The Dangers of Limited Tort
In 1990, Pennsylvania changed the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL) to allow auto insurers to offer “limited tort” policies. These limited tort policies offered consumers the “opportunity” to get lower auto insurance premiums in return for the consumer’s consent to limit their rights to sue in case they were injured in an automobile accident. Under limited tort auto policies, the insured is limited to suing for economic damages only, i.e. “medical and other out of pocket expenses.” By obtaining a limited tort policy the insured is giving up his or her right to sue for “pain and suffering or other non-monetary damages unless the injuries suffered fall within the definition of ‘serious injury’” or one of the other exceptions that apply. “Serious Injury” has been defined as death, serious impairment of body function, or permanent serious disfigurement. If you have selected a limited tort policy, the MVFRL sets forth the following exceptions that may allow you to get around your limited tort selection. Section 1705(d) of the MVFRL states the following:
(1) An individual otherwise bound by the limited tort election who sustains damages in a motor vehicle accident as the consequence of the fault of another person may recover damages as if the individual damaged had elected the full tort alternative whenever the person at fault:
(i) is convicted, or accepts Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) for driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled Substance in that accident;
(ii) is operating a motor vehicle registered in another state;
(iii) intends to injure himself or another person … ; or
(iv) has not maintained financial responsibility as required by this chapter ….
Do not assume that you are protected and can reach the threshold of proving “serious injury” just because you sustain some injury – they are not the same. In our experience the Courts will hold you to the burden of proving “serious impairment of body function” before you can be found to meet the definition of “serious injury.” The safer course of action is to review your auto policy, determine whether you have selected the Limited Tort Option and determine what the difference is in cost between limited and full tort. You may be surprised at how little it may cost to upgrade to a full tort policy and provide you with greater protection and peace of mind in the event you find yourself injured as the result of someone else’s negligence.
If you have questions regarding your policy or whether you meet one of the exceptions to the limited tort selection, you should speak with an experienced Pennsylvania Personal injury lawyer.