Answer: In Pennsylvania, victims of car, truck and pedestrian accidents may be able to recover for pain and suffering under certain circumstances. There are a few questions that must be answered in order to determine whether the victim of a car accident in Philadelphia can recover for their pain and suffering. However, before we start discussing them, it’s important to note that as a preliminary matter, another driver must have caused the accident. If you caused your own car accident, you are not eligible to receive pain and suffering damages.
Question 1: Did you purchase auto insurance policy in Pennsylvania?
This matters because every car insurance policy issued in Pennsylvania must be either full tort or limited tort. When you buy car insurance in Pennsylvania, you’re required to choose, and the majority of people choose limited tort simply because it costs less than full tort.
The tort election affects your ability to file claims against an at-fault driver for pain and suffering. This certainly seems counterintuitive. Most folks who get hurt in car accidents that aren’t their fault are usually confused by this part of Pennsylvania car accident law. Unfortunately, it’s what the PA legislature passed decades ago, in an effort to make car insurance affordable. Limited tort policies cost less than full tort policies.
Full tort contains no limitation whatsoever on the ability to get compensated for pain and suffering. On the other hand, limited tort means you can only recover for pain and suffering under certain circumstances. See discussion in questions 3 and 4 below about exceptions to limited tort law in Pennsylvania.
*If you’re not a resident of Pennsylvania, you might be able to recover compensation for pain and suffering, but it will depend on the car insurance laws of your state, assuming you’re covered under one. Some states like New Jersey have laws similar to Pennsylvania’s limited tort.
Question 2: Are you covered under someone else’s policy in Pennsylvania?
Now, even if you didn’t purchase your own policy, you may be covered under another person’s policy, like a parent or spouse. Therefore, you’d still be bound by the tort election on that policy.
If you aren’t covered any auto insurance policy, you can make a claim for pain and suffering against the at-fault driver without any limitation whatsoever. For example, a resident of Philadelphia who doesn’t own a car and isn’t covered under a spouse or parent’s policy is a passenger in a friend’s car that is hit by another driver at an intersection in Center City. The passenger can seek pain and suffering damages against the at-fault driver without any limitations.
Question 3: If you have a limited tort policy or are covered under one, does the accident meet one of the statutory exceptions?
Under Pennsylvania law, there are multiple exceptions to the limited tort law. If you’re covered under a limited tort car insurance policy, you can recover for pain and suffering if any of the following are true (and proved):
- The at-fault driver is convicted of a DUI or DWI, or gets into an alternative disposition court program, like a first time DUI offender program.
- The at-fault driver is driving a car that’s registered in another state.
- The at-fault driver was intentionally trying to cause injury to themselves or others.
- The at-fault driver does not have any insurance (i.e., was driving a stolen car).
- You were riding in a commercial vehicle (bus, cab, etc.).
Question 4: If you’re covered under a limited tort policy, did you suffer a “serious injury?”
One of the most common exceptions is the “serious injury” exception. PA law defines an injury as serious if it causes a serious impairment of a body function. There’s no requirement that an injury be permanent. The key is how the impairment affected your family, work and leisure activities. Broken bones almost always meet the definition. Spinal injuries like a disc herniation or bulge in the neck (cervical) or low back (lumbar) may be considered serious enough, but more info would be needed, such as how the injury affected your ability to live your usual life.
Whether an injury is serious under PA limited tort law depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. Two people may respond differently to the same injury. For example, a neck injury for an office worker may not be serious, but the same injury for a construction worker may be quite devastating.
For more legal info, visit the Pennsylvania & New Jersey car accident law library.
Philadelphia Car Accident Law Firm
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**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.