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Your Auto Insurance - Full Tort / Limited Tort

When buying auto insurance everyone wants to protect themselves and their families and at the same time be as economical as they can.  The first thing you need to remember is that an auto insurance policy is not one single contract but contains main different separate and distinct coverages.  The decision that you make on each one of your coverages could have a significant consequence when you need to use them.  I am often asked by family, friends and clients to advise them on what types of coverage to purchase.  There are certain areas of coverage which I believe are more important than others.  My goal in this series of blogs is to touch on each of the areas and their importance.  As a lawyer who has been handling auto insurance accident cases for nearly thirty years I hope some of my insights will be helpful. Limited Tort vs. Full Tort: What is a "tort"?  The word tort is not a word that we use in our everyday vocabulary.  It is an old English and French term derived from mid evil Latin meaning, "damage, injury or a wrongful act done willingly, negligently..." It's context in an automobile policy written in Pennsylvania becomes important should you suffer a personal injury from an automobile accident that occurs in Pennsylvania.  Let me begin with a little (very little) background: by the year 1990 auto insurance premiums throughout the state had risen dramatically especially in big cities like Philadelphia.  In addition, Pennsylvania's automobile insurance laws were in need of a good overhaul and so we ended up with the Financial Responsibility Act of 1990 which is the current law governing automobile insurance in Pennsylvania. In order to make auto insurance more affordable our legislature created a scheme allowing its citizens to select a "full tort" or "limited tort" option.  To keep it short and simple selection of the full tort option allows an injured party to make a claim and pursue a case for injury regardless of how "serious" it may be.  Conversely, selection of the "limited tort" option does exactly that, limits an injured party to making a claim only if they are seriously injured.  The scheme provides that those selecting the "limited tort" option would get a break on their premiums (between 10-20%).  So, if you selected limited tort you saved a few bucks, but you gave up an important right for you and possibly all members of your household.  In order to make a claim for personal injury you will be required to show that you are "seriously injured".  These words are what lawyers call a "term of art" meaning it is subject to differences of opinion.  The law tries to define what a serious injury is, but our courts have struggled for almost twenty years to clarify it.  Huh? Twenty years and no precise  formula?  Exactly. Its nice to save a few dollars but the consequences can be hard to except.  One area which causes the most difficulties with this scheme relates to soft tissue injury.  Lingering, chronic soft tissue injury can be as serious or more serious than accident injuries requiring surgery or involving broken bones  -  but they are often difficult to prove.  What should I do?  Check with your insurance agent and look at the differences in your premium savings.  Here in the Lehigh Valley you may be surprised to see that the savings is not nearly as large as the risk that you may incur if someone in your family is injured.  By the way, selecting "limited tort" never prevents you from getting reimbursed for out of pocket damages like property damage and lost wages.  Be secure and selecta full tort if at all possible, and remember the best way to avoid serious injury is to wear your seatbelt at all times. Dennis F Feeley

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