Automobile Insurance Law Basics

by Mark Crossley

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over two million people are injured every year and over 21,000 people lose their lives in traffic-related crashes. How can you protect yourself and your family if you are unfortunate enough to be one of the people that fall within these statistics?

Everyone in Pennsylvania who owns a motor vehicle is required by law to have motor vehicle insurance. How- ever, what the law mandates, and what you need to protect yourself and your family, are at two entirely different ends of the insurance spectrum. In Pennsylvania, the basic coverage required includes bodily injury liability coverage, to protect someone else if you are at fault, of $15,000 per person and $30,000 per occurrence, together with property damage liability coverage, to protect someone’s property, of $5,000 and basic first party medical benefits, to pay your medical bills, of $5,000. The mandatory insurance coverage amounts were enacted in the 1970s and, although a lot of other things, including prices, have changed drastically since then, the amount of basic insurance coverage has not.

When you are purchasing insurance, there are many options available. The first choice is whether to select “full tort” or “limited tort”. At first glance, the “limited tort” option, with the promise to save ten to fifteen percent off your basic insurance coverage, may sound attractive. However, after realizing the reality that a person who selects “limited tort” may be giving up their right to legal recourse in most cases, the relatively small savings of selecting this option is no savings at all. Instead, “full tort”, which retains all rights to legal recourse in the event of an accident, is the best choice. It may cost slightly more, but the rights you retain are well worth the cost. Therefore, in selecting insurance, make sure you select the “full tort” option.

The next choice you have is whether to increase the basic first party medical benefits to $10,000, $100,000 or even $1 Million in coverage. With the cost of medical care rising exponentially and the mandatory first party medical coverage remaining stagnant, increasing the medical coverage is something that should be strongly considered.

Another area is uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. Although all vehicle owners are required to have insurance, often this is not the case; and in those in- stances where the owner does have insurance, they often purchase the minimum mandatory coverage, especially in times of economic downturn and uncertainty. Uninsured motorist coverage is optional coverage that protects you and your family from people who chose to disregard the law and not have basic insurance coverage on their vehicle. If that uninsured motorist causes an accident, there is usually no recourse, unless you purchased uninsured motorist coverage. If you have this coverage, you can make a claim with your own insurance company for the injuries received from an uninsured motorist.

Likewise, underinsured motorist coverage protects you and your family from someone who, although obeying the letter of the law, has selected only the basic minimum liability coverage. If your injuries and damages exceed this minimal coverage, you may have no other recourse unless you purchased underinsured motorist coverage. With this coverage, can make a claim with your own insurance company to get fully compensated, up to the limits you purchased, for the harms and losses caused by a driver with minimal insurance. Again, underinsured motorist coverage is optional coverage and must be selected and paid for in order to be valid.

These are some of the additional insurance coverages that are available. I do not sell insurance, but in representing people every day who are injured in motor vehicle collisions, I see the unfortunate effects of not making the right insurance choices. Be careful when selecting insurance and look at insurance not as a mandate from the government, but as a way to protect you and your family in the event of tragedy. Careful consideration and planning now in selecting or changing your insurance coverage can prevent you from being a hurt a second time following a motor vehicle accident.

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