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Limited tort coverage: work with experienced attorney to protect right to noneconomic damages

In our last post, we began looking at the requirements of insurance coverage here in Pennsylvania, and specifically at the differences between full and limited tort coverage, which is a choice every driver has to make regarding coverage. As we noted, there are certain exceptions that apply to limited tort coverage which can allow policyholders to sue for non-economic damages, despite the general waiver of the ability to do so.

The exceptions include cases where the negligent driver:  was convicted of drunken or drugged driving or is participating in a related rehabilitation program; was driving a vehicle registered in another state; intended to injure himself or someone else; or does not meet insurance coverage requirements or has not otherwise maintained financial responsibility for car accidents. To be clear, the latter exception is usually not helpful for accident victims looking to sue for noneconomic damages, since the negligent driver will rarely have the ability to pay. 

Two other exceptions include cases where the policyholder is injured because of a design or manufacturing defect, because of defective repair or maintenance of a vehicle, or while riding as a passenger in a vehicle which is not a private passenger motor vehicle, such as a bus or taxi.

The most common exception is for cases where the policyholder suffers “serious injury.” Exactly what constitutes a serious injury is not always clear, though accepted categories include fatal injuries; serious impairment of bodily function; and permanent, serious disfigurement.  

Drivers with limited tort coverage who are able to prove one of these exceptions are able to sue a negligent driver for noneconomic damages.  Naturally, negligent drivers can be expected to challenge policyholders who claim an exception to a limited tort policy, particularly in cases involving injuries which are not easy to define, and it is important to work with an experienced personal injury attorney to ensure one’s rights to noneconomic damages are fully protected. 

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