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Summary – Pennsylvania Limited Tort Law
- Limited tort can prevent a PA driver/passenger from getting full financial compensation for auto accident injuries.
- There are several exceptions to PA’s limited tort law.
- Limited tort does not apply to a “serious injury.”
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Limited Tort Law – The Basics
Under Pennsylvania auto insurance law, Pennsylvania residents who purchase auto insurance policies are required to choose between “full tort” and “limited tort.” The key difference between the two is the ability to get compensation for physical injuries caused in an auto accident.
Full tort allows an insured party to obtain full compensation, most importantly, compensation for pain and suffering. Limited tort only allows an insured party to obtain full compensation (and pain and suffering) in certain circumstances. This selection effectively limits the ability to seek full monetary compensation after an auto accident. That’s why this selection is one of the most important decisions to make when buying car insurance in Pennsylvania. Most PA residents opt for limited tort because it means lower premiums. Section 1705 of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL) enumerates Pennsylvania’s limited tort law. Click below for the relevant portions of the law.
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Example – How Full Tort & Limited Tort Work In An Auto Accident Scenario
Here’s an example which explains how the tort selection applies. Let’s say you have full tort and are injured in a car accident in Pennsylvania that occurs due to no fault of your own. You suffer some neck and back injuries that require treatment with a chiropractor and an orthopedic doctor. Because you have full tort, you can make a claim against the at-fault party for full compensation for your injuries and for your pain and suffering. A jury ultimately awards you $25,000, 90% of which is for your pain and suffering.
Now, if you had limited tort (and none of the exceptions to the limited tort rule applied), you could still make a claim against the at-fault party, but only for your economic losses, i.e., medical bills and lost wages. In this example, the limited tort selection prevents you from recovering over $20,000 for the pain and suffering caused by the accident and injuries.
Exceptions To Limited Tort Law In Pennsylvania
Per the MVFRL and Pennsylvania court cases, there are multiple exceptions to the limited tort law. If an exception applies, the injured individual is basically deemed full tort and can therefore obtain full compensation for pain and suffering. The most common exceptions are:
- The at-fault driver was operating a car registered in another state (i.e., New Jersey).
- The at-fault driver was operating the car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and is subsequently convicted or enters a diversion program (known as ARD or accelerated rehabilitative disposition).
- The injured individual was a pedestrian or was riding a bicycle at the time of the accident.
Other less common exceptions involve situations where the at-fault driver was attempting to injure himself or another person at the time of the accident, or the injured person was riding in a commercial vehicle at the time of the accident. Limited tort does not apply to cases where the at-fault driver was uninsured. Also, limited tort does not apply to defective product injury cases, such as a products liability case against an auto manufacturer.
Related: Philadelphia Car Accident Law – Limited Tort and UIM/UM Claims (Part II)
Limited Tort Does Not Apply To A Serious Injury
The limited tort law is worded in such a way that it does not apply to cases where the injured individual suffers a “serious injury” which is defined by Section 1702 as “A personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement.” Whether an injury is serious under the limited tort law depends on multiple factors:
- the extent of the impairment,
- the length of time the impairment lasted, and
- the treatment required to correct the impairment.
More importantly, the focus is not on the injuries themselves, but how the injuries affected a particular bodily function. There is no requirement that the injury be permanent. The burden of proof lies with the injured person. If a court or jury determines that the injuries suffered in a car accident are serious, limited tort does not apply. The injured party can then obtain full compensation for pain and suffering. Broken bones, spinal injuries and head injuries are often determined to be serious injuries under the limited tort law. Click the link for an in depth discussion of what constitutes a serious injury in limited tort auto cases in Philadelphia.
Limited Tort & Auto Accidents Occurring In New Jersey
Pennsylvania drivers are often driving their cars in New Jersey for summer vacations at the Jersey shore or work events. Does the tort selection (full or limited tort) apply when a Pennsylvania driver is injured in a car accident in New Jersey? The answer is relatively simple. New Jersey’s notorious “deemer statute” supersedes any tort election made on an out of state auto insurance policy. However, there is one major prerequisite – the injured party’s car insurance company must do business in New Jersey. If the accident occurs in New Jersey, the deemer statute provides up to $250,000 of PIP or medical benefits and in return, the injured driver is deemed limited tort. In other words, under New Jersey law, the PA driver’s tort election status does not apply.
Pennsylvania Limited Tort Accident Lawyers
Our accident lawyers handle auto accident cases throughout the state of Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware and Bucks counties. Call our Philadelphia office for a free consultation.
Section 1705, Election of tort options (current as of September 2016)
(d) Limited tort alternative.–Each person who elects the limited tort alternative remains eligible to seek compensation for economic loss sustained in a motor vehicle accident as the consequence of the fault of another person pursuant to applicable tort law. Unless the injury sustained is a serious injury, each person who is bound by the limited tort election shall be precluded from maintaining an action for any noneconomic loss, except that:
(1) An individual otherwise bound by the limited tort election who sustains damages in a motor vehicle accident as the consequence of the fault of another person may recover damages as if the individual damaged had elected the full tort alternative whenever the person at fault:
(i) is convicted or accepts Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) for driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance in that accident;
(ii) is operating a motor vehicle registered in another state;
(iii) intends to injure himself or another person, provided that an individual does not intentionally injure himself or another person merely because his act or failure to act is intentional or done with his realization that it creates a grave risk of causing injury or the act or omission causing the injury is for the purpose of averting bodily harm to himself or another person; or
(iv) has not maintained financial responsibility as required by this chapter, provided that nothing in this paragraph shall affect the limitation of section 1731(d)(2) (relating to availability, scope and amount of coverage).
(2) An individual otherwise bound by the limited tort election shall retain full tort rights with respect to claims against a person in the business of designing, manufacturing, repairing, servicing or otherwise maintaining motor vehicles arising out of a defect in such motor vehicle which is caused by or not corrected by an act or omission in the course of such business, other than a defect in a motor vehicle which is operated by such business.
(3) An individual otherwise bound by the limited tort election shall retain full tort rights if injured while an occupant of a motor vehicle other than a private passenger motor vehicle.