Full Tort vs. Limited Tort, is it worth the extra money?

November 11, 2010

When a client comes into my office with a potential personal injury claim involving an auto accident, many times one of the first questions I’ll ask is whether that person had full tort or limited tort insurance coverage at the time of the accident. And in many of those situations, the response I get to that question is "I don’t know" or "what’s the difference." The difference can be significant. 

In Pennsylvania, insurance providers are required to provide consumers with a choice between full tort coverage and limited tort coverage. Limited tort coverage is almost always cheaper and, because of that cost savings, can affect the choice an individual makes. This choice has the potential to cost them significantly should they ever be involved in an automobile accident. 

The difference between limited tort coverage and full tort coverage is that, limited tort coverage permits a person injured in an automobile accident to only recover for his or her out of pocket medical bills, wage loss, automobile repair costs, and other actual monetary loss.  When an individual elects to have limited tort coverage, he or she is foregoing the right to pursue damages in a personal injury claim for pain and suffering and other similar damages, even where you are not at fault. There is a limited exception to this general rule that permits a person with limited tort coverage to pursue a claim for pain and suffering where the injuries they sustained in the accident were "serious." Serious injuries however, are not always clearly defined or proven. Certainly, where an individual requires life saving treatment following an accident, those injuries would be serious and allow full recovery for pain and suffering. The problem is that in the majority of cases, the line that differentiates a serious injury from that of a non-serious injury is less clear.

An individual with full tort coverage, on the other hand, regardless of the extent of the injury, is able to assert a claim for pain and suffering, so long as the accident was not his or her fault. The individual with full tort coverage not forced to first demonstrate that they received a serious injury from the accident before they can recover for pain and suffering. Because there is no threshold which must first be met, an individual with full tort coverage can automatically assert a claim for all of their losses, not just the "out of pocket" costs. 

So, when the time comes to purchase a new insurance policy, or when you have an opportunity to review the terms of your existing policy with your insurance agent, it’s a good idea to discuss with your agent the election you currently have on your policy. Even though with limited tort coverage you are able to recover costs like medical bills related to the injury at the time of the accident, it’s hard to anticipate the long term effects an accident can have on your health. For example, what may initially present as a non-serious back injury, may over time continue to cause inconvenience, annoyance, and pain which may have a significant impact on your daily life. These ongoing problems may effect your ability to maintain a home, fully perform your job functions, and other similar issues for which you would not be able to recover if you had limited tort coverage.

The bottom line is, if you want to be sure that you have preserved your right to pursue the full extent of your damages in a personal injury claim you must make an election for full tort coverage. If the added cost is a concern, discuss with your agent ways to save on your policy in other areas, like increasing your deductible.