Types of Insurance Coverage for Car Accidents
Guidance Through the Car Accident Insurance Process
No matter what state you're in, you are required to carry a certain amount of auto insurance coverage. However, what an insurance company may call "full coverage" is not always full protection if you are injured in a crash. It is essential to make sure you know what type of insurance coverage to purchase so that your rights are fully protected in the unfortunate event of an accident.
What Type of Insurance Pays for Damages I Cause to Others?
In Pennsylvania, drivers are required by law to have a minimum amount of liability coverage. Liability coverage is insurance that financially compensates others if you are at fault for an accident. In PA, your policy must provide at least $15,000 per person for bodily injury and $30,000 per accident for bodily injury. This means that if you injure someone in an accident, your insurance company will pay a maximum of $15,000 to one person and $30,000 for the entire accident.
Your policy must also carry at least $5,000 per accident for property damage. These are just minimum requirements, and it is recommended to carry more than the minimum.
What Type of Insurance Coverage Pays for My Medical Bills?
First-party benefits, also known as personal injury protection (PIP) or medical benefits, will pay for your medical bills if you are involved in an accident. This type of coverage is required in Pennsylvania, but not all states require it. PIP is the first line of defense when it comes to getting your medical bills paid.
In PA, insurance companies must provide you with a minimum of $5,000 in medical benefits coverage. PIP will cover the cost of accident-related medical treatment, and may also cover wage loss and funeral costs among other things. Once your PIP coverage exhausts (which could happen quickly if injuries are severe), you can submit your medical bills to your private or government health insurance. But keep in mind that once your injury case settles, most health insurance companies will request to be reimbursed for whatever they paid toward your accident-related bills.
Note: PIP coverage is no-fault in Pennsylvania, which means that your insurance company will pay for your medical bills up to your chosen limit, even if you are the at-fault driver in an accident.
What Type of Insurance Pays if My Injuries Are Caused by an Uninsured Driver?
Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist Coverage
To ensure that you are fully covered in case of a car accident, you should purchase uninsured / underinsured motorist protection on your auto insurance policy. This coverage allows you to bring a claim against your own insurance company if you are injured by a negligent driver who is either uninsured or does not have enough liability insurance.
With uninsured motorist (UM) coverage, your insurance company will pay medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages when you're in an accident caused by a driver who has no insurance to cover these expenses. Your insurance company will pay up to the limits you chose when you bought the policy. (Subject to tort option).
Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage means that your insurance company will pay medical bills, pain and suffering and lost wages when you're in an accident caused by a driver who doesn't have enough insurance to cover these expenses. (Subject to tort option).
UM/UIM coverage is not required in the state of Pennsylvania, but we highly recommend that you purchase this type of coverage. It may slightly increase your premium, but it is well worth it, considering the Insurance Research Council estimates that as many as 1 in 7 drivers are uninsured.
Should I Choose Full Tort or Limited Tort on My Auto Insurance Policy?
When you purchase auto insurance in the state of Pennsylvania, you are given the option to select either full tort or limited tort on your policy. When presented with this decision, many people are inclined to choose the limited tort option because it translates into a cheaper premium. However, a large number of individuals don't realize how their tort selection affects their rights if they get into an accident.
Full Tort Coverage
Full tort preserves your right to bring a claim for pain and suffering if you are injured in a car crash. Under this form of insurance, you may seek compensation for unpaid medical and out-of-pocket expenses, and you may also seek financial compensation for suffering or other non-monetary damages as a result of your injuries. There are no limits to what injuries you may bring suit for, whether it be simple whiplash or a more complex nerve injury.
Full tort coverage costs a little more than limited tort, but it is essential to protect your rights in the event of an accident.
Limited Tort Coverage
Selecting limited tort on your policy does just what it sounds like - it limits your right to seek financial compensation for pain and suffering. If you have limited tort, you may seek recovery for medical bills and other economic losses, but not for pain and suffering or any non-monetary damages.
There are a few exceptions to the limited tort option, but generally, if you have limited tort you will not be able to bring a claim for pain and suffering unless you are "seriously injured." Pennsylvania cases are harsh in their definition of serious injuries. Sometimes, not even multiple broken bones or head injuries will get you over the limited tort barrier. Limited tort is less expensive than full tort, but provides limited coverage in the event of an accident.
A few exceptions to limited tort occur in the following situations:
- When the person at fault is convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance in the accident
- When the person at fault is operating a motor vehicle registered in another state
- When the accident involves intentional injury by the person at fault
The above information illustrates only a few exceptions to limited tort and is not offered as legal advice. Every case is different, so you should speak to an attorney for advice on your situation.
How Does My Tort Option Affect My Family?
The tort option you select is binding to all of your resident relatives. The definition of "resident relative" varies depending on your auto policy, but it generally refers to any person related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption and living in the same household. Your tort option follows your resident relatives everywhere they go - whether they are driving your vehicle, a passenger in your vehicle, or even if they are a passenger in a friend's vehicle.
Check Your Car Insurance Policy - Are You and Your Family Fully Protected?
The insurance coverage you were carrying at the time of your accident is the one that will apply to your case. If you do not have full tort and uninsured / underinsured motorist protection in place at the time of an accident, you cannot change your policy later and have it apply retroactively to the accident. Don't lose your right to bring a claim against any responsible parties if you are injured in a car crash. If you have limited tort, we strongly urge you to contact your insurance agent and request to change it to full tort.
Similarly, we recommend that you opt for uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage if you do not already have it. Having the minimum coverage required in Pennsylvania does not always translate into "full coverage." Only full tort and uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage work together (along with any coverage required by law) to give you complete auto insurance protection.