Tort is a legal term that may sound complicated, but at its core, it’s a simple concept. Basically, it means an action that resulted in harm to another person. Tort laws are designed to help the harmed party receive compensation from the responsible party.
There are two types of tort laws that affect lawsuits you file against other drivers.
What Is the Difference Between Full Tort and Limited Tort?
Your right to sue the guilty party in a car accident and the cost of your auto insurance premiums are both affected when you choose between full tort and limited tort car insurance.
Whether or not you need to choose between limited tort or full tort depends on your state laws. Pennsylvania, Kentucky and New Jersey are the states where limited tort is offered as an alternative choice to full tort.
Limited tort car insurance coverage means you forfeit the right to sue for pain and suffering after a car accident, and costs less than full tort insurance. If you have this type of coverage, you can usually sue another at-fault driver if you experience certain severe issues after a car accident. This typically includes:
- Serious impairment
- Loss of limb
- Permanent disfigurement
- Injury that prevents you from working for the rest of your lifetime
In some instances, even with limited tort coverage, you can still sue someone for pain and suffering. For example, a court may rule on an exception, or you can file a suit if you’re hit by a driver convicted of DUI.
Full tort car insurance coverage means there are no restrictions on your right to sue the at-fault driver. That means you can sue for injuries and impairments and and also for pain and suffering—for instance, if you have anxiety or prolonged discomfort due to the accident. Full tort costs more than limited tort insurance but allows you to sue an at-fault driver to the fullest extent.
Tort Insurance, Limited Tort and No-fault Insurance Explained
Tort insurance is a common form of car insurance. Thirty-eight states are tort states. That means the at-fault driver in an accident pays for the damage and injuries to others, typically through their liability car insurance, for:
- Vehicle damage
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
In the 12 states that are called no-fault car insurance states, your right to sue after an accident is limited. In no-fault states you are usually required to buy liability insurance as well as other types of car insurance (personal injury protection or medical payments) to pay for medical costs for yourself and your passengers—regardless of who caused the accident. Rather than suing a guilty driver for injuries, you would submit insurance claims to your own insurance company following an accident.
But even in no-fault states, laws allow for some exceptions for the right to sue. You may sue in a no-fault state if the accident causes serious injury or if medical bills reach a certain dollar threshold. State law will define “serious” injury, such as permanent disfigurement.
Kentucky, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are all no-fault states but they also offer drivers a choice—full tort or limited tort— when it comes to the right to sue. And even the more limited tort options in these three states still provide exceptions that could allow you to sue a guilty driver after the accident.
States With Full Tort and Limited Tort Car Insurance
In Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Kentucky, car owners must choose between full tort and limited tort for their car insurance.
With limited tort car insurance in Pennsylvania you can sue to get reimbursement for medical expenses when another driver is at fault in an accident. But you won’t be able to recover damages for “non-monetary” issues—for instance, if you can no longer participate in active hobbies or sports. You also can’t take action if prior injuries were exacerbated by the crash.
Additionally, you can’t sue for pain and suffering unless the accident resulted in a serious injury as defined by the state and with few other exceptions.
These exceptions include an at-fault driver who was:
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Operating a car registered in another state
- Intending to injure themselves or another person
- Driving without insurance
You can also retain full tort rights if you’re injured as a passenger in a commercial vehicle, such as a taxi or bus.
If you choose full tort coverage in Pennsylvania, you have unrestricted rights to bring a lawsuit against the person who caused the car accident.
If you want the limited tort option, you must specially elect this option, otherwise you will be given the full tort option when you buy car insurance in Pennsylvania.
Read more: Tort liability explained – Thimble Insurance
With full tort coverage in New Jersey you have the right to sue the other party who is responsible for a car crash. You can sue for pain and suffering no matter how severe your injury.
Opting for limited tort coverage in New Jersey (also known as the limitation on lawsuit option) limits your ability to sue for injuries, with these exceptions:
- Loss of a body part
- Significant disfigurement or scarring
- Displaced fracture, which means a gap forms where the bone breaks, and often requires surgery
- Loss of a fetus
- Permanent injury, meaning the further medical treatment is needed to function normally
In Kentucky, people injured in auto accidents can’t sue an at-fault driver to recoup medical costs, lost wages and other expenses, or for pain and suffering unless the injuries exceed certain thresholds. These thresholds are:
- Medical costs of $1,000
- Broken bone
- Permanent injury or disfigurement
Kentucky drivers can reject these limitations on their right to sue. You must file a special form with the department of insurance that is a rejection of no-fault. By doing so you will have the right to sue the at-fault driver in an auto accident in Kentucky.
Why Full Tort Car Insurance Costs More
Choosing limited tort coverage can save you up to 40% on your rate, according to the Pennsylvania-based Unruh Insurance Agency. Why is there a cost difference? Full tort coverage gives you an unrestricted right to sue the guilty party in a car accident for pain and suffering and this robust coverage is more expensive than limited tort coverage, which limits your right to sue.
Related: Cheapest Car Insurance of 2022
Which Tort Option Should You Choose?
Determining whether full tort or limited tort is best for you depends on your budget, whether you have dependents who rely on you financially and the likelihood that you would file a lawsuit if you were hurt in an accident. Here are some considerations to review when you’re deciding what’s right for you:
- If you have a family to support, full tort coverage may be worth considering. If your capacity to earn a living is taken away because another driver crashed into you, you may want to have the ability to sue for non-medical expenses as well as injuries.
- If money is tight or you’re a young driver, which means you’re paying more than others already for coverage, limited tort might make financial sense.
- If you are certain you would never sue someone, it might not be wise to pay for full tort coverage, since you may never take advantage of using the full scope of charges in a lawsuit. You should, however, bear in mind that it’s difficult to predict whether you would want to sue someone until faced with the decision—and severe injuries.
For more information, please see more information about What is tort insurance