MOTOR VEHICLE INJURY
The Pennsylvania MVFRL, Full Tort & Limited Tort Coverage
In Pennsylvania in 1990 the State Legislature enacted the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law ('MVFRL"). That law was designed to contain spiraling Motor Vehicle Insurance Premiums. In doing so, it also had the effect of limiting Insurance Coverage.
The cornerstone of the MVFRL was the option for all to choose between Full Tort Coverage and Limited Tort Coverage. Typically, Limited Coverage would cost a few hundred dollars less and would restrict your right to get money for personal injury. Here is how it plays out.
If you elect Full Tort Coverage and pay a few hundred dollars more a year, you have the unrestricted right to make an injury claim against a negligent driver. That means you could recover Economic Damages such as wage loss and unpaid medical bills as well as
Non-Economic Damages for pain and suffering and loss of life's pleasures.
On the other hand if you elect Limited Tort Coverage, you'll pay a few hundred dollars less for automobile insurance each year. In return, you can still recover money for Economic Damages such as wage loss and unpaid medical bills. However, you can only recover money for Non- Economic Damages such as Pain and Suffering and Loss of Life's Pleasures if you were seriously injured. The MVFRL defines serious injury as a "serious impairment of a body function."
Many times car accidents produce soft tissue injuries which are painful, restrict the range of motion in your neck and back, arms and legs, but often are not deemed to be "serious." For example, you get rear-ended and have $5,000 of damage to the rear end of your car. You suffer a "whiplash" (flexion and extension injury) that last for years and creates on and off neck pain and restricts your ability to turn your head to the left, right, up and down. Despite this pain and restriction of mobility, you continue to do your job and give up on doctors that cannot fix your problem. Thus, you have little in the way of Economic Damages in the form of Wage Loss and Unpaid Medical Bills. However, you have persistent pain that affects your daily life. If you elected Limited Tort Coverage, you have a battle brewing with the Insurance Company for the person that hit you. Often, Insurance Companies will take these matters to Trial and rely on a Jury to pronounce you not seriously injured and not entitled to any money for the persistent neck pain that you live with for years.
Insurance companies have done their homework. Most juries around much of rural and suburban Pennsylvania are conservative. That means they have listened to enough insurance advertising about fraudulent claims that they are reluctant to give money for injuries that they do not believe are really serious. I have found that what is serious to a victim of an injury is not always serious to somebody who has not suffered the same injury.
In fact, more and more insurance companies are not even offering money for Non-Economic Damages if you are covered by Limited Tort Insurance. They have a policy to simply force you to take it to Trial because on the whole they pay out less money than settling Limited Tort claims. Also, they want to send a message to Personal Injury lawyers trying to help victims that they will contest Limited Tort cases and force you to spend money, go to court and take years to try to get a favorable verdict from a jury on a risky case of proving "serious injury" to a conservative jury.
Remember, insurance companies are not the bad guys. They are business people who are in the business of making money. If they believe they could save money by forcing you to go to court and possible losing in 7 out of 10 cases on Limited Tort Matters, they will do so. Their approach is legal and cost-savings on the whole.
Many Personal Injury attorneys are reluctant to take on Limited Tort Cases because they are paid on a percentage/contingency fee basis in Personal Injury Law. Who wants to spend lots of time and money on a case that could take years to get to a Jury Trial only to lose time and money and get nothing in return?
The MVFRL requires all owners of registered vehicles in Pennsylvania to carry minimum insurance coverage of $5,000 for Medical Coverage, $15,000 per person for Liability Coverage, and $30,000 for all people in an accident for Liability Coverage. More and more insurance Companies are offering minimal coverage insurance policies to make drivers legal and make sure any money paid out is minimal. For the insurance company, there is minimal exposure. They love it. What business wouldn't?
Those minimal insurance converges have remained the same for 20 years in Pennsylvania. While everything else in the world has risen dramatically, including premiums, required minimal levels of motor vehicle insurance coverage has remained the same. These days, $15,000 for a serious injury in which you lose income and incur medical bills barely pays for a surgery. And if a car hits a car load of people with 5 people in a car injuring each one, they only get a maximum of $6,000 each ($30,000 per car load divided by 5).
Underinsured Motorist Coverage
How do you protect yourself against this minimal liability coverage? You do so by purchasing Underinsured Motorist Coverage. That means you have to pay for the fact the Law allows drivers to drive cars with minimal insurance coverage. However, it is important to protect yourself by getting Underinsured Motorist Protection (UIM). For example, if you suffer an injury that keeps you out of work for a year and leaves you with a $100,000 of Unpaid Medical Bills, and the other Insurance Carrier only pays you $15,000, you can have your own Insurance Company and own Insurance Coverage to make up the difference.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
There are many uninsured drivers on the road. If you got hit by one of them, you are out of luck. You can protect yourself from the Uninsured Driver. You do so by purchasing Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM). Once again, you have to protect yourself by paying more money against people who have paid no money and are driving cars without insurance. Nevertheless, it is important to do so.
As an Attorney, my heart goes out to my clients who do not have either Uninsured Coverage or Underinsured Coverage in the cases I just set forth. There is simply no recourse for them.
The moral of the story is to protect yourself with decent Liability Coverage, Uninsured Coverage, Underinsured Motorist Coverage, and Full Tort Coverage. It may cost a bit more but someday may be well worth it.
In todays Automobile Insurance Wars the only thing advertisements talk about is paying less for automobile insurance. Just remember - you get what you pay for. Look at the coverage your getting for that premium quote. Most people unfortunately are involved in an car accident sometime in their lives. Make sure you are protected.
Medical Payment Coverage
Finally, every Automobile Insurance Policy in Pennsylvania requires you to carry $5,000 of Medical Payment Coverage. If you do get hurt in an accident that is the one remaining no fault provision left over from prior Pennsylvania Law. The idea is that your medical bills will be always be paid by your own insurance regardless of who is at fault. This prevents squabbling and unpaid medical bills that linger.
Nobody likes to learn about Insurance Coverage. Unfortunately, many of my clients learn after the accident happens and they are not covered adequately for it the injuries and life altering changes they have suffered.
Limited Tort Binds all Relatives in your Home
I hope this information will help you to make the best decisions for your welfare and the welfare of everybody in your household. Remember, that if you select Limited Tort, it binds everybody else in your household who is a relative to be also covered by Limited Tort Coverage. That is Pennsylvania Law, for better or worse.