Understanding How Your Personal Auto Insurance Affects Your Rights When You Are Injured in an Auto Accident

Travis J. Savoia, Esq.

Chair of Personal Injury Group

Often we do not think of our auto insurance coverage until we are in an accident.  Despite auto insurance companies having clever and funny commercials, they do not explain what it is they are selling to you.  Typically, auto insurance companies try to sell you the cheapest insurance they can.  However, this can greatly affect your rights and impact you financially when you are injured in an auto accident.  The three areas of auto insurance that typically are relevant in an auto accident are your medical coverage, your tort election, and whether you have purchased Underinsured and Uninsured motorist coverage.

1) Payment of Medical Expenses (PIP)

When you are in an auto accident, it is important to make sure that your medical expenses are paid, thereby permitting you to continue to receive the medical treatment you need in order to heal from your injuries.

Whether your medical expenses are paid depends upon the type of auto insurance You have purchased prior to the auto accident.  When purchasing auto insurance, you are given the option to purchase PIP (Personal Injury Protection). This term can often be confusing for those purchasing auto insurance, however, it is simply medical insurance coverage in case you are in an accident.  If you have purchased PIP, your auto insurance will pay for your medical treatment for injuries that are caused by the accident and are both reasonable and necessary. When purchasing auto insurance, you are permitted to buy PIP with $5,000, $10,000, $50,000 or $100,000 limits.  It is always recommended that you purchase as much PIP as you can afford as it provides a fast method in which your medical bills will be paid after an auto accident.

2) Tort Election: Full Tort vs. Limited Tort

The second important factor to consider, when purchasing auto insurance, is your tort election.  Often, drivers are confused about their tort election.  In fact, most believe that if they are injured in an accident through the fault of someone else, they are automatically entitled to a monetary award. This is not the case. Whether you have elected Full Tort vs. Limited Tort can greatly affect whether you are in fact entitled to make a claim against a negligent driver.  Here is the difference:

Limited tort is less expensive than full tort, however, it comes with a major difference when you are injured in an auto accident. In Pennsylvania, if you have elected the limited tort option in your auto insurance, you can only recover a monetary award for pain and suffering if you suffered a “Serious Injury.” A “serious injury” is defined as a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function, or permanent serious disfigurement. If you suffer an injury that does not meet this standard, you may be unable to recover for your pain and suffering.

There are numerous exceptions to the limited tort rules.  Contact the attorneys at Bruno Law at 610-258-4003 for a free consultation to discuss whether any of the exceptions to the limited tort rules apply to your case.

Full tort is more expensive than limited tort and comes with an increased cost in your insurance coverage. However, the limitation on recovering for pain and suffering is removed. Quite simply, those insured by full tort policies can sue and may recover for non-economic, pain and suffering damages, as long as the driver who caused their accident was negligent or otherwise legally responsible for the accident injuries, damages or losses.

3) Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Coverage

The final item of your auto insurance policy that would come into play when you are in an accident is whether you have purchased Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Coverage.  As the names imply, Underinsured coverage is for situations when the person who caused your injury has a very low policy limit.  Uninsured motorist coverage is for when you are injured by either an uninsured driver or by a vehicle that does not stop at the scene and cannot be found later, this is what is known as a phantom vehicle.  Purchasing robust Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Coverage is how you protect yourself from those who either buy the state minimum insurance policies, $15,000, or have no insurance whatsoever.

The best way to explain Underinsurance coverage is with an example. Assume you have $200,000 in damages as the result of an auto accident. The driver who caused the auto accident has a $50,000 insurance policy limit. Assume further that you have purchased Underinsured Motorist Coverage of $100,000.  In that situation you would collect $50,000 from the negligent driver and $100,000 from your own insurance company. Your total recovery would be $150,000.00. Based on this example, you can see why purchasing the highest policy limit you can afford is important.

Uninsured coverage functions in a similar way.  Again, assume you have $200,000 in damages as the result of an auto accident.  Since the negligent driver does not have auto insurance, you would make a claim against your own insurance for your $100,000 policy limit.

In Pennsylvania, you are allowed to greatly increase your policy limits through a process called “Stacking.” When you purchase Underinsured and Uninsured coverage, your auto insurance company is required to ask whether for a small increase in your premiums you would like your coverage to be “stacked.” What this means is that the coverage limits are increased based upon how many vehicles you have insured in your policy.  Take the example from above, but assume that you have purchased “stacked” coverage and you own two (2) vehicles.  Your Underinsured coverage would be $200,000. Therefore, you would collect the policy limit from the negligent driver of $50,000 and the remaining damages from your own policy of $150,000 giving you a total recovery of $200,000 and thus making you whole.

Navigating the complexities of auto insurance law can be daunting.  If you were seriously injured due to an auto accident, you may incur medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and a loss of quality of life for which you deserve to be compensated.  We at Bruno Law can provide you with the legal representation to pursue a claim against the negligent driver who caused you harm.  Our lawyers have the experience needed to ensure that your case is successful so that you can focus on recovering from your injuries and trying to get your life back to normal as soon as possible.

If you were injured in an auto accident, we will investigate and pursue your claim for fair compensation for all losses you have sustained.  To schedule a free personal injury consultation and evaluation of your case, please contact us at 610-258-4003 or fill out the Contact form.