Written by attorney Jeffrey Harlan Penneys

Limited Tort in Pennsylvania

In 1990, Pennsylvania enacted changes to their mandatory motor vehicle insurance law that have created numerous problems and much confusion for all Pennsylvania drivers and their relatives The legislature and the insurance industry created an alternative category for injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents called “limited tort". In addition, they made mandatory “uninsured motorist coverage’s" optional.

Since these changes were enacted, I have seen many disastrous cases. Part of the problem is that the public perception of the difference between “limited tort" and “full tort" is not reality. In two Pennsylvania decisions, a gentleman sustained a broken foot and a two-year-old child sustained a fractured skull, both victims lost their injury claims. They did not lose because the accident was their fault, they lost because they selected or were bound by limited tort. If these parties (or parents) had known that these injuries would not qualify under “limited tort", these parties would have selected “full tort". The cost difference between full tort and limited tort is too small to justify selection of limited tort.

Insurance companies do not explain that by selecting “limited tort" you have bound all resident relatives, i.e. mother, father, children to that selection (unless they own their own car, then they are bound by their selection). Additionally, “limited tort" applies to almost every fact pattern. If you are in my car and we are in an accident, and I have “full tort" and you have “limited tort" on your automobile at home then you are subject to the “limited tort" restrictions even though your automobile was not involved in this accident. Just recently the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has yet again carved out another exception to the Limited Tort rule, it states that pedestrians struck by cars are now NOT subject to Limited Tort even if they own an automobile with Limited Tort as their threshold or live with a family member who has selected and therefore bound the victim to Limited Tort.

The best way to understand this is as follows:

The automobile policy you choose and the tort selection you choose follow the people in your household, not the automobile you purchase the policy on.

More disastrous is the option to waive uninsured motorist coverage. This waiver means that if an uninsured motorist strikes you and you have waived this coverage then you have no claim, no matter how serious the injury. The definition of uninsured motorist is as follows: A vehicle that is uninsured, a vehicle that hits and runs, a stolen motor vehicle, a vehicle that is being used without the permission of its owner (joyriding), a vehicle that forces you off the road and leaves the scene or a rental vehicle where the driver is not the party that took out the rental contract. For example, if your twelve year old is riding a bicycle and your neighbor’s seventeen year old son who took his father’s car keys without permission strikes him or her, your child had no claim no matter how serious the injuries sustained. This accident triggers the uninsured motorist portion of your policy even though the vehicle that struck is insured. If you have waived the uninsured motorist coverage on your household vehicle, your child has no claim for his or her injuries. This waiver is a complete and total waiver, which means that even if your child is hospitalized with traumatic injuries there is no claim.

The changes in the 1990 motor vehicle insurance law and their ramifications are too numerous and complicated to list on two pages. You must be an informed consumer; the time to decide is not after the accident occurs. The time is now, before the accident ever happens. Choose “full tort". Do not waive uninsured motorist coverage.

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