If you own and operate a motor vehicle in Pennsylvania, you're required to purchase and maintain certain minimum amounts of car insurance coverage on that vehicle. Part of the car insurance policy purchase decision in Pennsylvania means choosing between "limited tort" and "full tort" coverage, which will affect your options if you're injured in a car accident. (Note: "tort" is just a legal word for "injury"). This is what makes Pennsylvania a "choice" no-fault car insurance state. Read on to learn more about Pennsylvania's no-fault car insurance rules, the minimum car insurance coverage requirements in the state, and more.
Pennsylvania is one of a dozen or so states that follow some form of a “no-fault” car insurance system. Under no-fault, after a car accident, your own car insurance coverage (specifically, your “personal injury protection” or “medical benefits” coverage) pays for medical treatment and other out-of-pocket losses incurred by anyone covered under the policy, up to coverage limits, regardless of who caused the accident. In order to step outside of the no-fault system and file a third-party insurance claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver, your injuries must meet certain thresholds set by state law.
Pennsylvania is somewhat unique among no-fault states in that vehicle owners can essentially “opt out” of the no-fault system when they purchase a car insurance policy. Pennsylvania Statutes Title 75 section 1705 requires insurance companies to inform customers of their coverage options when it comes to opting in or out. Let’s take a closer look at these two options.
“Limited Tort” coverage, as the name suggests, limits your right (and the right of family/household members and anyone else covered under your policy) to get financial compensation for injuries and other losses when another driver causes a car accident. Under this option, a claimant may seek recovery for all medical treatment and other out-of-pocket losses caused by the accident, but not for pain and suffering or other nonmonetary losses, unless the car accident injuries qualify as "serious," which usually means something more than soft tissue injury. Even head injuries might not qualify unless they're fairly significant. According to recent Pennsylvania court decisions, "serious injury" typically requires serious impairment of a body function, or permanent and serious disfigurement. You can see all the details at Pennsylvania Statutes Title 75, Section 1705.
“Full Tort” coverage, which is more expensive, gives you and your covered family/household members unlimited rights when it comes to getting financial compensation for injuries and other losses when another driver causes a car accident. You’re able to recover for all medical treatment and other out-of-pocket losses, and you’re able to recover for pain and suffering and other nonmonetary losses stemming from the accident, even if your injuries don’t qualify as “serious” under the statutory definition.
It’s important to note that Pennsylvania’s no-fault car insurance system applies to injuries caused by car accidents, but not vehicle damage claims. A claim for damage to (or total loss of) a vehicle can be made against the at-fault driver, with no limitations.
Now that you understand how no-fault car insurance works in Pennsylvania, and the difference between "limited" and "full" tort, let’s examine the state’s requirements for different kinds of car insurance coverage.
In order to drive a motor vehicle in Pennsylvania, vehicle owners must carry certain minimum amounts of insurance on it:
Pennsylvania also recognizes certain all-purpose car insurance policies as long as there is a minimum of $35,000 in total coverage.
Keep in mind that, if you are found responsible for causing a car accident, and the injured drivers’ and/or passengers’ losses exceed the limits of your car insurance policy (which is not all that far-fetched a possibility if you’ve only met Pennsylvania’s minimum coverage requirements), you may find yourself personally responsible for making up the difference out of your own assets.
For more details on Pennsylvania’s motor vehicle insurance rules and requirements, check out the Pennsylvania Insurance Department’s Automobile Insurance Guide.