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Pennsylvania Full vs. Limited Tort

Pennsylvania Full vs. Limited Tort

When you are setting up and reviewing your auto insurance in Pennsylvania, one of your important decisions to make will be choosing full versus limited tort.  This article is not fully exhaustive on the subject and is not meant to give legal advice. You can read the state law regarding tort here.

When you choose a tort option, you are choosing it for the members of your household, including your spouse and children. Your option is regarding your legal rights to sue the at-fault party in a car accident.  When you choose a tort option, you must sign the state document indicating which you would like.  If you do not sign the document within the given time period, your insurance policy will default to full tort regardless of your initial decision.

What is Full Tort?

Full tort is generally more expensive to have on your insurance policy. However, for the cost, it gives you the unlimited right to sue if you are involved in an accident.  You can sue for economic losses, such as medical expenses, lost wages, property damages, out-of-pocket costs along with non-economic losses, including pain and suffering regardless of the type or severity of injuries. Pain and suffering is generally a large part of accident lawsuits. Having the ability to sue for these does not guarantee that you will actually win a settlement, and even if you are awarded damages by the court, there is no guarantee the at-fault party will have the coverage or assets to pay. That is where we enter into the discussion of uninsured and underinsured motorists bodily injury coverage, which we will address in another article.

What is Limited Tort?

The first thing that people notice with limited tort is that their insurance cost is 15%-20% less than with full tort.  However, for those savings, you sign away the ability to sue for pain and suffering for “non-serious injuries” along with other non-economic losses. So what can you sue for? You can still be reimbursed for economic losses.  These include medical bills, lost wages, property damages, and other out-of-pocket costs. You can sue for “serious injuries” which are defined in your policy as personal injuries resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement.

Limited tort does have a number of exceptions that will revert your rights to full tort after an accident where:

  • You were hit by a driver convicted of a DUI (Driving Under Influence) or accepts ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition) as a result of this accident. Keep in mind, the driver must live to be convicted.

  • The vehicle that hit you is registered in a state other than Pennsylvania.

  • You were injured by a driver purposefully trying to harm themselves or others. This could include a road rage scenario and possibly the act of avoiding such a risk.

  • You were hit by a driver without insurance. Keep in mind that drivers without insurance often don’t have great amounts of assets or income to recover either, which makes your uninsured motorist coverage important.

  • Your injuries were caused by an auto manufacturer’s defect or a mechanic’s defect in workmanship.

  • You were in a vehicle other than a private passenger vehicle. This could be a business vehicle, company vehicle, commercial vehicle, bus, other public transportation, motorcycle or bicycle.

Consider your rights, your family, the exceptions, and the price of your insurance coverage to make a decision of full or limited tort. If you have legal questions, consult a lawyer for further information. If you have insurance coverage or rate questions, ask your agent!

Questions You Should Ask Your Insurance Agent

Insurance policies can be confusing to many and you should never assume that you have the right coverage for your specific situations unless you ask your insurance agent about it. Here are some questions you should ask your agent if they apply to you:

Do I need to change anything with my insurance policies since I have added new family members to my household?

I’ve changed jobs (or finished school, started working, stopped working, or retired). Do I need to change anything with my insurance?

Do I need a different coverage if I am remodeling or adding an addition to my house?

We’re getting married. How do we combine policies and make sure we have the right coverage for our new family?

I’ve started a home based business or I’ve started working from home. Do I need any additional coverage for this?

I’ve gotten some new expensive items (jewelry, sports equipment, musical instruments, business equipment, collection, etc). Are they covered on my policy or do they need specialty coverage?

Is my pool covered? Trampoline? Four-wheeler? Golf cart? Lawnmower? Etc? What if someone gets hurt on them?

Does my policy have enough coverage if I’m in a bad car accident or if someone gets hurt on my property?

Are there any exclusions on my policies?

One of my kids will be driving soon. What’s the best way to cover them?

Does my policy provide coverage to replace my items or give me their current value?

I have this insurance policy through work or another company. Can you review it?

How much would I have in out of pocket costs if _________ happens?

What are the payment plan options? Which ones give the best pricing?

What should I do if I’m in a car accident or if something happens to my home? What’s the process for filing a claim?

How do the discounts on the policies work? Are there ways I could lose or gain discounts?

Are there any more discounts or ways to save on my insurance?

In the end, it is worth a phone call or an email to ask a question to make sure you have the coverage your family needs instead of assuming. Your agent is there to guide you to what best suits your needs.

Activities To Do With Your Family This Summer

This summer will be different for everyone’s family as each of us navigates the best way to both have fun and stay safe and healthy. Here are some ideas for your family to try out this summer!

Have a backyard barbecue! Stock up on your family’s favorite meats and veggies and grill them up! Pass on your grilling tips to your children and don’t forget to enjoy this mouth-watering meal outside!

Enjoy a book (or book series) together! Maybe there is a movie your family loves and has heard that the book version is better. Start reading it out loud together one chapter at a time. Depending on the reading difficulty, let your children take turns reading as well.

Watch fireworks! There will be plenty of them this summer. Find out where they are going to be and find your own spot to comfortably watch them. Don’t forget the lawn chairs, blankets, and bug spray! Get glow sticks as a bonus item!

Take a virtual class as a family. Although some may be tired of the online learning by now, many items that were not available virtually now are.  Maybe you choose a cooking class or start learning the basics of another language. Maybe a music lesson is available for the whole family.

Spend more time outside! Let your kids help you redo your landscaping or plant and maintain a small garden. Give them a little section that is just their own to choose what goes there and keep it alive daily.

Make the most use of your local library. Not only can you check out books there, but they often have other activities to participate in. If you want to stay more distanced, consider tapping into their virtual library which should have plenty of books and audio books for all ages.

Have a picnic! Prepare portable foods together as a family then choose a nice shady place to enjoy your meal outside. Make sure you have a nice large blanket to lounge on and all the snacks you could want. Take along a ball or a frisbee for some fun after you eat.

Play in the water! Think local creeks, rivers, lakes, pools, sprinklers and slip & slides in the yard, or even water tables for the little ones. This can be a ton of fun for those warm summer days when you need something to do that allows you to cool off. With a little more preparation, you could always go kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding as a family. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!

Do an outdoor scavenger hunt! You can either hide specific items for your kids to find in a localized area or yard. Or choose to find items already found in nature. Follow this link to see an array of wildflowers found in Pennsylvania that you can find and name on your scavenger hunt.

Build something new. This could be making a roller coaster or obstacle course for a marble or a ping-pong ball. Maybe you finally teach your kids to build a birdhouse the way you learned as a kid. Or make that pretty wall hanging that you’ve wanted on your wall for a long time, but haven’t gotten to yet.

Do whatever activity your kids are always asking to do, but something always comes up and you just haven’t gotten to it yet!

What happens if a tree falls on your house?

What happens if a tree falls on your house?

No one enjoys having trees fall on their property or especially on their home. If a tree falls on your house, will your homeowner’s insurance cover it? Well the answer is a little complicated.  Let’s run through a couple of examples:

A storm comes through and a normally healthy tree is knocked over due to high winds onto your house. In this scenario, it is likely that the removal of the tree will be covered and your house repairs will be covered as well. Your homeowner’s insurance deductible will apply. If it was a “hurricane”, you may have a different “hurricane” deductible instead of your normal homeowner’s deductible.

A tree that was unhealthy and threatening to fall down is finally knocked over by a storm onto your house. There is a chance that it may not be covered on your homeowner’s insurance since it happened after a lack of maintenance to your tree. Proper tree maintenance is vital.

A tree is knocked down by a storm, but doesn’t land on your house or other structures. It is unlikely that the removal of this tree will be covered by your insurance. However, there are sometimes exceptions for fallen trees that block your driveway or handicap accessible features.  It is worth calling your agent to find out if your deductible will apply in these scenarios.

Your neighbor’s tree falls on your house. Usually this is covered by your insurance, but you will have to pay your homeowner’s deductible. Your homeowner’s insurance company may go after your neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance company to pay for the damages. In some successful cases, you may be reimbursed your deductible if your homeowner’s insurance is fully reimbursed by your neighbor’s insurance company.

In all of these scenarios, there are a few questions to still answer. 

Is there a cap on the coverage amount for the removal of each tree? Yes, there typically is. You will need to check out your policy for the exact amount.  

Will my insurance pay to replace the trees that have been destroyed or fallen? This is dependent on the cause. Trees and shrubs do typically have some replacement coverage if destroyed by fire, lightning, vandalism, and several other perils, but not by wind or water.  There is also a cap on the replacement amount per tree/shrub and a total cap. You will have to check out your policy for these caps. You may be able to purchase an additional coverage to raise the cap of how many trees/shrubs are covered and how much each individual one is covered for (before they are destroyed, of course!).

Could I be held liable if my tree falls on someone or their house? Short answer: It’s possible. Regardless, to reduce your risk, keep high limits of liability coverage on your homeowner’s policy, consider taking out a personal umbrella liability policy, and properly maintain your trees. 

How should I take care of my trees? Hire a professional arborist to keep trees trimmed or to remove unhealthy trees before they fall. The cost and hassle of doing this is less than paying your homeowner’s deductible and then living through the repairs or dealing with legal implications if they damage someone else’s property. Always check the local reviews and reputation of your arborist. You will want someone experienced and reputable to take down trees or limbs near structures or power lines. Secondly, make sure that your arborist has proper business insurance, because if they cause damage to your property, power lines, or someone else’s property, it should be covered under their insurance and not your homeowner’s insurance!

Your Car During Quarantine

Your Car During Quarantine

Don’t forget about your cars during quarantine! If you were like the rest of us before our world got turned upside down recently, your vehicles were driven nearly every day or even multiple times a day. You’re used to the routine of taking care of your vehicles when you drive them all the time, but how do you take care of your vehicles now that they are sitting for extended periods of time? Check out our tips!

If you have more than one vehicle, make sure you rotate which vehicle you take for your limited errands. If you don’t have errands to run, maybe safely take each vehicle for a 5 minute drive around the block every couple of days to keep the battery charged and fluids moving. 

Keep up with all of your normal scheduled maintenance based on dates instead of mileage. Just because your oil could last many more miles doesn’t mean it won’t age badly before you get around to putting those miles on. Check your air filters, adjust tire air pressure, and make sure you put fresh gas in.

Make sure you keep your car clean and clear of food. With the vehicle sitting still longer, it is more appealing to critters looking to make a home in it or scavenge for food. If the vehicle hasn’t been run in awhile check for evidence of critters — especially chewed wires! 

Be cautious about your vehicle idle usage when you are out! Don’t sit in your vehicle with the lights or radio on and the engine off when your car has been driven less. It is significantly more prone to the battery dying quickly and leaving you stranded.

Keep roadside assistance coverage on your vehicle on your auto insurance just in case you do need a tow, jump start, or run out of fuel. Most times this coverage is only about $10 per 6 months per vehicle. Check with your insurance agent to see if there is a specific way you have to call in a roadside claim when stranded or if you just need to get a receipt and turn it in.

Keep extra face masks, gloves, and wipes in your car during this time to make sure you are able to access buildings you need to and to reduce your risk when running out.

Be prepared with emergency supplies in your vehicle. We recommend flares/flashers, jumper cables, cell phone charger, flashlight with batteries, first-aid kit, blanket, bottled water, paper towels, pen with paper, ice scraper, and paper towels. If you are car savvy, you can go further with a spare tire, tire iron, basic tools, motor oil, coolant, tire pressure gauge, tire inflator and sealant, washer fluid, etc. If you aren’t car savvy, make sure you have that roadside assistance coverage on your auto insurance & call for help!

Food Scarcity in Central Pennsylvania

Food Scarcity in Central Pennsylvania

Serving the community has always been part of the fabric of the Downey Agency. These past weeks have been unprecedented and leaving many in need of assistance and many asking, “How best can we help?” Regardless of where you are on that spectrum, our community is banding together to serve each other the best we can. With unemployment so high, food scarcity has become a larger issue (the need has doubled!) in our community as a whole — and especially for vulnerable seniors and children. We want to help you navigate this time as best we can. Please review the links below to make a difference or to receive assistance as needed from these reputable community organizations:    

I want to help:

New Hope Ministries

  • Volunteer at their Dillsburg, Dover, Hanover, Littlestown, Mechanicsburg, New Oxford, and West Shore locations. You can see their list of volunteer options here.
  • Donate food at their Adams, Cumberland, and York county locations. You can find the list of accepted products here. They accept fresh and frozen foods along with non perishables and household and hygiene products.
  • Donate other multiple types of resources here.

Project Share of Carlisle

  • Make a monetary donation here. With monetary donations, they are able to buy products at wholesale prices so they are able to get more food per dollar than you can at a grocery store.
  • Donate food at its warehouse location at 5 N. Orange Street in Carlisle, open Monday-Thursday from 8am-4pm and Friday from 8am-12pm. If you have a question about whether or not Share accepts a certain item, you can contact them at (717) 249-7773 or check here for a list of their prioritized items.
  • Volunteer to assist with packing and distribution. You can sign up for a volunteer opportunity here.

Central Pennsylvania Food Bank

  • Make a monetary donation: Click here. The need for food assistance has greatly increased while previous donors like his grocery stores cannot donate as much since they are struggling to stay stocked and restaurants are not cooking as much. 
  • Consider hosting a virtual food drive. This allows you to carefully purchase food for the food bank from the comfort of your home while allowing the least contact to the food products. Directions can be found here.
  • Consider volunteering. Contact them to find out their biggest needs and the locations that need assistance here. Their volunteer inquiry form can be filled out here. Please note that they have enacted strict guidelines for volunteers for the safety of all.

Feeding America

  • Get involved with volunteering locally by filling out their form here. They are looking for sorters & packers, volunteers at no-contact sites, meal deliverers, and people to spread awareness & host fundraisers.
  • Help fight hunger on a national level by donating money here.

Downey Agency Blessing Box

  • Non-perishables and household supplies may be placed in our 24/7 blessing box located right outside our office at 11 N US Hwy 15, Dillsburg, PA. This box is here year round.

Other

  • Contact any local non-profit you are involved in and find out what they are currently doing to help the community and assist them further!

I need assistance:

  • New Hope Ministries assists with food, rent/mortgage assistance, utilities assistance, transportation needs, and referrals to specialized programs. Please stop by the closest center to you in Dillsburg, Dover, Hanover, Littlestown, Mechanicsburg, New Oxford, and  or West Shore. Their addresses, hours, and contact information can be found here.
  • Project Share of Carlisle hosts food distributions. New clients should call 717-249-7773 to schedule a time to talk to a staff member about your situation. More information can be found here.
  • If you are in need of food or other assistance, click here. This will take you to Central Pennsylvania’s Food Bank search tool to help you find the closest location to you to receive food and other services. You can also call Central PA’s Food Bank hotline at 1-877-999-5964.
  • If you would like assistance applying for Pennsylvania’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), you can be walked through the process with a knowledgeable expert.  Click here or call Central PA’s Food Bank hotline at 1-877-999-5964.
  • Find a food bank location on a national level using Feeding America’s search tool here.
  • There is a 24/7 blessing box located right outside our office at 11 N US Hwy 15, Dillsburg, PA. This box is here year round and available to anyone who needs it.
  • Contact any local non-profits that you are involved in to see what services they are currently offering.

Do I Have to Offer Employee Benefits?

 

It’s a common question among business owners. “Do I have to offer employee benefits?” Which is usually followed up with “And what benefits am I legally required to offer, versus which ones are optional?” These are important questions you should be asking, not only to ensure your business is fulfilling all of its legal obligations to its employees, but also because you want to be sure your employees feel properly cared for and committed to their jobs.

There are a number of employee benefits you as the employer can provide, including: paid vacation days, health insurance, long-term disability coverage, workers compensation coverage and retirement savings plans. For the most part, employee benefits fall into one of two categories – those that are required by law and those that are optional. Next, we’re going to take a look at these two categories to provide an understanding of what employee benefits you have to offer, and which ones are your choice.

Legally Required Employee Benefits

  • Unemployment Insurance – This type of insurance assists workers who lose their jobs through layoffs or termination without cause. This is a vast topic all on its own, but what’s most important to remember is that you are required to carry unemployment insurance, even if you only have one employee.
  • Workers’ Compensation Insurance – This type of insurance provides financial support to employees who are unable to work as a result of a workplace injury or illness. Most businesses make the mistake of thinking job-related injuries or illness only occur at high-risk job sites, like construction. But so many injuries are the result of everyday office tasks or running business-related errands.
  • Health Insurance – Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses with 50 or more full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees must offer health insurance, or risk a penalty.
  • Social Security, Medicare, and Federal Insurance Contributions FICA are also required to be withheld from an employee’s paycheck by the employer, who is then responsible for paying these taxes.
  • Family/Medical Leave – If your business is a private firm with 50 or more employees, and all public employees, you are required to offer up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave during a 12-month period for qualifying family and medical reasons.

Optional Employee Benefits

Now that you understand the various types of employee benefits that you must legally provide, it’s important to also note the optional employee benefits you may choose to provide. As an employer, offering benefits, like supplemental health insurance, doesn’t mean you are responsible for paying for it in full. You can choose to cover all, part or none of the premium, but the real benefit is unlocking the option for your employees to receive this coverage, should they wish to do so. For many types of insurance, individual policies are not an option, so it takes an employer or “group” to be able to provide this benefit.

Here are some of the most common type of optional employee benefits businesses will choose to provide:

  • Supplemental Health Insurance – This is additional insurance that supplements your primary health insurance, paying for things like out of pocket expenses or co-pays.
  • Cancer Insurance – Especially useful for those with a family health history or cancer, this additional insurance policy provides money to cover expenses of treatment that are not often covered, in part or in full, by primary health insurance.
  • Group Health Insurance – Typically group health insurance is better and cheaper than individual plans because the insurer’s risk is spread across a group of people.
  • Life Insurance – Offering the option of additional life insurance to your employees gives them, and their family, peace of mind and security should the worst happen.
  • Disability Insurance – This type of insurance provides coverage for non-work related injuries that cause an employee to experience full or partial loss of wages.

Why Provide Employee Benefits?

When you are determining which employee benefits your business will offer, consider this very important question. How much do you value your employees’ talents, happiness and commitment to the job? Your answer should be “A lot!” If this is true, you should want to provide all reasonable employee benefits that stand to keep your employees satisfied in their job – not just those that are legally required.

Many small businesses make the mistake of thinking they are saving money by cutting corners on employee benefits. Unfortunately, most will learn the hard lesson that a few dollars saved in the short-term can result in more money, headache and turnover in the long-term. Take for example workers compensation coverage. For just $5-10 per week per employee you can off this benefit that will be hugely important should an employee be hurt on the job. It’s a small investment that shows employees you care about their health, safety and their ability to care for their family when they cannot work.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to employee benefits, first and foremost you must abide by the law. Keep in mind that there are federal laws that are required of everyone, as well as state laws that vary state to state. As a business owner, it can be overwhelming to navigate the various types of employee benefits, understanding what’s required, what’s optional and what are the best options for your type and size of business. The best thing you can do to avoid headache and costly mistakes is to speak with an experienced business payroll specialist as well as a trusted insurance agent to determine the right benefits you should offer to your employees.

Do you have a question or need more information? Talk to the Downey Insurance Agency today!

LOCAL AGENT

David Downey
Insurance Agency Owner
11 N US Hwy 15, Ste 7
Dillsburg, PA, 17019
717-432-1361
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