If you sign for limited tort, you have given up your right to seek compensation for pain and suffering, embarrassment, loss of enjoyment of life, and other “non-economic damages.” Because most people are unfamiliar with automobile insurance terms, they don’t really understand what limited tort means. They choose it because it’s going to save some money on their automobile insurance premiums.

The typical scenario: you’re talking to your insurance agent and he/she tells you they have your insurance policy ready and you need to sign some papers. One of the papers says you are agreeing to take limited tort. In your haste to sign the many papers the insurance agent puts in front of you, you may not even notice the exact document. Often, if you ask what that means, the insurance agent tells you that you are still getting “full coverage” but at a cheaper rate. You’re basically rushed into taking limited tort without fully understanding your other options. You have just given up some of your rights and don’t even realize it until it is too late to do anything about it.

Exceptions to Limited Tort

Even if you sign for limited tort, you may still have full tort rights under the following circumstances:

  • If you suffer a “serious injury,” you maintain your full tort rights. Serious injury is defined as death, serious disfigurement, or serious impairment of a bodily function. The first two exceptions are basically self-explanatory. The third exception, serious impairment of a bodily function, can be a problem. The Pennsylvania Courts have been making decisions for over 30 years about what is meant by a serious impairment of a bodily function. These decisions are all over the place and, in my opinion, can result in a serious miscarriage of justice. There are cases of people with fractured ribs, broken arms, broken jaws, brain damage, or herniated discs where the Courts have decided that the person did not have a serious impairment of a bodily function and dismissed their case. The insurance carriers all know about these cases, which will make them less likely to settle a case. They will drag you through the Court system for as long as they can, and hope that they will have to pay you little or nothing. I recommend that for any automobile accident case involving an injury, you should consult with an attorney who concentrates his/her law practice on automobile accidents. An attorney with decades of experience will give you the best chance of recovering in a limited tort case.
  • The person who is responsible for the accident is convicted of, pleads guilty to, or accepts Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition to driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. Remember, simply being charged is not enough. Even if you think the other person is drunk, if the police do not charge and convict, this exception does not apply.
  • The person who is responsible for the accident is driving a vehicle that is registered in another state. It doesn’t matter if the person is from another state or has a driver’s license from another state. They must be driving a vehicle that is registered/has a license plate from another state. This issue arises in tractor-trailer accidents. If the trailer is registered in another state and the tractor is registered in Pennsylvania, insurance companies argue that the “vehicle” is registered in Pennsylvania, and limited tort applies.
  • The person who is injured is a driver or passenger in a commercial vehicle. This mostly would apply to a taxicab or bus, but can be extended to work vehicles, rental cars, and other vehicles.
  • The person who was injured is a pedestrian. Insurance companies will try and argue if you get out of your car and start walking and get hit by a car that you are not a pedestrian, but that you are “vehicle-oriented” and that limited tort should apply.
  • The person responsible for the accident is not insured. This really doesn’t help a lot unless you have uninsured motorist coverage, since you are probably not going to be able to collect anything from the person with no insurance anyway. Also, insurance companies may argue that while you have full tort rights against the uninsured driver, you are still considered limited tort as it applies to them.
  • The person who was injured is claiming that their injuries stem from a defective product in the car, such as a defective airbag.

You can see that even after reading this information, the issues involving limited tort vs. full tort are complicated and confusing. That is why if you suffer an injury in an automobile accident, you should always consult with an experienced auto accident attorney.