How Do the Choices I Make When Purchasing Car Insurance Affect My Rights After an Accident?
October 21, 2021
Drivers must make several important choices when they purchase car insurance. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, drivers are required to pay for a minimum amount of bodily injury liability and property liability coverage. They also have the option to choose or waive certain rights in exchange for lower rates. However, the language of an insurance policy can be confusing.
Many drivers are unaware that what options they choose in their own insurance policies can limit their rights after a car accident, even if the collision was someone else’s fault. Drivers can help protect their legal rights by discovering the difference between “full tort” and “limited tort” and learning more about other important car insurance policy options.
What is the Difference Between Full Tort and Limited Tort?
Choosing a tort option on your auto policy is both one of the most important and most confusing parts of buying auto insurance. A tort is a legal term for a civil wrong that causes one to suffer loss or harm. For example: if someone hit you with their car, they have committed a “tort” against you.
In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, you must choose on your policy between full tort or limited tort coverage. This can be a very confusing decision to make because insurance companies do not always make it clear that that you are giving up your own rights. Even the terminology is confusing. For example, in New Jersey, limited tort coverage is also sometimes called “verbal threshold” or “limitation on liability” coverage.
If you choose limited tort, you give up your right to claim important compensation for injuries caused by another driver unless your injuries are deemed “serious.” A “serious” injury is one resulting in death, disfigurement, serious impairment of a bodily function, or permanent impairment. While there are several exceptions to this limitation that a personal injury attorney can assist with, in many cases people who have selected limited tort are not able to receive compensation for all their injuries and damages caused by an accident.
However, when you select “full tort” (sometimes called “zero threshold” in New Jersey), you have no limitations on your right to make a claim for someone else’s negligence.
At Galfand Berger we strongly recommend to all our clients to not give up this right. Never sign a form in which you select limited tort. This form is called “NOTICE TO NAMED INSUREDS.” If you do sign this, the insurance company of the driver at fault may not have to compensate your losses.
What Rights Would I Give Up by Choosing Limited Tort?
If you were to choose limited tort, you would give up your right to sue for pain and suffering and claim full compensation for many types of injuries that are often caused by car accidents, including the following:
- Your right to seek full recovery of damages for injuries that an insurance company describes as “not serious.”
- Your right to recover damages for lingering pain and suffering caused by a car accident.
The definition of a serious injury is subject to debate. Insurance companies have financial incentive to make this definition as narrow as possible. Devastating and debilitating conditions such as chronic pain syndrome, herniated discs or even whiplash may not constitute permanent impairment or serious impairment of a bodily function, according to insurers. Many times, those injured in car accidents must pay thousands of dollars for treatment of painful and lingering conditions that fail to meet an insurance company’s definition of “serious.”
Choosing limited tort can cause serious hardship for injured parties. It can be quite difficult to prove that an individual has suffered a serious injury if they only have limited tort coverage. If they cannot prove this, they will not obtain the funds they need to pay for treatment. Drivers can avoid this catastrophe by electing full tort coverage.
What Other Choices Affect My Rights After a Car Accident?
Drivers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey need to know that they are required to pay for a minimum amount of car insurance and that they have the option to choose or waive certain rights regarding their right to file claims. Motorists caught driving without car insurance may be fined or lose their driver’s license for subsequent violations.
The minimum amount of car insurance required in Pennsylvania is as follows:
- Bodily injury liability: $15,000 per person, $30,000 per accident
- Property damage liability: $5,000
- First party benefits: $5,000
In addition to these minimum requirements, insurance companies must also offer options for higher liability coverage limits, electing full or limited tort, and additional coverage for accidents caused by uninsured motorists/underinsured motorists (UM/UIM).
Why Should Drivers Consider Paying for More Than Minimum Liability Coverage?
Motorists may pay hundreds of dollars a year just for minimum coverage. This may persuade them to forgo other options that cost extra money. However, drivers should consider paying for more than minimum liability coverage to avoid the risk of serious financial hardship if they get into a severe accident that is their fault. Liability (bodily injury) coverage of $100,000/300,000 or higher is recommended.
It is advised to never sign the following waivers:
- Rejection of UM coverage: UM coverage provides protection if a car accident is caused by a driver who has no insurance or if the driver flees the scene. Accepting this coverage is very important.
- Rejection of UIM coverage: UIM coverage gives an additional source of compensation if the other driver’s insurance is not enough to cover losses. Accepting this coverage is also important as the minimum bodily injury liability limit is only $15,000, which may not even be enough to pay for an initial hospital stay after an accident, let alone ongoing medical treatment costs. Statistics by the Insurance Research Council indicate that in 2019, 12.6 percent of motorists on the road did not have adequate car insurance.
How Do I Know What My Insurance Will Cover if I am in a Car Accident?
To find out what your insurance will cover if you are in a car accident, start by reading the declaration page of your car policy. This page will list your coverage limits as well as the choices you have made regarding full tort, limited tort, and UM/UIM coverage.
However, the terminology of insurance policies can be very confusing. If you are involved in a car accident, it is best to speak with an experienced lawyer to understand your rights when filing a claim. It is understandable to have many questions after a serious car accident. A qualified car accident lawyer can help answer those questions and determine whether you have a valid claim for recovering various types of compensatory damages, including but not limited to the following:
- Medical bills, both current and future
- Lost wages and loss of future earning potential
- Property damage
- Childcare, housekeeping, and other additional expenses
- Pain and suffering
Our attorneys at Galfand Berger LLP have decades of experience helping clients who have been seriously injured in car accidents. Some victories for our clients include:
- $1 million verdict for fractured pelvis and leg. Our client suffered severe injuries in a car accident, resulting in significant medical treatment costs. The insurance company representing the at-fault driver attempted to persuade our client to accept a low settlement. We advised the client to decline the offer and took the case to trial. The jury returned a verdict in favor of our client for $1 million.
- $875,000 award in UM claim. Our client suffered extensive injuries to both hips because of the collision. Initially, the insurance company disputed the client’s claims, however, our attorneys were successful in proving the extent of our client’s injuries.
The language of car insurance policies can be very confusing. If you have been injured in an auto accident, it is in your best interested to consult an experienced lawyer to understand your legal rights. A qualified lawyer can evaluate your case, explain your options, and negotiate a just settlement. Our attorneys at Galfand Berger LLP are here to help. You may also reference our publication.
Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Work to Protect Their Clients’ Rights Regarding Car Insurance
Your rights to recover damages after a car accident may be limited by your insurance policy. Our Philadelphia car accident lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP work to help our clients understand the language of their insurance policies so they can protect their legal rights. If you were hurt in an accident, do not hesitate to call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. We have offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, and we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.