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Common PA Auto Insurance and Car Accident Lawsuit Terms

No one wants to be injured in a Philadelphia, PA car accident.  Unfortunately, car accidents happen almost every day.  When drivers, passengers or pedestrians are injured in car accidents, they are often overwhelmed.  Not only are they suffering from their injuries, they must call their insurance companies to report the accidents.  They also worry about how they are going to pay for their medical bills and think about whether they want to pursue legal action.  There are insurance terms and legal terms injured motorists often do not understand.  Below are some of the most common terms injured motorists will need to understand in the event of a car accident in Pennsylvania.

PA Auto Accident Insurance Terms


PIP (first party medical benefits) is a type of coverage all drivers must carry as required by Pennsylvania law.  PIP coverage pays for medical expenses incurred as a result of a car accident.  However, an at-fault driver’s PIP coverage does not pay for an injured innocent driver’s medical bills.  Rather, the injured driver’s OWN PIP coverage pays for the medical expenses.  In other words, it doesn't matter who caused the accident, an injured individual's OWN auto insurance policy pays for the medical expenses up to the limit purchased.

Pennsylvania law requires drivers to carry a minimum amount of $5,000 in PIP coverage.  Drivers have the option to purchase a higher limit in exchange for a higher premium.

Once PIP is exhausted, drivers would use their health insurance to pay for the medical expenses related to the injuries from the car accidents.

Liability Coverage

Liability coverage is another mandatory coverage all drivers must carry in Pennsylvania. In the event that an insured driver causes an accident and someone is injured, the insured driver's liability coverage will compensate the injured individual.  The minimum amount drivers are required to carry is $15,000 /$30,000.  This means that an at-fault driver’s liability coverage will compensate an individual up to $15,000 and $30,000 per accident if more than one individual is injured.  

Underinsured/Uninsured (UIM/UM) Motorist Coverage

UIM/UM coverage helps insured motorists when they are injured in PA car accidents in 2 types of situations:

1. The at-fault driver is underinsured.  In other words the liability coverage of the at-fault driver is insufficient to financially compensate the injured driver for the injuries and damages.  For instance, if the at-fault driver has $15,000 in liability coverage and the injured victim’s injuries are $50,000, the injured victim may will receive $15,000 from the at-fault driver.  The victim can then make a UIM claim with his own insurance company to recover the remaining $35,000.  However, if the injured individual only has $15,000 of UIM coverage, then he may only recover another $15,000.

2. The at-fault driver is uninsured or cannot be found after a hit and run accident.  Though all drivers are required to have auto insurance, some drivers may not have it.  In such situations, the injured motorist can make a UM claim with his own insurance company.  Another scenario resulting in a UM claim is a hit and run accident when the driver cannot be found.

However, unlike PIP and liability coverage, UIM/UM coverage is not mandatory.  It is optional.  Despite being optional, insurance agents are required to inform drivers about this coverage.  Many drivers may decline UIM/UM coverage in exchange for a lower premium.

Limited Tort

If drivers choose limited tort on their auto insurance policies, they cannot sue at-fault drivers for non-economic damages, also known as pain and suffering damages. See Pennsylvania's Limited Tort - When You Can Sue For Pain & Suffering

However, there are certain exceptions pursuant to section 1705(d)(1) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL). A driver with limited tort may sue an at-fault driver for pain and suffering after a car accident if the at-fault driver is:

  • convicted or accepts Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) for driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance in the accident,
  • operating a vehicle registered in another state,
  • intentionally injures the plaintiff, or
  • the owner of a currently registered motor vehicle and has not maintained financial responsibility as required.

The other exception, and probably one of the most debated issues in PA car accidents, is whether a person who has limited tort sustained “serious” injuries, which is defined by Pennsylvania law.

A serious injury is defined as "[a] personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement."

Learn more about "serious injuries."

Full Tort

If an insured chooses full tort in their auto insurance policy, they can sue at-fault drivers after car accidents regardless of the severity of their injuries. 

Related PA Car Accident Results Obtained By Daniel J. O’Brien, Esq.

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