Limited v. Full Tort

Of all the decisions you have to make regarding your auto insurance, the selection of opting for limited tort or full tort is the most important one of all. Most of the time, the prospective policyholder will just tell the agent that he/she wants to be covered as inexpensively as possible. This is the biggest mistake one can make, and too often is only discovered after an accident; a mistake that could cost you thousands of dollars.

Limited Tort, though less expensive than full tort, severely limits your ability to bring a claim against the driver at fault. In order to be able to bring a claim, your injuries must reach a certain threshold. What is this threshold? I can't give you an honest, easy answer (and I have been practicing personal injury law for over 30 years). Suffice it to say, that unless you have one foot on the banana peel and one in the grave, you won't meet it. Case law over the past two decades has attempted to define exactly what this threshold is; and it changes from case to case. I can give you all the legal jargon you want but the result is the same. It is extremely difficult to meet this threshold! And unless your injuries are so severe as to make it obvious, you will be forced to prove it in court...an undertaking that takes time and money.

Insurance companies absolutely love limited tort. Why? Although you may pay a lower premium for your policy, the companies will save millions upon millions of dollars in claims. On top of this, you never will get a good explanation from any insurance agent as to why limited tort is the right choice. More often than not, once you tell the agent you want to save money, you will be told that limited tort will accomplish this and still protect you in the event of a serious injury.

Serious Injury. The definition of this term will vary depending on whom is giving the definition. Suppose you are in an accident and have sustained neck and back injuries. Yes, you will be compensated for any lost wages and any medical bills not covered by your own policy. BUT! Suppose your neck and/or back is really painful for about 6 months. During this time, you can't do anything you were able to do before the accident. The pain is unbearable, and only after an extended time of physical therapy does it diminish. Slowly your life is getting back to where it was before the accident. What about 6 months of pain, loss of your life's pleasures during this time, your ability to perform even menial tasks. Are you going to be compensated for these injuries? With limited tort, the answer is a resounding NO! These injuries may be the worst you have ever experienced. Surely it is a serious issue to consider when purchasing a policy. If you decide on Full Tort you have more options. These options can be discussed in person or over the telephone. These options can include, among other items, reimbursement for lost wages.

Addendum

There are still some areas of concern that I have yet to include in this article. They are important to understand and could affect not only yourself, but every member of your family.

Once you sign on the dotted line to reject Full Tort and be covered by Limited Tort, you have just made a decision that will affect every related individual living in your household. The Limited Tort coverage is applied against everyone! Spouse, children, in-laws, etc. Any relative residing in your household will be subject to the Limited Tort coverage. And this even includes those relatives who are passengers in another vehicle! Don't kill the messenger. This is the law. You may not think it makes any sense (I tend to agree) but that does not make any difference whatsoever. Unless you maintain Full Tort coverage, you are subjecting every resident relative to your selection. Am I trying to make you feel guilty? No!!!! I am not paying your premiums. I can't tell you what you can or cannot afford. All I am trying to do is to make you aware of the pitfalls prior to your committing yourself. This is not an area when you want to 'nickel and dime' yourself or your family. Chances are, someone in your household will be involved in an accident. One successful claim more than makes up the difference of an increase in premiums with Full Tort coverage.

Additionally, please be aware that you do not have to wait until the end of your present coverage term to make any changes in your auto policy. You can do this at any time. Your company will prorate the change but you do not have to wait.

Finally, there are certain times when Limited Tort coverage is elevated to Full Tort status. Once again, it is important to know your rights and your ability to make a claim despite having Limited Tort. The exceptions are few in number, but have been expanded through case law.

These exceptions to Limited Tort coverage are as follows:

  1. A passenger in any commercial vehicle, i.e., SEPTA Bus, truck (with commercial plates) and even rental cars, are afforded Full Tort status. If you are not sure, call our firm and we will be able to determine whether or not it is a commercial vehicle.
  2. If the negligent driver was arrested for a possible DUI (drunk driving) and the driver ends up in an ARD program or is convicted of drunk driving, you are elevated to Full Tort status.
  3. If the offending vehicle is registered out of the state of Pennsylvania, you, or any family member are elevated to Full Tort status.
  4. If the accident occurs due to a mechanical fault that was previously attended to by an auto shop, there is Full Tort status (but this would be a claim against the auto body shop, not the driver).

There are a couple of other exceptions but they are not really relevant in 99% of all accidents.

The most important point I am trying to make is that you cannot 'pick and choose' your accident. Accidents occur when you obviously least expect them. The only way you can protect yourself and your loved ones is to select Full Tort coverage for your policy.