Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Insurance Basics

As covered in an earlier post, Pennsylvania requires drivers who register their cars in the Commonwealth to purchase minimum liability coverage and medical benefits coverage. The liability coverage is designed to pay the damages of others whose injuries have been caused by the persons insured under the policy. The no fault medical benefits coverage is designed to pay the medical expenses of those insured by the policy. What these mandatory coverages don’t cover however is damages and expenses to the policyholder himself/herself caused by another motorist, other than the first $5,000 of medical expenses. This is where uninsured motorist coverage (UM) and underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) come into play. Although $15,000 per person, and $30,000 liability coverage is mandatory in Pennsylvania, that is no guarantee that the motorist injuring you will have such coverage. The motorist who injures you could have simply evaded the law and failed to maintain the mandated coverage. Alternatively, you could be injured by a motorist from New Hampshire or Virginia, who are apparently, at the time of his writing, not required to maintain insurance coverage, or you could be injured in a hit and run accident. Also, there is the possibility that the level of insurance coverage held by the at fault motorist is insufficient to cover your damages. Uninsured motorist coverage is designed to pay your damages if the person who has caused your injuries has no liability coverage whatsoever. Underinsured motorist coverage, on the other hand, is designed to pay your damages to the extent that the coverage of the at fault motorist is insufficient to pay your damages in full.
While persons registering their cars in Pennsylvania are not required to purchase uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, insurance companies offering auto insurance to Pennsylvania motorists are required to make such coverage available for purchase. However, an important aspect of UM and UIM coverage is that such coverage is subject to your tort selection, i.e. if you have selected limited tort and cannot recover noneconomic damages (e.g pain and suffering) because you have not sustained “serious injury”, your UM and UIM coverage will not cover such noneconomic damages. Another issue you should be aware of is that your UM and UIM coverage may be subject to mandatory arbitration, you may contractually give up your right to sue your insurance company for a court determination of the amount your insurance company must pay you pursuant to such coverage. Your policy may require you to submit such a dispute to private arbitration.
Another issue of which you should be aware concerning UM/UIM coverage is that of “stacking”. “Stacking” allows a policyholder to “stack” coverages by adding policy limits together to obtain a higher total policy limit when insuring multiple vehicles. For example, if you have 2 vehicles which are insured for $100,000 each, and the coverages are “stacked”, you will have $200,000 of total coverage available to you if you are in an accident. “Stacking” is the default position but the law allows the policyholder to waive stacking by signing a written form. Waiving of “stacking” would normally be done in order to obtain a lower policy premium.
If you have any questions about UM or UIM coverage, please call me at 814-283-5788 or email me at mel@melvinmcdowell.com.

What Automobile Insurance Coverage Are You Required to Have in PA?

The minimum required coverage to legally register an automobile in Pennsylvania is liability coverage of $15,000 for injury to one person in any one accident and liability coverage of $30,000 for injury to 2 or more persons in any one accident, together with coverage for damage to the property of others in any one accident in the amount of $5,000, and no fault medical benefits coverage for yourself and those covered by your policy of $5,000.
Think about it. This level of coverage would leave you with a high likelihood of having to pay damages out of your own pocket if you were ever responsible for an auto accident. With auto repair costs what they are today, there wouldn’t need to be much damage to the other person’s car for repair or replacement costs to exceed $5,000. Furthermore, if you were responsible for causing the accident, you could be required to pay the injured person’s lost wages. At today’s wage levels, it wouldn’t take long for lost wages to exceed $15,000; not to mention pain and suffering damages which you might be responsible to pay. The Pennsylvania Department of Insurance offers a brochure answering frequently asked questions about automobile insurance:

Q & A About Auto Insurance in PA

When Is Limited Tort Not Limited?

In an earlier post, I discussed how generally those motorists subject to limited tort may only recover for pain and suffering and other non monetary damages when they have sustained serious injury. However, there are exceptions to the general rule. Persons subject to limited tort may recover such damages in the following cases:

  • Whenever the person at fault is convicted of or has accepted ARD for DUI.
  • Whenever the person at fault was operating a vehicle registered in another state.
  • Whenever the person at fault intended to injure himself or another person.
  • Whenever the person at fault has failed to maintain the legally required auto insurance coverage.
  • Claims against persons in the business of manufacturing, designing, repairing, maintaining or servicing vehicles when the injury arises out of a vehicle defect caused by an act or omission of that business.<
  • If the person injured was injured while the occupant of a vehicle other than a private passenger vehicle.

Of course,  a judgment against someone, no matter how large, is of little value to you, if you can’t collect the judgment. That’s why you should give serious consideration to the level of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage you should obtain, a subject to be covered in a later post.
If you have further questions, please call me at 814-283-5788

Full Tort versus Limited Tort Auto Insurance – What does it all mean?

The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law requires auto insurance companies in Pennsylvania to offer their customers the choice between full tort insurance and limited tort insurance. What’s the difference? Full tort will cost you more but in the event you are injured in a motor vehicle accident you will be permitted to seek full compensation for your injuries from another motorist who was at fault, including pain and suffering damages and other non-monetary damages, regardless of the severity of your injuries. Limited tort will cost you less but you will be permitted to recover pain and suffering damages and other non-monetary damages only if your injuries meet the definition of serious injury (with exceptions to be explored in later posts).  In either the case of full tort or limited tort you may seek compensation for medical expenses and other out-of-pocket expenses. Future posts will address the issue of what have been considered serious injuries by Pennsylvania Courts. In the meantime, if you have any questions concerning these issues, please contact me.
Election of Tort Options – PA Statute