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Full Tort vs. Limited Tort (Understanding the Differences)

Full Tort vs. Limited Tort

Decisions. Decisions. Life is full of decisions.

Purchasing auto insurance requires you to make more decisions than just which company you want to write your policy. You have to consider how much you want your deductible set at. You need to decide if you want to raise any of your limits. And you need to choose if you want full tort or limited tort.

That brings us to the topic of this article: What exactly is full tort and limited tort?

This is a question I get all the time. Customers come in, and they start supplying the needed info for their policy. I ask them a few questions about the drivers who will be listed on the policy. We talk about their limits. And finally, I ask them about which tort option they want. And most times, they look at me blankly.

For most customers, this decision ends up being made depending on the cost difference between full tort and limited tort policies. And while I understand that spending less on your bills is appealing, I believe there are times when it’s better to pay more depending on what you’re buying.

To help you understand what you are opting for, I’ve outlined some basics about these two options. Before you decide on your next auto policy, I want you to confidently know what you are agreeing to. So, let’s take a look at the following:

  • What is tort?
  • What is Full Tort?
  • What is Limited Tort?
  • Are there exceptions regarding Limited Tort?
  • Which option is right for you – how much does it cost?

What is tort?

According to Merriam Webster, tort is “a wrongful act other than a breach of contract for which relief may be obtained in the form of damages or an injunction.” In other words, tort is the ability to sue someone for damages if they have injured you.  

In relationship to your auto insurance policy, tort refers to your ability to sue someone for causing you pain and suffering from an auto accident that they caused.

Full tort, then, allows you to sue an individual (or company) for ANY pain and suffering resulting from an accident. With limited tort, however, you are “limited” in your ability to sue another individual (or company). You can only sue in “limited” instances.

Being able to choose a policy with full tort or limited tort was instituted by the State of Pennsylvania in 1990. This was an attempt to decrease the number of pain and suffering lawsuits in the state’s courts.  

Since that time, anyone who purchases auto insurance has the choice to pay for full tort or limited tort. 

Full Tort 

You can expect to pay a higher premium for your policy when you opt for full tort, but you maintain the right to sue another individual if you are injured in an auto accident and suffer long-term effects. 

Let’s make this practical. Let’s say you are proceeding through a green light. Suddenly, you are hit broadside by a car that ran through their red light. Clearly, you are not responsible for this accident.

Immediately after the accident, you feel pretty good – a little sore the next day, but overall not bad. Then after a few weeks, you begin to have migraines. After visiting your physician it becomes evident that your headaches are a direct result of the accident. 

After six months of debilitating headaches and multiple days of missed work, you decide to sue for pain and suffering.

With full tort, you maintain the legal right to do so. You can sue in court for any unpaid medical bills, property damage, loss of income, and any pain and suffering. 

Here’s the long and the short of it: Full tort is more expensive, but it allows you to sue for pain and suffering if you suffer long-term injuries from a car accident that was not your fault.

Limited Tort

As mentioned above, with limited tort you waive your right to sue for pain and suffering when you are in an accident that is caused by someone else.

Limited tort is less expensive – usually 15% less in premium annually. The downside is that with this option you no longer can sue for long-term injuries sustained in an accident.

Think back to the scenario above. Once your headaches begin, and you start to accrue bills for doctor’s visits and medications or lose income from not being able to work, you can not sue the driver from the vehicle that caused the accident. You will have to absorb all of the costs associated with your injuries.

With limited tort, you will reduce your premium costs, but you also forfeit your rights to sue the other driver. 

Limited Tort Exceptions

Few exceptions allow an individual to sue even if they have a limited tort policy. These exceptions are:

1. You are hit by a drunk driver.

If you are in an accident caused by a drunk driver, you are permitted to sue for pain and suffering. This would also be the case if the driver was under the influence of any substance. 

2. were on a bicycle or motorcycle.

In this instance, your insurance would cover your medical expenses. At the same time, even if your policy has limited tort, you will not be held subject to limited tort. You will have the right to sue for pain and suffering. 

3. You were an occupant in a non-private vehicle.

If you are a passenger in a business vehicle or commercial vehicle that is in an accident, you maintain the right to sue for pain and suffering.

4. The driver was from another state.

If you are hit by a driver who is not from PA, even if you have a limited tort policy, you are permitted to sue for pain and suffering.

5. The other driver did not have car insurance.

The state does not look kindly on individuals that do not maintain their auto insurance. That being said, if a non-insured driver is at fault in an accident, you can sue that driver. You should note, however, that recovering damages is often difficult in these scenarios.

6. You received a serious injury.

The last incident in which you are not subject to limited tort is if you receive a serious injury in an accident. A serious injury is defined as a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function, or permanent serious disfigurement. The injury must be extreme to qualify for this exception.

Which is right for you: Full or Limited Tort?

Let’s recap what we’ve learned:

  • Full Tort is more expensive but allows the policyholder to maintain their right to sue for pain and suffering. 
  • Limited Tort is less expensive and can reduce your premiums by approximately 15%annually. While many individuals consider the reduction in premium as “savings,” you are actually forfeiting your ability to sue for pain and suffering. 
  • With Limited Tort, there are exceptions in which an individual can still sue for pain and suffering, but these exceptions are rare. 

So how can you decide what is the right option for you?

In Pennsylvania, every policyholder has to decide which option they will choose. Ultimately, this decision depends on your risk tolerance. 

If you do choose Limited Tort, then understand that you are relinquishing your rights. You must decide for yourself if you are willing to risk the possibility of having to pay ongoing costs associated with an accident. This may include lost wages, medical bills, prescription drugs, etc.

If you opt for a Full Tort policy, you should not need to worry about paying expenses out-of-pocket for ongoing injuries associated with an accident that was not your fault. You will, however, pay more to maintain your right to sue.

At Baily Insurance Agency, we want our clients to understand their insurance policies. We want them to know what is covered and just as importantly what is not covered. We believe you should know what you’re buying!  

Our personal insurance team has decades of experience assisting clients in making the right decision for their car insurance. If you are in the market for auto insurance, we are here to help you find the best policy to suit your needs!