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!