Non-Economic Damages: Understanding the Differences Between Full Tort and Limited Tort Coverage

by Jeffrey Stanton

In the Winter Edition, we discussed the importance of reviewing your automobile insurance policy to ensure that you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM coverage).  Another important consideration is whether to select “full tort” or “limited tort” coverage.

In Pennsylvania, motorists can choose either full tort or limited tort auto insurance coverage.  The coverage provided by these classifications is very different and, accordingly, so are the costs.  Motorists sometimes choose the limited tort option to reduce the cost of their auto insurance premiums.  However, it is important to know the differences between full tort and limited tort coverage before choosing coverage for yourself and your family.

Under limited tort coverage, a person who is injured in an accident is only permitted to recover his or her economic damages, such as out-of-pocket medical costs, lost wages, and monies to repair a damaged vehicle. Thus, by electing the limited tort option, you give up the right to pursue compensation for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, even in situations where someone else was at fault for the accident. While there are limited exceptions to this general rule, such as death, serious impairment of a bodily function, or permanent disfigurement, obtaining damages for pain and suffering under a limited tort policy requires significant litigation. Conversely, selecting full tort coverage entitles you and your family to claim non-economic damages, so long as you were not at fault for the accident.

It is difficult to anticipate the long-term effects that an accident can have on your health and wellbeing. What may initially feel like a little soreness or a non-serious back injury, may, over time, become a significant source of discomfort, or chronic, daily pain thereby limiting your ability to engage in activities you once enjoyed.  A limited tort policy may bar recovery for such non-economic losses.  The coverage decision by the named insured on the policy binds all other insureds, potentially preventing them from being fully compensated for any possible injuries suffered in an accident.  Such other insureds could include your spouse and any children or relatives residing in your household.  Your tort election additionally applies to any UM/UIM coverage on your policy.

Given the important differences between limited tort and full tort coverage, take this opportunity to review your auto insurance policy to determine your current tort election. Electing full tort coverage may increase the cost of your auto insurance premiums, but it will give you and your family the best coverage in the case of an injury.

Your insurance agent or lawyer can answer questions about whether you have sufficient coverage for your particular situation.  Many personal injury law firms will review your insurance policies free of charge.

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