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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!

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!

What is Insurable Interest?

What is Insurable Interest?

With so many different types of insurance policies existing, it is hard to think of something that you can’t insure. You can insure your home, car, motorcycle, boat, belongings, and even your life. But can you insure your neighbor’s car? Surprisingly the answer is no. You can only insure the items that you have an insurable interest in.

So what is insurable interest? Insurable interest means that the destruction of the property or the death of the person insured would cause you to take a direct financial loss. You can’t insure your neighbor’s car, because you would not suffer a financial loss over it being totaled. You also can’t insured your barely known distant relative with life insurance since their passing isn’t going to directly impact your personal finances. You can insure the home & car, and belongings in your name as if they are destroyed or damaged, you will be directly responsible for repairing or replacing them. There can also be life insurance on your spouse that you can benefit from as their untimely death would create financial hardship for your family.

Insurable interest is required so that you only benefit from insurance payouts for losses that would actually affect you financially. Insurance companies often require you to have insurable interest when you start the policy on the person or object and insurable interest at the time of the loss. For example:  you owned a car and added it to your auto insurance policy, but later you sold it to your cousin. Let’s say that cousin then had an accident. Your insurance would not cover this vehicle even if you still have it listed on your policy as now it belongs to your cousin. It is your cousin who would take the financial loss, not you.

Sometimes, with families, friends, and romantically involved parties, this can be complicated. Insurance policies have listed named insureds for the policy and these named insureds are the ones that receive the funds. Usually named insureds are an individual or an individual & spouse combo.

So can you insure your child’s vehicle? If a child owns a vehicle in their name, is paying the payments on the vehicle, would suffer the damage to their credit if they don’t pay, but insure it on their parent’s auto policy, the parents receive the funds for the totaling of the vehicle.  So it is better in this scenario for the child to insure their own vehicle on their own policy as they have the insurable interest and should receive the funds vehicle in a claim. Sometimes insurance companies will allow for a child/parent co-owned vehicle to be insured on a policy in either the parent’s or the child’s name. This makes it so that the loss funds can be put in both names.

 

In the case of romantic relationships and friendships, insurance companies sometimes do not want to insure something owned by two unrelated individuals. If they start a policy together, but part ways, how does an insurance company decide to whom the funds belong? Insuring married couples is safer as if they split, lawyers help decide to whom funds and property belong. This will vary from company to company following their rules about how they will insure co-owned items or items owned individually insured on a co-owned policy.

The best idea is to ask your insurance agent before you buy anything co-owned or buy something and expect to be able to insure it on someone else’s policy.  To make sure that you will receive the funds for the loss, make sure to insure everything correctly. Provide your agent with your proof of purchase for an item showing who has ownership and let them know if you transferred ownership to someone else. For life insurance policies, make sure all of the beneficiaries are kept up to date. This way you know in the case of a claim, the correct people (you including) receive the benefit of the insurance you are paying for!

Power Your Home with Solar! (& Get a $600 visa card!)

Have you ever wondered about solar panels and whether they would be a good investment for your home?

Right now in central and eastern Pennsylvania, homeowners have an opportunity to have solar panels installed on their home roof without having to pay any large upfront costs.  Legacy Power is offering homeowners the opportunity to install solar panels on their roof for free and then you purchase the energy they produce for a reduced cost. Typically homeowners have seen about 20% or more in reduction of the electricity bills by getting the energy from solar panels right on their home. (Any excess energy goes into the local electricity grid, giving your community a little more green energy.) After you have had the solar panels on your home for about 5 years, you can then purchase the panels for a reduced price if you wanted to own them yourself at that point.

There is little risk in having the panels on your roof as they are insured, monitored, and maintenanced by Legacy Power (the largest solar company in the state!). If you sell your home, they often add value to your home and Legacy Power will continue their services for the next homeowner.

Homeowners may have many questions about the solar panels & their installation.  These are best answered by a professional representative, but after speaking to one myself, I learned a few secrets.  They will make sure your roof is the correct type and in good shape prior to installing any panels, put the panels on the side of the roof where the sun is optimal for our area (typically the southern facing side & away from overhanging trees), and they use the amount of panels needed to power your specific home.  They really work to customize the experience to match your home.

If you would like a free no pressure consultation to see if solar panels and their reduced energy cost would work for your home, please contact our friend, James White.  Please let him know that you were referred by the Allstate Downey Agency and you can receive a $600 visa card upon installation of the solar panels on your home!

James White

Legacy Solar Area Sales Manager

717-329-4915

jameswhite@lgcypower.com

 

Benefits for Small Business

Being a small business owner can be difficult with handling a lot of the day to day aspects of keeping your customers and your employees happy.  Often happy employees can make for better products and happier customers. So what is a good way to attract and keep good employees?

There are many ways to attract and keep good employees, but one important part of that process is offering benefits. A recent LIMRA study found 7 in 10 employers offer voluntary benefits to improve morale and attract and retain new talent.  Even if you are unable to afford to pay for the benefits fully through your business, having them available offered through your business allows employees to have access to them at a lower group rate even if they have to pay for the whole or partial cost.  This group rate is usually less expensive cost for you or for your employees than they would be able to find individually in the marketplace. There is also minimal underwriting to get these benefits in a group versus if you were to do it individually so those who wouldn’t normally qualify can have benefits..

Since health insurance is highly sought after, many employees are looking towards their employer to make an affordable option available to them.  Typically health insurance policies with higher deductible have a lower policy cost, but this leaves the employee with higher out of pocket cost to use their health insurance. Having a health saving account option or other health rewards program can help your employees save up towards that higher deductible to pay for any of their out of pocket medical expenses.

Supplemental benefits can be offered with or without offering health insurance.  These plans can include accident, critical illness, disability, and term life insurance policies.

Offering a mixture of health insurance, supplemental benefits, and retirement saving options can help you attract the kind of employees you would like your business to have and keep your current employees satisfied with their employment packages.

If you are a business owner and would like to set up a free consultation to see the specific options that you could offer employees, please contact us. Our supplemental insurance options—such as accident, critical illness, disability and term life—are 100% employee-paid, but they’re group rates only you—the business owner—can make available.  We’d be happy to help you add supplemental insurance to your compensation packages. I’m here to answer any questions you have and we also offer business insurance, retirement plans, and business transition planning.

Do I Need A Will?

Do I Need A Will?

Well it depends, but it never hurts to have a will.  If you do not have a will, this means that the court will distribute your property according to the laws of intestacy.  These laws may actually follow your wishes if you die without a will, but they may not.

First, the court considers giving your physical and monetary possessions to your surviving spouse. If there is no spouse or they cannot take it, then it looks to your children. If there are no children, then it looks to your grandchildren. If there are no grandchildren, then it looks to your parents. If you don’t have surviving parents, then it will look to an established list of more remote family relationships. You can read the full list and details here. If you have no remaining family that the court can find, your monetary and physical property will become the property of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

If you leave behind more than one person with the same degree of relationship to you, it will be equally divided among then. For example: if you leave behind no spouse, but four children, each child will each receive one-fourth of your estate.

If you leave behind minor children (and no spouse), the court will establish a trust and choose a trustee to handle the funds. They are then distributed to your children when the court-appointed trustee chooses. Another court will also help designate an appropriate guardian for your minor children.

So if the laws of intestacy result in a desirable division of your property, you are satisfied with a court-appointed administrator of your estate, and you believe the court will choose an effective trustee to serve your children, you don’t really need a Last Will and Testament.

You need a will, however, when any of the following apply:

  • You want to have more than one degree of relationship inherit anything. Example: you want to leave your child and your mother property.

  • You would like to specifically list who would get certain items (jewelry, china, cars, etc.) instead of them being equally divided.

  • You would like to give gifts to charity upon your passing.

  • You want to have a trusted person follow your wishes as an executor of your estate.

  • You want to set up a trust for your children with specific guidelines and choose a trustee to manage it. This trustee can release portions of the funds at designated ages or milestones that you choose.

  • You want to list your wishes for a guardian of your minor children. Your will cannot establish a guardianship as that is a separate process, but the court will consider your wishes. Without a will, you have no input.

If you would like assistance setting up a will, a local attorney can help you navigate the details of what you would like contained in your will and file it with the Register of Wills. Please contact:

James G. Strupe, Jr., Esquire

112 Market Street, Suite 429

Harrisburg, PA 17101

717-856-4648

jgsrla@comcast.net

The Biggest Threat To Your Wealth

The Biggest Threat To Your Wealth:

A Lawsuit

You take many precautions to get the best returns on your investments, minimize taxes, and protect your home & family from financial hardship.  However, most people don’t think about protecting their wealth from legal judgements.  Some people believe the risk is so small that it will never happen to them, but all it takes is one accident to completely overwhelm your current insurance limits leaving you with a pricy legal defense bill. Don’t think it can happen to you? Check out some local recent lawsuits here and here.

Often home insurance policies have about $100k-$300k in liability coverage & auto policies with good coverages may have between $300k-$500k in bodily injury liability along with $100k in property damage. However, a lawsuit can often quickly surpass these limits leaving you to pay for your legal defense and whatever settlement amount the court may decide on.  Your home, business or real-estate holdings, future income, and non-qualified retirement assets are left to foot the bill.  Although rare, the court can order up to a 25% wage garnishment until the settlement is paid off.

To cover claims in excess of either your auto or homeowners policy, you can purchase excess liability coverage through a Personal Umbrella Policy.  They are called umbrellas since they cover excess liability from any policy you have under it. These could be homeowners, auto, motorcycle, boat, renter’s, landlord, recreational vehicle, and others. Another area Personal Umbrella Policies help protect families is in personal injury lawsuits, such as in liable or slander cases; for example a family member posts a negative online review that results in an alleged defamation lawsuit.

You can usually purchase $1 million in liability coverage for around $150-$400 per year depending on your risk factors. Umbrella policies usually have $1 to $5 million in coverage, but also come in larger amounts for celebrities, business owners, executives, and politicians.

Everyone has the risk of being sued over an accident, but if you have any of these risk factors, you may need an umbrella more than the average person:

  1. You have a dog (or other large animals like horses).

  2. You have teenage or young drivers in your household (or you are accident-prone).

  3. You have a long commute to work or drive a lot.

  4. You volunteer for (or are on the board of) a non-profit, or coach youth sports.

  5. You have a pool or trampoline (or other fun structure at your home).

  6. You (or your children) play sports in public areas.

  7. You are a landlord or own multiple properties.

  8. You have a boat, motorcycle, ATV, or other recreational vehicle.

  9. You frequently entertain guests at your home.

  10. You own a business.

  11. You have a job that others associate with making good money.

  12. Your  income is higher than the average for your community or you live in a high income community.

Which of these risk factors do you have?

 

LOCAL AGENT

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