Feb 272017

Car accidents in Philadelphia and in the suburbs of Pennsylvania happen every day.  After car accidents, PA drivers call their insurance companies to report the accidents and to inquire how they are covered under their insurance policies, such as paying for medical expenses.  Oftentimes, drivers do not know and/or understand insurance terms and the coverage they have.  They are shocked to discover that they may not have the coverage they need to protect them.  Below we define the most common insurance coverage and terms drivers should know about.

Personal Insurance Injury Protection (PIP)

Recovering Medical Expenses

In Pennsylvania, drivers are required by law to have personal insurance injury protection (PIP) on their auto insurance policies.   PIP covers medical expenses and lost wages. PA auto insurance laws mandate that drivers must carry the minimum amount of PIP medical coverage of $5,000.  Drivers can opt to buy a higher coverage amount in exchange for a higher premium.

What most drivers do not know is that PIP coverage is for their own protection.  The misconception many drivers have is that when they are injured in a car accident, the other driver’s insurance company pays for their medical expenses related to their injuries.  This is not true.

Rather, the injured drivers’ own insurance companies pay for the medical expenses via PIP coverage.  This is due to PA’s no-fault laws.  This means regardless of who caused the accident, an injured driver’s own insurance company pays for their own medical expenses up to the limit purchased.

Recovering Lost Wages

Other than medical expenses, PIP also covers lost wages.  However, unlike medical PIP benefits, income loss benefits are not mandatory pursuant to PA law.  Therefore, the insured must purchase income loss benefits as an optional benefit.  In addition, drivers do not recover 100% of lost income; they recover a percentage of their lost wages.

Full Tort Coverage

There are two types of Pennsylvania auto insurance policies: full tort and limited tort. A full tort insurance policy allows an injured driver to retain all legal rights against an at-fault driver. The insured driver would be able to sue an at-fault driver for both economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are tangible losses, such as medical expenses and lost wages not covered by PIP and any other out of pocket expenses.

Non-economic damages are not as straight forward as economic damages.  Non-economic damages encompass an injured individual’s pain and suffering.  Therefore, pain and suffering damages are different for everyone.  Full tort allows drivers to sue for non-economic damages regardless of how serious their injuries may be.

Limited Tort Coverage

Unlike a full tort auto policy, limited tort limits a driver’s legal rights against the at-fault driver.  Limited tort prevents injured insured drivers from suing at-fault drivers for non-economic damages, i.e., pain and suffering.

It is important to note that even though limited tort drivers may not sue for pain and suffering damages, they are still able to sue for non-economic damages not covered by PIP.

However, there are exceptions to limited tort per Pennsylvania car accident law.  Limited tort drivers may be deemed to have full tort under very limited circumstances.  One of the exceptions is if the at-fault driver is operating a vehicle from another state.  Another exception is if the at-fault driver is convicted of drunk driving.

Probably one of the most litigated exceptions in Pennsylvania car accident cases involves situations wherethe injured limited tort driver’s injuries resulted in a serious impairment, which is defined by Pennsylvania case law.  If the injuries are “serious,” then the limited tort driver is deemed to have full tort and allowed to sue for pain and suffering damages.  In a later article, we’ll discuss what constitutes serious impairment.

Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Coverage

One of the most important insurance coverage drivers should have on their auto policies is underinsured motorist coverage.  Many drivers in Pennsylvania do not know about UIM coverage and do not realize its importance.

UIM comes into play when the other driver’s insurance policy is not enough to compensate for the injured driver’s injuries and damage.  In such cases, the injured driver would file a UIM claim to recover the remaining damages up to the limit of UIM coverage purchased.

Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage

Uninsured motorist coverage is protection for the injured driver when the at-fault driver does not have auto insurance.  In such instances, the insured injured driver would file a UM claim with his own insurance company.  Like UIM, the driver may be compensated for his injuries up to the limit of purchased coverage.

Non-Mandatory UIM/UM Coverage

Unlike PIP coverage, UIM/UM coverage is not mandatory or required by law.  Many drivers choose not to purchase this option in exchange for a lower annual premium.

In later articles, we will discuss how UIM/UM coverage comes into play with car accident examples.

Help from a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have questions about a Philadelphia car accident, call the personal injury lawyers at Nenner & Namerow to discuss your legal options.  FREE consultations.  215.987.0777