Automobile Insurance Laws In Pennsylvania

On August 31, 2010, in Auto Accident Injuries, by Silverman and Fodera Personal Injury Law Firm

Auto Insurance

Automobile Insurance Laws In Pennsylvania: A Summary of What You Need to Know

All owners of motor vehicles in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are required by law to purchase and maintain automobile insurance. The laws relating to automobile insurance coverage are compiled in 75 Pa.C.S.A. ßß1701 et seq., commonly known as the Act 6 Amendments to the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, “MVFRL. As an owner, driver or passenger, it is important to understand how automobile insurance affects an individual involved in an automobile accident. The type of coverage an individual selects will depend upon the individual’s needs. The following are the most common types of coverage offered:

Liability Coverage

This coverage is mandatory. That means if you are required to purchase auto insurance, you must buy liability coverage. This type of insurance protects you from claims made against you. If an accident is your fault and you have caused damage or injury to others, your liability insurance is available to compensate the injured party.

The question you should ask yourself is: How much coverage do I really need? The minimum amount the law requires you to purchase is $15,000.00 per individual and $30,000.00 per incident. It is typically written as “15/30″. Higher limits are available and should be purchased if you have assets to protect. If a claim for injuries is made against you and the value of the claim is greater than the limits of your policy, as it might if the injured party is seriously injured, the injured party can either accept your policy limits and release you from further claims, or can pursue the claim against you personally for damages in excess of your policy. Therefore, you should buy sufficient liability coverage to protect your assets (home, savings, investments, income, etc.).

In addition to liability coverage which applies to bodily injury (BI) claims, you can also purchase liability coverage which applies to property damage claims. This coverage applies to damage you caused to the other person’s vehicle. As the cost of automobiles increases, you should consider buying enough coverage to pay for repair or replacement of a damaged vehicle.

Please be aware that if you cause an accident injuring someone, and your insurance company pays money on your behalf to settle the claim against you, your insurance carrier can raise your premium rates and probably will attach a surcharge to your premiums. Certain rules apply to how and when rates can be raised and surcharges applied. You should contact either your attorney or your insurance agent to have this explained to you.

First Party “PIP” Coverage

First Party Benefits (previously referred to as Personal Injury Protection, or PIP) is mandatory coverage. This is a basic no-fault type of medical insurance for your own medical bills. The minimum coverage required by law is $5,000.00. Regardless of who is at fault for the accident, your medical bills (if you need treatment) will be paid through your PIP coverage. You are entitled to this protection, and using it will not affect your rates or premiums in any way. If you exhaust your PIP limit of coverage, then any additional excess medical bills can be submitted to your health insurance. If you have health insurance, then the $5,000.00 minimum PIP limit should be more than adequate coverage. In most cases, even without separate health insurance, the minimum PIP limit is sufficient.

Collision Coverage

This coverage is optional, and pays you for any damage done to your vehicle. It typically is purchased with a deductible. This means that you pay up to the amount of your deductible limit and then your insurance will cover the remainder. A higher deductible will give you a lower premium. If the accident was not your fault, your insurance company should demand your deductible back from the responsible party and then return the deductible to you. Things to consider in deciding whether to buy collision coverage and how high a deductible you can afford are the age of your automobile, its current “blue book” value, and its replacement value. If your car is totaled in an accident, remember the insurance company will only offer you blue book value and not what it would cost for you to purchase a new car.

Comprehensive Coverage

This coverage is optional, and provides protection if your vehicle is stolen or damaged in a variety of ways other than in an accident with another vehicle. It also operates with a deductible contribution from you. The same considerations outlined above for collision coverage apply to decisions about buying comprehensive coverage. Uninsured Motorist Coverage This coverage, called “UM”, is optional, although very important. It protects you in case you are injured by a driver and/or vehicle that is uninsured. With the high number of uninsured drivers on the road, do not overlook this coverage. It is not a good place to look to save money on your premiums.

“UM” coverage may be purchased in amounts equal to or smaller than your liability coverage. You should consider purchasing at least $100,000.00/$300,000.00 limits. If you are injured by an uninsured driver, this is the only benefit available to you. The additional coverage offers you much protection. Ask your insurance agent to give you a price quote so you can make an informed decision about whether or not you can afford the highest limits. Do yourself a favor, do not waive this coverage.

Under-insured Motorist Coverage

This coverage, “UIM”, is similar to the coverage for “UM”, described above. It also is optional. However, this coverage only applies if you are injured, it wasn’t your fault, and the other party didn’t carry enough insurance to adequately compensate you for your injuries. Typically this coverage comes into play when the responsible party had a minimum policy of 15/30 and your injuries are sufficiently serious to exceed that amount. This is very good, smart coverage to purchase in the same amount as “UM” coverage.

Tort Thresholds – Should you sign away your rights?

Concerned about the high rates of automobile insurance, Pennsylvania followed several other states and enacted laws attempting to keep automobile insurance rates affordable. Whether or not the laws actually accomplished their purpose is debatable. However, individuals who buy automobile insurance are now classified as either “full tort” or “limited tort”.

“Tort” is a legal term meaning a private or civil wrong or injury, other than breach of contract, for which the law provides a remedy in the form of an action for damages. Thus, were you to select ‘full” tort coverage, you are preserving your familyís full legal rights in case of an accident or injury. If you select ‘limited” tort coverage, you may save some money, but you are signing away your and your familyís rights in case of an accident or injury – rights you may later deeply regret forfeiting.

An individual who chooses “full” tort pays a higher premium (anywhere from 12% – 20% more) for coverage than if the “limited” tort option had been selected. If you have full tort, you can bring a claim (and ultimately a law suit) for any injury you suffer as a result of an automobile accident. An individual who chose the limited tort option can only recover very limited sums for injuries sustained in an automobile accident, but cannot collect at all unless the injuries are considered to be ‘serious”. The law defines “serious” injury very narrowly.

Serious injury is defined as a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of a bodily function or permanent serious disfigurement. Although the law has defined “serious injury”, you can see from the definition that it is not altogether clear. Case after case has been litigated trying to further define just what the law means by serious impairment of a bodily function.

The recent trend of the courts has been to view most “soft tissue” injuries (neck and back sprains and strains) as insufficient to satisfy the serious impairment requirement. In many cases even broken bones and head injuries have been considered not to meet the law’s definition of “serious”, although they were certainly serious to the injured party. More and more, courts are finding against individuals who have selected the limited tort option. Some judges are looking at the injury and asking whether or not it resolved. Injuries that have healed and no longer cause pain are not considered serious. One plaintiff had a fractured elbow and missed three months of work. The injury healed and the court found against the limited tort plaintiff.

Although it is not impossible to win a claim if you select the “limited tort” option, it has become increasingly difficult. This means that the insurers are able to collect premium dollars on policies to which, they have greatly reduced their risk of loss. In fact, the insurers risk of paying on claims has been reduced at a much higher rate than the small rate reduction passed on to the consumer who selects the limited tort option. Unfortunately, the only way for an individual to protect him/herself is to pay the higher rates for full tort coverage.

This informational piece was prepared by Silverman & Fodera. If you would like more information on this topic, call us at (800) 220-LAW1, or use the “Do I Have A Case?” link on this web site

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19 Responses to Automobile Insurance Laws In Pennsylvania

  1. Rob says:

    “An individual who chose the limited tort option can only recover very limited sums for injuries sustained in an automobile accident, but cannot collect at all unless the injuries are considered to be ‘serious”. The law defines “serious” injury very narrowly.”
    If I have Limited Tort I can always sue for loss of income, hospital bills, rehab cost, damages to my property — I am only limiting my right to sue for “pain & suffering”. If my understanding is correct — then your comment “but cannot collect at all unless the injuries are considered to be serious” is very misleading — actually simply wrong.

  2. Silverman and Fodera Personal Injury Law Firm says:

    Hello Rob and thank you for your comment.

    You are correct that even with limited tort you can sue for things like property damage and loss of income.

    Generally hospital bills will be paid for by your own auto insurance and, after that coverage is exhausted, your own medical insurance. If your medical care bills go beyond that then you could sue for medical costs.

    However the quote you refer to is about recovering damages for the injury itself and what is stated is accurate.

    The point of this article on car accident lawsuits and Pennsylvania car insurance is that limited tort will severely limit your capacity to recover funds for pain and suffering resulting from an injury. Injury from a car accident can be very painful and stressful and it is important that people know that when they take a limited tort option they are signing away their legal right to recover damages for what may be the most significant aspect of the accident and the most harmful effect of their injuries.

    Barring a very high wage loss – damages for pain and suffering resulting from injury usually represents the highest monetary compensation available to a car accident victim – and rightfully so. Those victims who realize only too late that they signed away their legal right to damages from injury for the few dollars they save opting for limited tort often regret that decision.

  3. Edward Cardiello says:

    We have multiple insurance companies that deny Property Damage Liability claims for accident scene recoveries & restoration. I can not find a definition of “Property Damage” in any of the PA Statutes such as Article 75 or 31 regarding what constitutes “Property Damage”. We believe that these claims are justified and are paid by some companies but a few will not accept their liability. The typical answer given is that they “don’t cover this type of property damage”. Any assistance or direction would be greatly appreciated.

    • Silverman and Fodera Personal Injury Law Firm says:

      Hello Edward,

      We apologize for taking so long to answer this comment.

      There isn’t anything that legally defines “property damage.” In situations where the statute doesn’t define something, it’s left to the standard meaning of the words. The next place to look is the terms of the policies in question, which may limit what is considered property damage.

  4. Dottie Hoch says:

    In what year did it beome mandatory for Pennsylvania drivers to carry automobile insurance?

    • Silverman and Fodera Personal Injury Law Firm says:

      It has been mandatory to carry insurance for as long as I can remember. At least 25 years.

  5. Anthony Wright says:

    What if you did not sign a agreement for limited tort it was agreed upon over the phone?

    • Silverman and Fodera Personal Injury Law Firm says:

      If you do not actually sign the limited tort agreement then you are full tort. This is unusual since it is part of the insurance application but it does occur.

  6. tee says:

    I had unknowingly let my insurance lapse by mistake 2 weeks ago and I got into a car accident My car was totaled do I still have any options.

    • Silverman and Fodera Personal Injury Law Firm says:

      Thank you for your question. Unfortunately I would need to know more about what it is you are looking at options for e.g. repairing your car, getting money for an injury etc.

  7. Laurie says:

    Can my insurance company force me to add my new husband as a driver on my policy? He doesn’t use my car and has his own insurance from before we were married.

    • Silverman and Fodera Personal Injury Law Firm says:

      The insurance carrier can require that you list every driver who is a resident on the policy. That is not a law but something the carrier is requiring. If you do not like what the carrier is requiring you have the right to seek out another insurer.

  8. shawna sniezek says:

    I was told that if you have limited tort there are 3 factors that will give you full tort rights. Is this correct?
    1. permanent serious injury
    2. getting hit by a drunk driver
    3. getting hit by someone out of your state

    • Silverman and Fodera Personal Injury Law Firm says:

      You are correct that the three examples that you gave would allow you to proceed for a claim for an injury even if you are limited tort but there are other examples as well.

  9. Eugene Richardson says:

    If a person has insurance and his/her vehicle was involved in an accident, does the law require him/her to produce the information even if they was not the actual driver at the time of the crash?

    • Silverman and Fodera Personal Injury Law Firm says:

      Hello Eugene,

      This question has too many unspecified variables to give a meaningful response. If you need legal help involving a car accident please call our law firm directly – there is no cost for the consultation.

  10. Bill Penney says:

    Great site…In Pa., if I am not legally married, but have lived with a woman for 6 years, and consider ourselves domestic partners…can I add my car onto her car insurance policy with another carrier to save money…even though we are not legally married and the car is in mine name only?
    I am on her health benefits and we own a house together. Thanks, Bill

  11. Roland Bailey says:

    I was involved in a auto accident in july 2011. I was not at fault in fact sitting at a red light stoped. My insurance coverage has full tort so I thought that perhaps I would be able to collect pain and suffering for time away from work or time at physical therapy. The insuance adjuster told me unless a doctor ordered me not to work I am unable to collect for this and other issues. I tried to be fair went to my family doctor he sent me to my nurologist (I have had upper back spinal damage I thought might have been worsoned) No appearent additional damage was seen.He thought it to be more muscular. I than went to my family dr he prescribed pysical therapy this worked just fine but there where certain things I was not able to do in my job during this whole ordeal. Is the adjuster right ? should I have just gotten a lawyer to begin with and went to a doctor who prabably would of held me out of what limited work I did have in these troubled times? I wanted to avoid a frivolouse law suite but may have hurt myself, do you agree.

  12. shan says:

    I was in an auto accident and had mass fractures on two of my vertebrae in my neck. I was the passanger, we were hit by someone running a redlight. Since I do not have insurance, my parents insurance is dealing with it. I know that they have limited torte. Does this mean I won’t be getting any pain and suffering compensation?

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