PA car accident and insurance laws can be very confusing. One of the most confusing issues is limited tort. Many drivers do not know what limited tort is and may not even realize that they have limited tort on their auto insurance policies.
Brief Explanation of PA’s Limited Tort Law
When PA drivers buy an auto insurance policy, one of the elections they must make is limited tort or full tort. Limited tort is less expensive than full tort. Thus, drivers often choose limited tort in exchange for the lower annual premium. Other than knowing that limited tort is cheaper than full tort, most drivers do not know how limited tort applies in the event of an auto accident.
Pursuant to Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL), insured motorists are limited in their ability to receive financial compensation for pain and suffering if they have limited tort. In other words, they generally cannot sue at-fault drivers to recover pain and suffering damages in a PA car accident lawsuit.
If injured drivers have full tort, their ability to sue at-fault drivers for pain and suffering damages in a car accident lawsuit is not limited.
However, there are exceptions to limited tort. Injured drivers who have limited tort are deemed to have full tort if certain exceptions apply. However, many drivers are not aware of the exceptions and thus, there are common misconceptions with regard to limited tort.
Misconception #1: If you have limited tort, you can only sue for pain and suffering damages if your injuries are very serious.
Though an injured motorist with limited tort can sue for pain and suffering if they suffered “a serious injury,” there are other exceptions that injured motorists are not aware of. Stay tuned for an article discussing what types of injuries are “serious” under the law.
Under section 1705(d)(1) of the MVFRL, drivers with limited tort may sue for pain and suffering damages if any of the following applies:
- the at-fault driver is convicted or accepts Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) for driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance in the accident,
- the at-fault driver is operating a vehicle registered in another state, e.g., New Jersey,
- the at-fault driver intentionally injures the plaintiff,
- the vehicle driven by the at-fault driver does not have the required auto insurance, or
- the injured motorist is injured while a passenger in a commercial vehicle such as a bus or taxi.
Therefore, a Philadelphia driver who has limited tort and is rear-ended by a vehicle registered in New Jersey may sue the at-fault driver for pain and suffering damages regardless of the severity of his injuries.
Misconception #2: If you have limited tort, you can’t sue for any financial losses.
Injured drivers who have limited tort may think that because they cannot sue for pain and suffering damages, they also cannot make claims for other losses. This is not true. PA injured drivers who have limited tort can still make claims for damages such as medical bills, lost wages and out of pocket expenses.
For instance, Driver A has limited tort and is injured in an intersection accident in Northeast Philadelphia. The accident was caused by Driver B who went through a red light and t-boned Driver A. Fortunately, Driver A’s injuries are not catastrophic. He sustains soft tissue injuries to his back. However, he does need to have physical therapy for several months. In addition, Driver A could not work for several weeks. Driver A is a rehabilitation nurse which requires him to lift patients all the time. Because of his back injuries, he was unable to perform his job. After several months of physical therapy, Driver A’s back injury reached maximum medical improvement, and he was able to return to work.
Though Driver A cannot sue for pain and suffering damages because his back injury is not “serious,” he may make a claim for his lost wages against the driver. In addition, if his medical PIP coverage is exhausted, he may also make a claim for his medical bills not covered by his auto insurance.
Misconception #3: If you have limited tort, you can’t sue for pain and suffering damages if you were injured as a pedestrian.
Another misconception about limited tort involves situations when insured drivers/passengers are injured as pedestrians. They may think they cannot sue the at-fault drivers for pain and suffering damages if they have limited tort or unless one of the limited tort exceptions applies. This is not true.
It is well established by a Pennsylvania pedestrian car accident case that limited tort does not apply to insured drivers/passengers when they are injured as pedestrians. See L.S., a Minor v. David Eschbach, Jr., Inc. (Pa. Supreme Court 2005). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that pedestrians are not associated with motor vehicles, and that the law regarding limited tort does not apply to pedestrians.
Help After a Philadelphia Car Accident
Philadelphia car accident victims are often at a loss after car accidents. Those with limited tort are often surprised to discover that they cannot sue for pain and suffering unless one of the exceptions applies. It is best for car accident victims to talk to an experienced car accident lawyer who can answer all of their questions and concerns. Our injury and accident lawyers work hard to get you fair compensation for injuries suffered in a car, truck or pedestrian accident.
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Page last updated: October 7, 2016