December 24th, 2013, 10:26 AM

The Elderkin Law firm trial lawyers have represented thousands of people who have been seriously injured in auto accidents in Erie and the surrounding communities in Northwestern Pennsylvania. In these cases, we have seen that our clients often do not have an accurate understanding of how car insurance works.


Pennsylvania has a complicated mixture of mandatory and optional auto insurance coverages. Some accident costs and losses are paid by your insurance policy and some are paid by the policy of the negligent driver. Some payments depend upon a determination of who is at fault in causing the car accident and some do not.  Moreover, within each category of auto insurance coverage purchased, the policyholder must choose between different monetary levels of coverage. Added to this mix are the full tort and limited tort options which dictate whether an accident victim and his or her family can seek compensation for bodily injuries and other non-economic losses.


What follows is a brief summary to help you reach a better understanding of Pennsylvania auto insurance.





When you first obtain auto insurance, you must choose between the full tort and limited tort options. Your choice is critical because the option selected could adversely impact all members of your household. However, once you make a selection, you can later change the option if you wish.


If you select the full tort option, you preserve all of your rights to receive full compensation from the driver who is responsible for your bodily injuries and losses. 


If you select the limited tort option, you have restricted your rights to full compensation.  Under limited tort, you can receive compensation for bodily injuries, pain and suffering (often called "non-economic losses") only if  you have suffered a "serious bodily injury".  If the injuries do not qualify as serious injuries, then you are prohibited from receiving any compensation for the injuries. However, under the limited tort option, you can recover for all financial or economic losses regardless of whether you have suffered a serious bodily injury.  A serious bodily injury is defined as an injury that results in death, or causes serious disfigurement or is a "serious impairment of body function." There is no definition nor listing of the types of injuries that qualify as a "serious impairment of body function".  As a result, the restrictions of the limited tort option are determined on a case-by-case basis, often without any uniformity or predictability of outcome.


If you select the limited tort option, the amount of your car insurance premium will be reduced somewhat. However, you may lose the much more valuable right to be compensated fully for injuries caused by a careless driver.


The tort selection made by a policyholder will be applied to all relatives who reside with the policyholder unless the relative has his own policy of auto insurance.  You should keep this in mind when you make your tort selection.




[Mandatory minimum of $5,000]


Generally, regardless of who is at fault, your auto insurance is primarily responsible for paying your medical bills. There are no deductibles or requirements for pre-approval, although the insurer can question whether the treatments were related to the bodily injuries suffered in the accident and whether the treatments were reasonably necessary.


You are only required to purchase $5,000 in medical coverage. However, considering the cost of medical care and the coverage limitations, co-pays and deductibles of most health insurance, it is advisable to purchase more than the $5,000 minimum of medical coverage. Your auto insurance company must offer you the opportunity to purchase up to $100,000 in medical coverage.



[Optional Coverage]


This optional coverage provides you with a source of compensation injuries and losses when the person responsible for an accident either does not have any liability insurance (he is uninsured) or does not have a sufficient amount of liability insurance to compensate you fully (he is underinsured.)  You will be asked to sign a form to either select this coverage or to waive this coverage.


Under this coverage, your own auto insurer has agreed to compensate you for bodily injuries and  financial losses which are not paid by the other driver’s auto insurance. You can also purchase stacked uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits, which allows you to add together the monetary level of coverages for each separate car that you insure. For instance, if you insure two cars at $50,000 each for uninsured/underinsured motorists benefits, the stacking option would provide a total of $100,000 of protection. You will be asked to sign a form to select either the stacking or non-stacking option.


The amount of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage usually must be equal to the amount of liability coverage which you have purchased.  However, you have the ability to request in writing that the amount of uninsured/undersinsured motorist coverage be in a lesser amount.


It is recommended that you purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage and, if you have more than one car, that you also select the stacking option. Moreover, it is recommended that the amount of coverage be the same as the amount of liability coverage you have selected.




[Optional Coverage]


Accidental death and funeral benefits are optional. Auto insurers must offer up to $25,000 in accidental death benefits and $2,500 in funeral benefits.




[Mandatory minimum coverage of $15,000 bodily injury/$5,000 property damage]


You are required to purchase liability coverage. Liability coverage protects you when you are at fault in causing an auto accident. Liability coverage pays to compensate those who you may injure and it pays the costs of legal counsel if you are sued. It is mandatory that you purchase at least $15,000 of liability coverage for bodily injury claims and $5,000 for property damage claims, although higher levels of coverage are strongly recommended.






These coverages pay you for damage to your vehicle, regardless of fault. Collision coverage typically applies when your vehicle hits something. Comprehensive coverage usually applies to other causes of damage, such as vandalism or storm damage.



For an appointment to discuss any auto insurance or car accident issue, please call either of these Elderkin Law Firm attorneys: Robert C. LeSuer or Craig A. Markham.


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