Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law provides the consumers purchasing automobile insurance must make a choice of tort options – either Limited Tort or Full Tort. Although your insurance costs are lower if you select Limited Tort rather than Full Tort, you sacrifice legal rights by choosing Limited Tort.
Full Tort is an election made on your automobile insurance policy which allows you and the members of your household to seek compensation for economic and non-economic damages sustained in a motor vehicle accident which was the fault of another driver. Economic damages would include things like unpaid medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic damages would include intangible damages such as compensation for pain and suffering and emotional distress.
Limited Tort is an election made on your insurance policy which allows recovery for economic damages, but usually prohibits you from making any claim for non-economic damages except if you suffer a “serious injury.” The law defines “serious injury” as “a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of a bodily function or permanent serious disfigurement.” Although the term “death” is self-explanatory and determining what constitutes “permanent serious disfigurement” is not too difficult, the Pennsylvania courts have struggled with the issue of what qualifies as a “serious impairment of a bodily function.” To date, the courts have been reluctant to find that a “serious impairment of a bodily function” exists absent a long-lasting and seriously disabling injury. Accordingly, if you have selected Limited Tort, it is often very difficult to pursue a claim for non-economic damages, even for injuries which linger on painfully for months.
Choosing a tort option (Limited or Full Tort) is an important decision because it has a substantial impact on your legal rights when you are involved in an auto accident caused by another driver. Choosing Limited Tort allows you to save on insurance premiums, but usually precludes you from recovering non-economic injuries unless the accident causes very serious, long-lasting injuries. The Full Tort option is more expensive coverage, but you do not waive any legal rights to seek compensation for injuries.
In my years of practice I have seen many clients switch from Limited Tort to Full Tort after having been involved in an accident and having their legal rights affected by that election. Of course, switching to Full Tort only protects your full legal rights for accidents which occur after the switch.