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Automobile Insurance and Your Right to Sue

In Pennsylvania, each consumer must choose whether to retain the right to sue negligent drivers under his or her automobile insurance policy. If you have elected the "full tort option" under your insurance policy, you have the right to sue a negligent driver who injures you in an automobile accident.

Pennsylvania automobile insurance policies must include a minimum of $5,000 in medical coverage for the policy purchaser and anyone insured under the policy. There is no minimum coverage required in Pennsylvania for reimbursing an insured for wage loss, loss of life, or funeral expenses.

When you purchased your automobile insurance policy, your insurance agent gave you options on medical coverage, wage-loss coverage, and other benefits. It is worthwhile to compare your health insurance coverage with the coverage available from your automobile insurance company and to consider increasing your automobile policy's medical coverage to close any gaps in your health insurance coverage. Your agent also had you choose the right to sue or to limit your right to sue. Whether you remember or not, you have chosen a "full tort" or "limited tort" option on your policy.


Full Tort

If you chose the "full tort option," you retained the right to sue negligent drivers for any uncovered medical expenses or wage losses. You also kept the right to sue negligent drivers to recover for your pain and suffering, other economic losses, and any permanent or continuing limitations on your activities and income that may result from your injuries.


Limited Tort

If you chose the "limited tort option," you can only sue negligent drivers for any money that you spent because your losses were not completely covered by your own automobile insurance or other insurance. However, a limited tort consumer who suffers personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of a body function, or permanent serious disfigurement may sue a negligent driver for pain and suffering, in addition to his or her out-of-pocket losses. Also, a limited tort consumer may still sue for pain and suffering if the negligent driver was drunk, was driving an out-of-state vehicle, acted intentionally, or was uninsured. A limited tort consumer can also bring a lawsuit for injuries suffered in a vehicle that is not a passenger car, and he or she can sue a business to recover damages for an injury caused by a motor vehicle defect.

Consumers who limit their tort options should be sure to purchase adequate medical coverage, extraordinary medical coverage, accidental death coverage, and wage-loss coverage under their own policies. If you do not have your own policy of automobile insurance, you are bound by the tort option selected by your spouse or any insured relative with whom you live. When you select a tort option for yourself, you bind your children, your spouse, and other relatives in your household, unless they have their own insurance policies.

Insurance agents must disclose the premiums for both full tort and limited tort coverage when selling policies. By choosing the limited tort option, you can reduce your annual premium. But be sure you know what you are actually saving before you limit your right to sue--compare those premium savings carefully to the rights you are giving up.

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