Why can't I get compensated for pain and suffering? What is full tort vs limited tort coverage?

Question

I live in Pennsylvania and I was injured in a car accident a few months ago. It was the other driver’s fault. I’m bringing a personal injury lawsuit against them, but they are saying that I can’t recover for pain and suffering because I have limited tort coverage, not full tort coverage. What's the difference?

Answer

In Pennsylvania, when you purchase personal injury protection (PIP) car insurance -- as vehicle owners are required to do under state law --  you have two main coverage options: “full tort” and “limited tort” (you’re required to carry “limited tort” at minimum; “full tort” is optional.

With “full tort” coverage, as long as the car accident was not your fault, you are allowed to pursue the at-fault party and seek recovery for all losses associated with the accident, including compensation for your pain and suffering. “Full tort” coverage is a little more expensive, but it keeps all your options on the table as far as getting full compensation after a car accident.

The premiums are cheaper for “limited tort” coverage, but as the name suggests, your options are limited if you get into a car accident. You usually cannot recover “pain and suffering” damages (more on this below), just compensation for your medical treatment and lost income in most cases.    

Even with only limited tort coverage, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver, which means you’ll be able to collect compensation for pain and suffering and other damages. But you’ll need to meet the state’s “serious injury” threshold: your car accident must have caused “personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement,” according to the applicable Pennsylvania statute, which can be found at 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. section 1702.

Obviously, whether or not your injuries are “serious” under this statutory definition is a point that’s up for negotiation. For example, what amounts to “serious” when it comes to impairment or disfigurement? You (as the injured person) will argue that your injuries are serious under this definition, so that you should be able to sue for pain and suffering. But the other driver (usually through his or her insurance carrier) will claim that your injuries are not that serious, so you should be stuck with your “limited tort” options. So, be prepared for a fight.

by:  , J.D.

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