Is My Auto Insurance Coverage Any Good?

by Christopher Reid & Isaac Hof

“I have auto insurance.  But I’ve never actually looked at it, and I have no idea what it covers.”  If this sounds familiar, you are not alone.

As personal injury lawyers, we can appreciate the importance of adequate insurance.  It often is the most critical piece to resolving a case.  That is because even where a monetary judgment is obtained in court, Pennsylvania debt collection law makes it no easy task to actually obtain the money from that judgment.  As the cliché goes, without insurance, your judgment is often worth only as much as the piece of paper it’s written on.

Auto insurance is no exception.  Thus, when we meet with new clients who have been injured in a car accident, one of the first things we do with them is review their automobile insurance coverage, which generally is found on the “Declarations Page” of their policy.  Sadly, very few of our clients ever review their Declarations Page before getting into a car accident.  Needless to say, it is too late at that point.  That’s why it is critical to understand today what exactly is covered by your auto insurance.  Outlined below is an explanation of some of the more important coverages you will likely encounter when reviewing your auto insurance. *

Full Tort vs. Limited Tort

Under Pennsylvania law, insureds may choose a “Limited Tort” option, which saves them a small percentage on their premiums each month. In exchange, those individuals are entitled only to receive compensation for economic loss arising from their personal injury following a car accident (e.g., unpaid medical expenses, wage loss, etc.).  With some exception, unless the person who selects Limited Tort sustains serious injury from a car accident, that individual is precluded from maintaining a claim for any noneconomic damages (e.g., pain and suffering, loss of life’s enjoyment, etc.).

First Party Medical Benefits

Pennsylvania is a “no-fault” state when it comes to medical coverage for auto accidents.  That means even if someone else is at fault and causes you injury from a car accident, your own auto insurance company will cover the expenses for your medical treatment (up to a pre-selected maximum amount and so long as the treatment is considered reasonable, necessary, and related to the car accident).  Pennsylvania law requires a minimum of $5,000 per person in medical coverage, but most insurance companies offer additional protection up to $100,000.

Liability Protection and Uninsured / Underinsured Motorists Protection

Liability protection refers to the amount of coverage you have if someone else brings a personal injury claim against you following a car accident.  Under Pennsylvania law, the minimal amount of liability coverage required to operate a vehicle is $15,000 per person.  That means if someone with a “minimal limits” policy hits you with their vehicle, the most amount of insurance available to collect from that person for personal injury compensation is $15,000.

Where an at-fault driver has inadequate or no insurance, an injured victim would normally be left with no recourse for compensation except trying to seize personal assets (which, as mentioned before, is easier said than done).  Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, auto insurance companies offer protection known as Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists Coverage (“UM/UIM”), which represents the maximum amount your auto insurance company will pay if there is inadequate or no insurance coverage from the driver who hit you.

In sum, it pays to review your auto insurance coverage.  While you may wind up paying a few extra dollars in premiums per month, the additional coverage can mean the difference between being fully compensated for your personal injuries and not.

*Communication of information by, in, to or through this article and your receipt or use of it (1) is not provided in the course of and does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship, (2) is not intended as a solicitation, (3) is not intended to convey or constitute legal advice, and (4) is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified attorney. You should not act upon any such information without first seeking qualified professional counsel on your specific matter.

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