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Thoughts on Limited Tort

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In the hustle of our daily lives we spend much time in our motor vehicles. Whether it’s running errands, driving to the store, or driving to work, we spend a good portion of our time commuting. Those of us who are parents of children who also drive devote a certain amount of our energy to worrying about their safety on the road. When it comes time to make decisions about our auto insurance coverage, many people often overlook the choice they have between limited tort insurance coverage and full tort coverage. Making the right choice for you and your family can be vitally important if we are ever involved in a motor vehicle accident due to the negligence of another driver. Because we have no control over how other drivers operate their vehicles we are exposed to the risk of an accident every time we climb behind the wheel. By making the right tort selection we can provide our families with additional protection for a reasonable cost in case the unforeseen ever happens.

By selecting the limited tort option when signing up for your auto insurance you are limiting your right and the rights of your family members to recover for “non-economic damages” (i.e., pain and suffering). In other words, if you carry the limited tort option on your automobile insurance coverage, you may only be able to recover for economic losses, such as medical expenses or some lost earnings.

The full tort option permits individuals who are injured through the negligence of other drivers to not only recover for unreimbursed economic losses, but also for pain and suffering.

In Pennsylvania there are certain exceptions which can convert a limited tort driver into full tort status. These include:

1.   Individuals who have suffered “serious injury,” defined as “death, serious impairment of bodily function, or permanent, serious disfigurement”

2.   Injuries sustained due to the negligence of a driver who is convicted, or accepts accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD) for driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance

3.   A negligent driver who is operating a motor vehicle registered in another state

4.   A negligent driver who causes injury to another while that individual is an occupant of a motor vehicle other than a private passenger motor vehicle.

It is surprising to find the number of drivers who are completely unaware of their “tort election.” Often times, this determination is made when we first sign up for coverage with an insurance company and the issue tends never to be revisited. The cost difference in carrying full tort coverage is variable but typically approximates 15 percent more than carrying limited tort coverage. Many people do not realize what their tort coverage is until they are involved in a motor vehicle accident. Drivers are wise to check their insurance coverages to see whether they have limited tort or full tort coverage. If limited tort was selected, I would advise contacting the insurance agent to explore the cost different in premiums to add full tort protection to the family’s auto insurance policy. The cost of carrying full tort coverage is substantially offset by the peace of mind of knowing you are providing yourself and your family with full tort protection should the unforeseen happen.


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