Below are frequently asked questions (FAQs). If you have additional questions, please don't hesitate to call our office at 610-859-3700. or fill out our conveinient contact form below.
As a car owner in Delaware County, Chester County, Philadelphia, or anywhere in Pennsylvania, you are responsible to carry the minimum amount of auto insurance required by law ($15,000) to protect someone that you may injure.
However, you cannot count on the person that causes an injury to you or your loved ones to carry adequate insurance, or to carry any insurance at all.
If you drive without insurance and you are injured in an accident that is someone else’s fault, your medical bills will not be paid under any policy.
Furthermore, if you drive without insurance, you will be treated as though you had chosen a limited tort policy even if you are injured through the negligence of someone else. That means that you will not be able to collect damages for your pain and suffering unless your injury is considered "serious" as determined by a judge or jury.
You are required to have insurance on every car that is registered to you in Pennsylvania. If you have a car that is registered, but not insured, your insurance company can refuse to pay your medical expenses, even if you have insurance on the car involved in the accident. Whether you drive your registered vehicle or not is not relevant. Even if your registered vehicle is an antique and you drive it once a year or if it’s on blocks or has no engine, if your car is registered it must be insured.
Pachtman Law Office recommends that you don’t drive an uninsured vehicle and that you do not own a registered but uninsured vehicle.
Under current law, you can choose a type of insurance policy that restricts your right to sue in court, called a "limited tort” policy. Choosing a "limited tort" policy limits your right to collect money damages for “pain and suffering”, except for injuries the law describes as "serious".
You can still recover medical expenses and wage loss under the First Party (PIP) benefits of your own policy and from the insurance company of the driver(s) that caused your injury.
If you choose a full tort policy, your right to collect money damages for your pain and suffering is unrestricted.
In order to understand both full and limited tort policies, you must first understand what type of injury the law defines as "serious", and what is meant by the term, "pain and suffering".
What type of injury is considered to be serious under the law?
Current law defines a "serious injury" as a personal injury that results in death, serious impairment of a body function, or a permanent serious disfigurement.
Death and permanent serious disfigurement are self-explanatory. There is no definition in the law of "serious impairment of a body function". In each case the insurance company, and ultimately a judge or jury will decide if your case is serious.
What is pain and suffering?
Pain and suffering is a legal term that includes all problems a person may experience as a result of an accident.
The legal definition of pain and suffering includes the loss of physical abilities, such as the use of your hand or foot, and physical discomfort such as chronic backache or stiffness in your neck. The term also includes any emotional pain you might suffer, such as worry, anxiety, embarrassment, and the loss of the pleasures and enjoyment of life.
The only circumstances in which someone with a limited tort policy can collect money damages for pain and suffering if their injury is not found to be “serious” is when the person at fault for your injury is found to be:
- driving drunk
- intentionally trying to injure himself or another person, or
- if the accident was caused by a defect in the design, manufacture, repair, service or maintenance of the vehicle.
Example - Suppose you have a nice home and family, and a very active lifestyle. You play basketball every Monday night, are training daily for a 5 mile road race you have been wanting to run, drive your kids to soccer practice every Saturday, and plan to go to your sister's wedding next weekend.
Now suppose someone else causes an accident in which you are injured. Since the accident, you've had pain in your lower back. You see a doctor and go to physical therapy once a week for 15 weeks. You lose a month of work. Because of the pain in your lower back, you can no longer lead the active lifestyle you could before the accident. As a result, you sit on the bench for the rest of the season, you cannot run the race you've been training for, your spouse has to do all the driving, and you cannot dance at your sister's wedding.
In this example, there are 2 types of damages you will want to recover:
- medical expenses and wage loss
- pain and suffering.
As long as you've chosen adequate First Party benefits, your insurance company will pay for your doctor and therapy bills and wage loss, if they are related to the accident. But what about pain and suffering in the above example?
What is included in pain and suffering in the above example?
In this example, pain and suffering includes not being able to play basketball, run, dance or drive, as well as the physical pain in your lower back, all because of someone else's mistake.
If you selected a limited tort policy, you might not be able to collect money for pain and suffering. Do you want the insurance company for the person that injured you to decide if your injuries are serious? If their insurance company contends that your injuries are not serious, you will be forced to file a lawsuit? Will a judge or jury agree with you, or the insurance company? Do you want to take that risk?
The truth is, most people who are injured in an accident experience some kind of pain and suffering from their injuries. If you select a full-tort policy, you will be able to recover money damages for both the physical pain and the effect that the accident has had on your lifestyle. If you select a limited-tort policy you may or may not be able to collect damages for pain and suffering.
Remember that the decision to select full or limited tort not only affects you, but also affects the rights of your spouse, your children and anyone covered under your policy.
No matter what company holds your auto insurance, your current Pennsylvania policy provides benefits referred to as Personal Injury Protection, or First Party benefits. First Party Benefits cover you, your spouse, minor children (who do not have separate coverage under another policy) and any relatives living with you who are injured in an accident, regardless of who is at fault.
First Party coverage includes medical coverage and may include wage loss and death benefits. Let's look at how each of these types of coverage works:
Under current law, you can choose to have medical coverage as low as $5,000. Unlike most health insurance plans, there are no deductibles or co-payments. You can also choose to increase your medical coverage above $100,000 in increments of $100,000 to protect you in the case of catastrophic medical bills up to $1,100,000.
Example - If you are injured in an auto accident and you incur $50,000 in medical bills, and you have the minimum amount of medical coverage ($5,000), the most your auto insurance company will reimburse your medical providers is $5,000.
Any health insurance you have will help to cover the remaining $45,000, minus any deductibles or co-payments. However, if you had chosen $50,000 or more in medical coverage under your auto insurance policy, you would be completely covered. If you have to fall back on health coverage from a carrier other than your automobile insurance there is a possibility that you will have to reimburse some of the medical expenses to that health carrier.
Wage Loss Benefits
Wage loss benefits allow you to recover 80% of the gross income you would have earned if you had not been injured; up to the maximum amount per month you choose when you purchase your policy. If you are self-employed, you may recover the cost of hiring someone else to handle certain responsibilities while you are unable to do so.
Under current law, wage loss benefits are optional. You must decide how much, if any, wage loss benefits you need, up to a maximum of $50,000.
Example - Suppose you have a job as a teacher earning $30,000 a year ($2,500 a month), that you've chosen a $5,000 wage loss benefit, paid at a maximum of $1,000 a month, and that because of an auto accident, you cannot work for 6 months.
If you had purchased $15,000 in wage loss benefits paid at a maximum of $2,500 a month, your insurance company would pay you 80% of your salary, or $2,000 a month, for the entire six months. But by purchasing benefits of only $5,000 paid at $1,000 a month, the most you can recover form your own insurance carrier would be $5,000. You would recover nothing after the fifth month.
If you did not choose wage loss coverage at all, you would not receive any compensation for the wages you lost due to your injury, unless you have disability benefits from another policy or through your employer. You can recover wage loss benefits from the person responsible for your injuries but you will have to wait until your case is resolved, which can sometimes take years.
Current law makes death benefits optional.
Uninsured motorist coverage allows you to collect damages from your own policy if a driver who has no insurance injures you.
Underinsured motorist coverage allows you to collect damages from your own policy if a driver who causes your injuries does not carry adequate insurance to fully compensate you.
Under current law, uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage are optional.
Example - Underinsured Motorist Coverage - Suppose you are involved in an accident caused by another driver and you are awarded $50,000 in damages. If the other driver has only a minimum liability policy of $15,000, he is underinsured because he does not have adequate coverage to compensate you for your injuries. The maximum amount his insurance company will pay is $15,000. The chance that you will be able to collect any money from the person that caused your injuries in excess of their insurance policy is almost zero.
However, if you choose $25,000 in underinsurance benefits, your insurance company will pay up to $25,000 of the remaining $35,000. If you had chosen at least $35,000 in benefits you would be able to recover the entire $50,000 award.
If you have more than one vehicle, you must choose whether or not to "stack" your uninsured or underinsured coverage. If an uninsured or underinsured motorist injures you, stacking allows you to recover the maximum amount of benefits by combining the benefits on ALL of your cars that are insured.
Under current law the stacking of benefits is optional.
Example - Suppose you own two cars, a red one and a blue one. You have a policy with $15,000 underinsurance benefits on the red car, and $25,000 on the blue car. Then, you're injured in an accident that was not your fault while you are in the red car. You seek damages against the other driver, and are awarded $70,000. Now suppose that the driver that caused your injuries has only $15,000 in liability coverage.
The other driver's insurance company will pay up to $15,000 of the damages awarded. Of the remaining $55,000, you’ll recover $15,000 in underinsurance benefits under the policy on the red car in which you were driving. If you opted not to stack your coverage, you could not collect the remaining $40,000.
If you had selected to stack the benefits of your red and blue cars, you would be able to recover an additional $25,000 from the underinsured benefits on your blue car. This would allow you to recover a total of $55,000: $15,000 from the driver that caused your injuries, and $15,000 from the policy on your red car and $25,000 from the policy on your blue car.
Of course, if you stacked the policies and selected to have an additional $15,000 in underinsurance benefits on either car, you could recover the entire award of $70,000.
Pachtman Law Office recommends you choose “Stacking” as part of your automobile insurance policy. Learn more about your automobile policy here, or call or e-mail us if you have further questions about your insurance benefits in case of an accident.
Under Pennsylvania law, motorists have the "right" to reject certain types of auto insurance coverage that we believe are important for your protection. You have the right to give up uninsured and underinsured motorist protection, and something called "stacking", three important types of coverage that are explained in other sections. In addition, your agent may offer you a small savings on your insurance in exchange for giving up your “full tort” rights. If you give up your full tort coverage, you limit your right to collect money damages for pain and suffering in the case of someone else’s negligence.
It is the firm conviction of Pachtman Law Office that you should not give up these important rights to collect money damages if you are injured. Since the law changed in 1990, we have represented too many people who have given up the right to collect thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of compensation for their injuries to save a very small sum of money on their premiums.
Keep in mind that when you give up these protections for yourself, you also give up them up for your loved ones.
Pachtman Law Office urges you to have the following types of automobile insurance coverage:
- FULL TORT PROTECTION
- UNDERINSURED AND UNINSURED MOTORIST PROTECTION
- STACKING IF YOU HAVE 2 OR MORE AUTOMOBILES
IF YOU HAVE SELECTED LIMITED TORT, CALL YOUR AGENT AND RESTORE YOUR FULL TORT PROTECTION.
IF YOU HAVE REJECTED UNDERINSURED OR UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE OR STACKING, PLEASE CALL YOUR AGENT AND ASK THAT THESE COVERAGES BE RESTORED.
Our accident attorneys have put together this section so that you understand how your automobile coverage works and can make an informed decision. Many agents will not explain all of this to you because it is very complicated.
IF AFTER REVIEWING ALL OF THE OTHER SECTIONS, YOU DECIDE TO GIVE UP THE IMPORTANT RIGHTS DESCRIBED ABOVE, BE SURE:
- THAT YOU MAINTAIN AT LEAST THE MINIMUM COVERAGE REQUIRED BY LAW OR YOU WILL LOSE IMPORTANT RIGHTS AND THE ABILITY TO COLLECT CERTAIN BENEFITS.
- THAT YOU DO NOT HAVE ANY REGISTERED VEHICLES THAT ARE NOT INSURED
If you have adequate PRIVATE health insurance you can choose the minimum medical coverage of $5,000. Keep in mind, however, that medical coverage under an automobile policy, unlike medical coverage under a private health policy, has no deductibles or co-payments.
You can also consider reducing your wage loss benefits, but you should only consider this if you have adequate disability coverage through your own policy or through an employer’s policy that is equal to or better than what your auto policy can provide.
Also, insurance companies are required to offer reduced rates for cars with passive seat belts, air bags, anti-theft devices and to persons over age 55 who take a PENNDOT approved accident prevention course. You should check with your company for details.
Finally, you may want to increase your deductible for collision coverage, and use that savings to protect yourself by increasing your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage.
CONTACT US TODAY FOR YOUR FREE CONSULTATION:
If you have a legal problem, call Pachtman Law Offices now for a FREE no-obligation phone consultation on ANY TYPE OF LEGAL PROBLEM. If we don’t handle the matter, we'll find someone for you who will.