Choosing Automobile Insurance in Pennsylvania

Scartelli Olszewski P.C.

All drivers in PA must have automobile insurance (watch Melissa Scartelli discuss automobile insurance here). While motorists may save on their insurance premiums by electing to purchase only the minimum required auto insurance, doing so can be extremely risky – especially in the case of selecting “limited tort” (which we never recommend) versus “full tort” insurance. Unless a driver has virtually no assets to protect and a vehicle without any significant value, above-minimum liability limits, full tort coverage and several other forms of automobile insurance are recommended.Consider this: many of us live and commute through relatively rural areas of PA including Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Wyoming and Carbon Counties. We travel to cities like Scranton, Carbondale, Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre. We drive along Route 309, Interstate 80, the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Route 276) and the Northeast Extension (Route 476). We encounter other drivers and road hazards over which we have no control. And each year in Pennsylvania, large trucks are involved in nearly 7,000 of motor vehicle accidents. Knowing all of this, having a good auto insurance policy is absolutely a priority.

Automobile Insurance Liability Coverage Limits

Liability insurance protects you (the policyholder) when you are at fault for injuries to another person or persons, or for damage to another person’s property. Thus, there are two types of liability insurance: bodily injury liability and property damage liability.Bodily injury liability coverage includes medical and rehabilitation expenses, as well as any related damages for which the policyholder is found liable. Pennsylvania’s minimum limit is 15/30, also expressed as $15,000/$30,000. This means $15,000 of coverage for injuries to one person, and $30,000 of coverage total for all people injured in an accident.Simply stated, your liability coverage represents the dollar limit that the injured party can recover from your insurer for their injuries, and protects your assets only up to that amount. Should you be found liable for $150,000 in injury-related damages, for example, but have policy limits of only $15,000, you would be responsible for paying the remaining $135,000 of damages. Accordingly, purchasing as much bodily injury liability insurance as you can afford is recommended.The same concepts apply to property damage liability insurance. PA’s minimum is $5,000, but again, purchase as much insurance as you can afford.

Full Tort vs. Limited Tort Coverage

Choosing between limited and full tort automobile insurance is a complex topic that we will cover in a future post. In short, full tort coverage allows you to collect for all damages and injuries you may receive in an automobile accident. Limited tort limits you to collecting only specified sums for out-of-pocket medical and other expenses. Limited tort does not permit policyholders to collect for pain and suffering unless their injuries meet a very narrow definition of “serious injury,” which includes only death, serious impairment of bodily function, or permanent or serious disfigurement. Thus full tort coverage is recommended.

Uninsured Motorist (UM) and Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Coverage

Unfortunately, there are drivers who ignore mandatory insurance requirements and carry no auto insurance at all. These are known as “uninsured motorists.” Insurance companies in PA offer optional insurance to protect you and your family members should you be involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist. Uninsured motorist insurance (UM insurance) applies to bodily injuries only.Underinsured motorist insurance (UIM insurance) protects you and your family when you sustain injuries in an accident with a driver whose liability coverage cannot adequately compensate you for your injuries. If your medical and other injury-related damages total $150,000, for example, but the other driver’s policy limit is $100,000, your UIM insurance would cover the difference.PA insurers will also offer the option of “stacking” your UM and/or UIM insurance. Stacking costs extra, but allows you to multiply the amount of coverage for a single accident by the number of vehicles on your insurance policy, or to receive UM or UIM coverage from more than one policy under which you are insured. Again, purchase as much UM and UIM insurance as you can afford, and elect stacking if you are able to do so.

Collision and Comprehensive Coverage

Like UM and UIM insurance, these are optional coverages in Pennsylvania. Collision pays for damages to your car arising out of an accident, while comprehensive typically pays for theft or damage to your car from other hazards, such as flood or fire.

Other Available Insurance

There are numerous additional types of optional insurance available to PA motorists. These may include funeral benefit, extraordinary medical benefits, accidental death benefit, rental reimbursement coverage, towing coverage and gap coverage. Discuss your options with your insurer. Always ask questions and gather as much information as possible. The more information you have, the better you will be able to protect yourself and your loved ones.Additional information about motor vehicle insurance in Pennsylvania is available through the Pennsylvania Insurance Department at www.insurance.pa.gov, which also offers an automated hotline at (877) 881-6388.