Automobile Accidents & Insurance Issues

Baratta, Russell & Baratta works frequently with clients involved in auto accidents. The legal terrain surrounding auto accidents differs state by state, and can be tricky to navigate for people unfamiliar with the laws in Pennsylvania. Our firm’s deep experience with auto accident cases gives clients the ally they need to fight for what is theirs.

When you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, you are confronted with issues regarding auto insurance. It is important to protect yourself with good coverage. The following is a list of important issues to consider when choosing your automobile insurance coverage:

Medical and Income Loss Coverage

Presently, Pennsylvania law requires that a person carry a minimum of $5,000 in medical coverage. Because Pennsylvania is a no-fault state, each person is responsible to pay for their own medical bills regardless of who caused the accident. Choosing $5,000 could be a mistake. A much higher limit of medical insurance should be chosen. Make sure your broker gives you a cost comparison for higher medical coverage. You might assume that if you have health insurance, your medical bills would still be covered. But you need to understand the following important facts:

  1. Your medical insurance may impose co-pays or other gatekeeper functions that prevent you from getting the care you need with the physicians you want to see.  No such problems exist with the medical coverage under the auto policy.
  2. Your medical insurer may require you to reimburse it for medical bills paid on your behalf from any recovery made from the person responsible. There is no such reimbursement requirement for bills paid by the auto carrier.
  3. You may be so injured that you cannot work and you cannot afford to continue to pay your health insurance premiums.

Pennsylvania law requires that auto insurers offer for purchase the following first party benefits:

  • Medical benefits up to at least $100,000
  • Extraordinary medical benefits from $100,000 to $1,100,000, which may be offered in increments of $100,000
  • Income loss benefits up to at least $2,500 per month to a maximum of $50,000
  • Accidental death benefits up to at least $25,000
  • Funeral benefits of $2,500
  • A combination of benefits for medical, income loss, accidental death and funeral expenses with a limit of $177,500 for expenses incurred within three years from the date of the accident causing the injury.

Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Coverage

If injured by the negligence of another in a motor vehicle accident, you are entitled to recover damages not paid by your own first party coverage (see discussion regarding medical and wage loss coverage above) from the insurance carrier of the negligent driver. But what if that driver does not carry enough insurance to compensate you for your injuries or has no insurance at all? Keep in mind that Pennsylvania law requires drivers to have only $15,000 in bodily injury protection or liability coverage. Therefore, purchasing uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is a must to protect you and your family.

Uninsured motorist coverage protects you if injured by an uninsured driver or one who flees the scene of the accident. Underinsured motorist coverage protects you if injured by a driver who does not have enough insurance to fully compensate you for your loss.

Pennsylvania law requires insurance carriers who write business in Pennsylvania to offer uninsured, underinsured and bodily injury protection (the coverage that protects you if you cause injury to another) up to at least $100,000 because of injury to one person in any one accident and up to at least $300,000 because of injury to two or more persons in any one accident. Of course, your particular insurance carrier can offer more coverage than minimally required.

If you have more than one car, you should always choose to stack coverages. If for example you have three cars in the household with liability, uninsured and underinsured limits of $100,000, by stacking you make the limits $300,000 of both uninsured and underinsured coverage to protect any one person injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver.

Carriers are required to give you cost comparisons of these various coverages. You should make sure to understand the costs and benefits of the various coverages you select.

Full Tort vs. Limited Tort

When you are selecting your insurance policy, you can save money by selecting “limited tort” but you give up substantial rights by doing so. If you choose limited tort and not full tort, you will give up the right to receive compensation for pain and suffering, loss of life’s pleasures and other non-economic type damages unless you have been killed, suffered serious disfigurement or have suffered a loss of bodily function. The following are actual cases in which injuries were deemed not worthy of compensation because the injured had chosen the limited tort option:

  • Fractured ribs, facial laceration, fractured ankle, ankle surgeries, unable to ascend and descend steps for several month, off work four and a half months but returned without restriction having regained full use of ankle. 129.6: Little v. Rife, 16 Franklin Co. L.J. 108 (1998)
  • Cervical disc herniation, treating doctor described injury as mild restrictive, plaintiff quit job but continued to babysit. 129.8 Boltersdorf v. McKenna, Pa. Super. No 1716 Phila (Jan. 26 1999) (mem). Note: The Supreme COurt has reversed the order of the Superior Court and remanded the case to the Court of Common Pleas. 2000 WL 339372 (Pa).
  • Herniated disc, 5 months of physical therapy, condition corrected but plaintiff still complains of overall aches and pains.129.13 Stefanou v. Pearce, C.P. Lehigh Co., No. 97-C0707 (June 7, 1999).
  • Broken ankle, head laceration, and shoulder injury resulting in difficulty climbing stairs, cleaning and walking did not constitute serious injury. 129.17 Johnson v. Gutfreund, 82 Erie Co. L.J. 138 (1999)
  • Arthroscopic knee surgery, approximately three months of physical therapy, reduced range of motion, pain walking and standing for long periods. 129.23 Julius v. Antalek, 83 Erie Co. L.J. 149 (2000)
  • Concussion, cervical strain, lacerations, daily neck pain, headaches, missed almost one month of work, three month impairment to neck, treatment consisted of physical therapy, injections, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation. 129.24 Schack v. Verges, 83 Erie Co. L.J. 65 (2000)
  • Four inch laceration on forehead that left scar tissue 129.27 Holland v Marcy, 84 Erie Co. L.J. (2001) (child’s injuries), rev’d on other grounds, 817 A.2.d 1082 (Pa. Super. 2002, aff’d 883 A.2.d 449 (Pa. 2005)
  • Broken collarbone and wrist, lacerations, and bruises, approximately 6 weeks post-accident all lifting restrictions removed and released to return to regular activities. 129.31  Ellsworth v. McDougall, 84 Erie Co. L.J. 158 (2001) Note: Ellsworth is on appeal.
  • Complaints of injury to ribs, hip, right knee, bones, cells, tissues, nerves and muscles; treated and released at hospital for contusions and abrasions to right knee and swelling and discoloration to left hip; several ribs were fractured; missed two weeks of work; physical therapy for knee for five weeks, chiropractic care for one year for pain in knee, hip and back, pain medication for several months post accident, difficulty turning head for two months, knee pain continues; limited or prevented from horseback riding, golf and gardening due to knee pain. 129.35 Fix v. Kalil, 137 Montgomery Co. Rpt. 125 (2000), aff’d No.3615 EDA 1999 (Pa. Super. July 7, 2000).
  • Fractured left clavicle and right thumb and effects of those injuries on the plaintiff did not meet the serious impairment of body function threshold; furthermore, the lump near the clavicle did not constitute a serious disfigurement 129.52 DeVenny v. Webb, 123 York L.R. 101 (2009).