Reader Question: What Does Tort Mean in Pennsylvania, and Do I Have to Get It?
Some Pennsylvania residents who own vehicles select a tort option on their auto insurance policies despite not knowing what purpose they serve, and often just because it seems cheapest. If that’s your case and/or you don’t know what it means, it’s safe to say that you probably have the lowest option, which gives you very little protection if someone hits you and you’re injured.
Tort simply refers to your right to sue for non-medical injuries if someone hits you. Non-medical expenses could include pain and suffering or mental anguish. Pennsylvania requires you to choose either limited tort or full tort, and your choice determines your monthly premium as well as your rights if someone were to hit you.
If you choose the full tort option, you’re reserving your right to sue for any non-medical expenses. So if Joe comes out of a bar one night drunk, gets in his car, and runs a stop sign and hits you, you can sue for mental anguish and pain and suffering.
There are two points to keep in mind. First, you’ll have to pay more per month for your car insurance just to have this option, even if you never use it. Second, if you choose to sue a driver who has hit you, their insurance company still only has to pay out up to the limits of whatever they chose for their liability coverage. So if Joe only has Pennsylvania’s minimum requirements for auto insurance liability, you’ll only have a maximum of $15,000 toward your medical expenses and lawsuit pertaining to non-medical injury.
However, if $15,000 doesn’t begin to cover your medical expenses or your lawsuit, you do have the right to take Joe to court to try to recoup your loss. His wages could be garnished, and if he owns property, he could be required to sell it to pay for the judgment. If Joe doesn’t have a job and doesn’t own a thing worth any value, you still may not be compensated.
Full tort is still a good option if you want to be sure you have the right to pursue these types of charges and claims. If you don’t have the full tort option, you risk living a reduced quality of life if you’re badly injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault.
If you choose the limited tort option, you’ll pay less for your auto insurance premiums. However, if you’re involved in an accident and weren’t at fault, the only claims that you can make to the other driver’s auto insurance company are for your medical expenses specifically related to an injury from the accident. You don’t have the option to sue for any non-medical issues, unless you’re severely injured as defined by Pennsylvania state law. This would include dismemberment, permanent disability, and other types of severe injuries.
If drunken Joe blows through a stop sign, and you go from being a hard-working family man to being in a wheelchair and unable to provide for your family, the only thing you can do is get your medical coverage paid up to the limits of Joe’s liability, which could be as low as $15,000 in Pennsylvania.
So, Which Option Should You Choose?
If you are a young driver, have a spotty driving history, or feel that the full tort option is too expensive, the limited tort will help you keep your rates low. However, it’s still recommended that you switch to the full tort option as soon as you’re financially able.
If you’re a safe driver and have had continuous insurance coverage, full tort won’t increase your costs much more than limited tort. You should definitely choose the full tort option to protect yourself and your family. Although “tort” may sound like a bad word or an insult used by the British, it’s not at all, but the effects of not carrying the highest tort option available will likely put you in a position where you do use a few choice words.