobile repair costs, and other actual monetary loss.  When an individual elects to have limited tort coverage, he or she is foregoing the right to pursue damages in a personal injury claim for pain and suffering and other similar damages, even where you are not at fault. There is a limited exception to this general rule that permits a person with limited tort coverage to pursue a claim for pain and suffering where the injuries they sustained in the accident were "serious." Serious injuries however, are not always clearly defined or proven.

There are several other exceptions to limited tort. If an insured falls under one of the following exceptions, he or she is able to pursue a claim as if he or she had full tort insurance.

Pedestrian or Cyclist

If the victim was a pedestrian or on a bicycle and was hit by a motor vehicle, this is an exception. The individual’s automotive insurance will still provide medical coverage. However, he or she will not be subject to the limited tort provision. The rationale behind this exception is that the driver should not be penalized by limited tort when he or she was not driving his or her vehicle at the time of the accident and should not be bound by this tort option that is based on the operation of a motor vehicle.

Occupant of a Non-Private Passenger Vehicle

Another exception to limited tort is if the victim was an occupant in a vehicle that is not a private vehicle. Non-private vehicles include a business vehicle, company vehicle, commercial vehicle and buses. If the victim was a passenger or a driver in a vehicle of this nature, he or she is not subject to limited tort.

Victim of DUI or DWI

If the at-fault driver is convicted of, pleads guilty to or is placed onto Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition of DUI or DWI, the victim is not subject to limited tort. The public policy behind this exception is that the state does not want to reward drunk drivers or drivers who are under the influence of drugs by limiting their civil liability.

No Car Insurance

Similarly, the state does not want to reward drivers who do not abide by the laws to carry mandatory car insurance. If the at-fault driver did not have car insurance, the victim can pursue a lawsuit against him or her. Clearly, if an uninsured driver injures you, it may be difficult to recover. It will be necessary to pursue an uninsured motorist claim with your own insurer. If you bring an uninsured motorist claim against your own policy, the limited tort exception does not apply. The rationale for this is that the victim has an existing contract with his or her insurance carrier to which he or she is bound.

Vehicle from Another State

Another exception to limited tort is if the at-fault driver’s vehicle is registered in another state outside of Pennsylvania. The victim is considered full tort by exception.

What You Lose with Limited Tort

Besides forfeiting the right to sue for pain and suffering, there is another consideration for choosing Full Tort over Limited Tort.

When the victim of a motor vehicle accident seeks an attorney, the first question that the attorney asks is, “Do you have Full or Limited Tort?” The reason they ask this question is it dramatically affects the potential award that can be obtained from the at fault driver. Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis. Attorneys have to weigh the cost of handling the case versus the potential payout to them. While the attorney may see clear negligence by the other party, only being able to collect for the damages of medical bills and lost wages may not be worth the time and money spent in handling the case.

So, when the time comes to purchase a new insurance policy, or when you have an opportunity to review the terms of your existing policy with your insurance agent, it’s a good idea to discuss with your agent the election you currently have on your policy. 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. If the added cost is a concern, discuss with your agent ways to save on your policy in other areas, like increasing your deductible.

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