Pennsylvania car accident and insurance laws can be confusing, especially when it comes to limited tort car insurance policies. Many Philadelphia drivers have limited tort and generally do not understand what it is and how it affects them in the event of a Philadelphia car accident.
What is Limited Tort?
When PA drivers buy car insurance policies, one of the elections they must make is between limited tort and full tort policies. Limited tort is less expensive than full tort. As a result, most drivers choose limited tort even though they do not fully understand what that means for them.
Limited tort limits an insured driver’s legal right to bring a lawsuit against at-fault drivers for non-economic damages, also known as pain and suffering damages. It does not affect their ability to sue for non-economic damages such as lost wages or out of pocket medical expenses resulting from the car accident.
Related: Pennsylvania Car Accident & Insurance Terms Drivers Need to Know
Exceptions to Limited Tort
There are exceptions to limited tort, but many limited tort drivers are not aware of them and automatically assume that they are not going to be able to recover pain and suffering damages. This is not true.
If an exception to limited tort is met, an injured limited tort driver is then deemed to have full-tort and is able to sue for pain and suffering damages. The exceptions are provided in section 1705(d)(1) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL). Limited tort drivers can sue for non-economic damages 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,
- operating a vehicle registered in another state,
- intentionally injures the plaintiff, or
- the owner of a currently registered motor vehicle and has not maintained financial responsibility as required.
For instance, if a PA limited tort driver is injured in Center City Philadelphia as a result of a car accident caused by a New Jersey driver whose vehicle is registered in New Jersey, then the PA limited tort driver is deemed to have full tort, and he may sue for pain and suffering damages.
Section 1705(d)(2)-(3) further provides:
(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.
Serious Injury Exception
When no exceptions to limited tort apply, limited tort drivers may still recover pain and suffering damages from at-fault drivers if they can show that they suffered a “serious injury,” which is defined by the law.
Pursuant to §1702 of the statute, a serious injury is an injury that results in “death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement.” But what is serious impairment of body function? And what is a permanent serious disfigurement?
Serious Impairment to Body Function
Pennsylvania car accident cases have provided a standard for determining serious impairment of body function which focuses on how the injuries affect a particular body function and not the injuries themselves. The standard is based on 2 questions:
- What body function was impaired because of the injuries?
- Was the impairment of the body function serious?
Further, the court also considers the effects of the injury on the specific person, and not to an average person.
The answers to these 2 questions are different for everyone. The same injury can have different effects on people. Therefore, determining serious impairment of body function is a case by case analysis.
Permanent Serious Disfigurement
Pennsylvania courts also provide a standard for determining permanent serious disfigurement, which focuses on 2 questions:
1. How noticeable is the scarring after there has been a period of healing?
2. Is there medical evidence that says the scarring is permanent?
Stay tuned for articles that will analyze car accident cases which deal with serious injury and permanent serious disfigurement.
Help After Being Injured in a Philadelphia Car Accident
If you have limited tort and were injured in a car accident in Philadelphia or the surrounding suburbs, it is vital that you speak to a Pennsylvania car accident lawyer. Even though you have limited tort, you may be able to overcome the limited tort. Jordan Namerow is an experienced PA car accident lawyer and always offers FREE consultations. 215-985-0777