One of the most critical questions we will ask you in any Philadelphia car accident case is whether you elected the limited tort or full tort option when you purchased car insurance.
Your tort election can potentially have a serious impact on your ability to file a lawsuit and recover for pain and suffering you have experienced after your car crash.
Our experienced personal injury attorneys in Philadelphia can help you determine whether you are subject to limited tort or full tort after your auto accident, and explain in more detail the potential consequences of that determination, in addition to determining whether any of the statutory exceptions discussed below apply in your case.
What does it mean if I am Limited Tort?
Being subject to the limited tort threshold in Pennsylvania means that you cannot recover for pain and suffering and other non-economic damages resulting from your car accident unless you meet the definition of “serious injury.”.
This can happen either because you:
- elected the limited tort option when you purchased your insurance policy, or
- don’t own a vehicle but live with a relative who elected limited tort.
What are Noneconomic Damages?
Noneconomic damages consist of things like:
- pain and suffering,
- embarrassment and humiliation,
- loss of life’s pleasures and loss of consortium.
Noneconomic damages do not include property damage, medical bills, wage loss, future medical expenses and any other out-of-pocket expense you may incur following your car accident. These expenses are always recoverable, regardless of whether you are limited tort or full tort.
What Constitutes a Serious Injury?
The law in Pennsylvania defines a “serious injury” as a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of a bodily function or permanent serious disfigurement.
The law does not provide any further guidance regarding what a “serious impairment of a bodily function” means, but Pennsylvania Courts have decided hundreds of cases over the years that do help clarify. There is no bright-line rule for determining whether an injury is a serious injury.
For instance, there is no case that says if you suffer from a herniated disc in your low back following your car accident you have a serious injury and can sue for pain and suffering. Rather, the courts have stated that the inquiry should be performed on a case by case basis, focusing on the following:
- What, if any body function was impaired
- The nature and extent of the impairment
- The particular body function impaired
- The length of time the impairment lasted
- The treatment required to correct the impairment
Essentially, the focus is not on the injury itself but on the nature and extent of the impairment resulting from the injury. This should be decided on an individual basis, meaning that what is serious for one person may not be serious for another.
Your injury does not need to be permanent to qualify as a serious injury under the law.
So I Elected The Limited Tort Option – Can I still sue?
Even if you selected the limited tort option or are deemed to be limited tort as discussed below, there may be an exception applicable in your case that will allow you to sue for pain and suffering even if you did not sustain a “serious injury.” The exceptions to limited tort status in Pennsylvania are:
- The car that hit you is registered in another state
- The other driver intentionally caused the accident
- The other driver did not have motor vehicle insurance on his/her vehicle
- The other driver is convicted of drunk driving or accepts ARD
- The defendant is in the business of designing, manufacturing, repairing servicing or otherwise maintaining motor vehicles and the accident is due to a defect in the car
- You are a passenger in a motor vehicle other than a private passenger motor vehicle, i.e., a bus or other commercial vehicle.
These exceptions highlight why it is important to speak to a car accident attorney following your accident to make sure that a proper investigation is performed immediately in order to determine whether there may be any exceptions to the limited tort laws that are applicable to your case. Consulting with the best car accident lawyers around will ensure that your rights are protected and right to sue preserved.
I Was Injured In A Car Accident In New Jersey – Can I Sue For Pain And Suffering?
Unfortunately, New Jersey law provides generally that if an out-of-state driver, such as a Philadelphia driver, is involved in a car accident while driving in New Jersey, the out-of-state driver will be subject to New Jersey’s limitation on lawsuit, or verbal threshold, which is, for the purposes of this discussion, basically the equivalent of being limited tort in Pennsylvania. There are of course exceptions to New Jersey’s law that exist as well, but those are beyond the scope of this discussion and webpage.
Interestingly, if a New Jersey resident is involved in a Philadelphia car accident or Pennsylvania car accident, the New Jersey resident is automatically deemed full tort under Pennsylvania law and can recover for pain and suffering and all noneconomic damages regardless of how serious the injuries are.
I Don’t Own A Car, Does That Mean I Am Full Tort?
Not necessarily. If you do not own a car and do not live with a relative who does own a car, then yes, you will be deemed full tort following your car accident. However, the law provides that if you don’t own a car but live with a relative who owns a car and that relative has a limited tort insurance policy, you will be bound by your relative’s limited tort policy.
I Own A Car But Didn’t Have Car Insurance, Am I Still Able To Sue?
Yes, you are still able to file a lawsuit for all economic damages resulting from your car accident. However, you will be deemed to have elected the limited tort option even though you have no insurance, which means that in order to sue for pain and suffering and noneconomic damages you will need to prove that you sustained a “serious injury.”
Should I Still Contact A Car Accident Lawyer If I Am Limited Tort?
Absolutely. Regardless of whether you think you are limited tort or full tort, you should contact an experienced Philadelphia car accident lawyer immediately if you are involved in a car accident.
As discussed above, there are numerous exceptions to limited tort status in Pennsylvania. Additionally, even if you are limited tort you can always file a lawsuit to recover economic damages, and may be able to recover for your pain and suffering as well if you have sustained a “serious injury.”
Having an experienced attorney by your side from the beginning to answer your questions, determine whether you are full tort or limited tort, assist you in getting the medical attention you need and review your medical records to determine whether you sustained a “serious injury” is essential.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident, contact one of our experienced Philadelphia car accident lawyers today or call (215) 875-7030. Remember, we don’t get paid unless you do, so why not call?