Limited Tort: Car Accident Injury Claims Stand No Chance

“Limited tort” is the silent, cunning, and swift murderer of many personal injury claims. And the vast majority of potential clients I come across have no idea it has already released toxic poison into his or her respective insurance policy by the time our consultation materializes.

Quite simply, the difference is this: “Full tort” permits a person to pursue claims for pain and suffering, which is quite often the heart and soul of a personal injury claim’s monetary value. Conversely, the devious “limited tort” option takes that ability away and restricts a person’s possible recovery to economic losses, such as lost wages and outstanding medical bills.

Now, there are six clear exceptions to the general rule: the responsible party is found guilty of operating his or her vehicle under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol; the vehicle of the responsible party is registered outside Pennsylvania; the responsible party harbored intent to injury himself, herself, or another; the responsible party did not carry proper insurance pursuant to state law; the injured party was a pedestrian at the time of the accident;  or the injured party was a passenger in a non-private vehicle, meaning an Uber, Lyft, cab, or the like.

Unfortunately, most that carry “limited tort” do not nestle comfortably within the above. So a person is left with the insidious “serious injury” obstacle, which is a relatively high bar to clear. Two ways to ensure that the threshold is obviated in this context are fatalities and permanent and serious disfigurement – a noticeable scar, for example. The third, and most prevalent, is proof that a serious impairment of a bodily function resulted from the injuries sustained during the crash.

Under Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility law, 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 1702, the latter has two major inquiries:

  • What body function, if any, was impaired because of the injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident?
  • Was the impairment of the body function serious?

What? Did you think an attorney could get through an entire blurb about the law without spitting at least a minimal amount of legalese? Nahhh!

Anyway, you might now be asking yourself, “Well, how exactly is that established?” Essentially, the proof lies with several factors, such as the temporal period of the impairment and corresponding medical intervention necessary to repair the damage. See Washington v. Baxter, 553 Pa. 434, 447 (1998).  Aside from that, the determination is left wide open for other relevant information to be considered. Unfortunately, there aren’t many proverbial slam dunks in this area; rather, it’s more a case-by-case basis. However, as the injuries are flushed out through treatment and more factual details become ascertainable, the outcome is somewhat easier to gauge.

Do we love our stroll down Legal Boulevard yet? Perhaps walking isn’t your forte. Perhaps the more enjoyable practice is to get in that nice, new vehicle and take an entirely different route. As our good buddy Captain Planet used to say, “The power . . . is YOURS!”

Next time you’re securing an automobile policy, be mindful of the tort selection pages. It may seem enticing to skim over “full tort” and land on “limited tort” due to it being noticeably cheaper. Here’s a bit of advice though – grab a calculator and conduct some fundamental math, as it will plainly reveal the monthly expense is well worth not having to go through the process discussed above, which we will not mention again. Mine, for example, is $144 more per year. Divided by 12, that’s an extra $12 a month.

In conclusion, a higher amount up front can alleviate the pain and heartache of having to deal with the “limited tort” monster, especially to the person incurring great physical anguish sans financial detriment.

Remember: Full coverage is not synonymous with full tort.

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With more than 40 years of combined experience, the personal injury attorneys at Fellerman & Ciarimboli strive to provide the best service to clients in Philadelphia, Northeast Pennsylvania, and throughout the Keystone State.

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