Question: I was in a car accident and was injured. I reported the accident to my car insurance company. The agent was very nice and we were discussing the accident. I went to the emergency room after the accident and was told to follow up with an orthopedic doctor. I also have significant back pain and need physical therapy for several months. I want to sue the driver who caused the accident. My agent tells me that I may not be able to sue the other driver because I have limited tort on our auto insurance company. What is limited tort? Why can’t I sue the at-fault driver even though I am hurt?
Answer: Limited tort is a type of coverage you chose when you bought your car insurance policy. All drivers have the choice between limited tort or full tort.
Limited tort limits the insured’s ability to sue the at-fault driver to recover for pain and suffering damages, also known as non-economic damages. The insured can recover economic damages from the at-fault driver, such as medical expenses and lost wages, but just not pain and suffering damages. On the other hand, full tort does not limit an insured’s ability to sue the at-fault driver for pain and suffering damages.
However, there are exceptions to limited tort pursuant to section 1705(d)(1) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL). For instance, if the at-fault driver’s vehicle is registered from a state other than Pennsylvania, then a limited tort driver is deemed to have full tort. Other exceptions include:
- if 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 intentionally injures the victim, or
- the at-fault driver is the owner of a currently registered motor vehicle and has not maintained financial responsibility as required.
If none of these above exceptions apply, the law also provides that a limited tort driver is deemed to have full tort if their injuries are “serious” pursuant to the law.
In your case, it is true that you may not sue for pain and suffering damages as a result of the car accident due to limited tort unless one of the exceptions apply pursuant to section 1705(d)(1). If none of those exceptions apply, you may sue the other driver if your injuries are “serious.” The law defines a serious injury as “[a] personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement.”
Let’s assume after several months of physical therapy, your back is better and you make a full recovery. You would not be able to sue because your injuries were not “serious.” They did not seriously impair your body function because you were able to make a full recovery. Despite the fact that you were injured, you would not be able to sue the at-fault driver for pain and suffering damages.
However, let’s assume, even after months of physical therapy, you do not recover and your injuries gets worse. You are in constant pain, and cannot sit for a long period of time. You will need pain injections indefinitely in the future. Because of your back pain, you are no longer able to exercise and do a lot of the house work. In such a case, your injuries may be considered “serious.”
Because you are starting to have treatment, we need to wait and see how you recover and what your future medical prognosis is before determining whether you have serious and permanent injuries.
Car accident laws in Pennsylvania can be very confusing and at time, unfair. It is best that we talk about your accident. This way we can gather all of the evidence and facts in order to properly evaluate whether you may sue the other driver. Feel free to call our office to schedule a free consultation. 215.985.0777
About Jordan Namerow, a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer
Jordan Namerow has been selected by the American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys as one of the “10 Best” personal injury lawyers in Pennsylvania who has provided exceptional and outstanding client service. He has helped countless car accident victims in Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania. Mr. Jordan cares about his clients and always strive to obtain the best recovery for his clients.
Definition of Limited Tort Pursuant to Section 1705(a)(1)(A)
“Limited Tort” Option–The laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania give you the right to choose a form of insurance that limits your right and the right of members of your household to seek financial compensation for injuries caused by other drivers. Under this form of insurance, you and other household members covered under this policy may seek recovery for all medical and other out-of-pocket expenses, but not for pain and suffering or other nonmonetary damages unless the injuries suffered fall within the definition of “serious injury” as set forth in the policy or unless one of several other exceptions noted in the policy applies.