by Alan L. Pepicelli
Under the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsible Law, a person purchasing automobile insurance has the right to choose between “full tort” and “limited tort”. Simply stated, full tort coverage provides you the unlimited right to make a claim for pain and suffering in the event that you are injured as the result of the carelessness of another driver. This does not mean that you are required to make a claim in every case, however it gives you the choice to make that decision.
Limited tort coverage, on the other hand, limits your right and the right of your family members to make a claim for pain and suffering, unless you or they have sustained “a serious injury”. “Serious injury” is defined in the statute as, “a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement.” The problem arises, however, because the terms, “serious impairment of body function” and “permanent serious disfigurement” are not defined, and in many cases, neither insurance adjusters, attorneys, nor courts know whether a particular injury will be found to constitute a “serious injury” which would permit a person choosing limited tort from making a claim for pain and suffering.
While everyone would agree that a bruised leg or a sprained finger would not constitute a serious injury, what about a neck injury requiring eleven (11) months of doctor visits, physical therapy, and injections? What about a shoulder injury requiring arthroscopic surgery, or a fractured arm placed in a cast for eight (8) weeks?
Imagine the surprise and outrage on the part of parents whose own insurance company advised them after the accident that their minor’s child’s injuries, consisting of two skull fractures, blood clot to the brain, a fractured jaw (resulting in two surgeries), and a fractured leg (resulting in two surgeries) did not constitute a “serious injury”, as the result of which the insurance company initially denied the claim. This actually happened.
The fact of the matter is that, if you choose limited tort in order to save a few dollars on your insurance premium, you are giving up the valuable right to decide for yourself whether your injury is significant enough to make a claim against the responsible person for pain and suffering. Why would you ever permit the insurance carrier for the party responsible for causing your injury make the determination as to whether the injury is serious enough to permit you to file a claim? Even more importantly, if you elect limited tort you are making a decision which will bind not only you, but also your spouse, children and other relatives with whom you reside.
Be smart. Insist upon Full Tort Coverage.