Have you heard advertisements on television touting cheap insurance premiums or “minimum coverage”? Beware. One of the ways to obtain this cheap insurance is by selecting the limited tort option. Unfortunately, many people choose this option without a full appreciation of the effects it may have on them if they are injured in an auto accident.
Simply stated, the limited tort option means that in exchange for a lower premium, you give up the right to sue another driver for “pain and suffering” damages, unless you can show that your injuries amount to a “serious bodily impairment” or you can place your claim within one of several limited exceptions. This is true even if the other driver is totally at fault!
Insurance companies came up with the idea of offering limited tort insurance in order to reduce the amount of damages they pay out on claims each year, which in turn is supposed to result in “lower premiums.” Unfortunately, the law only requires a minimal explanation of the limited tort option at the time you buy your policy. The true consequences of selecting this option are usually not realized until it is too late.
Before you opt for these lower premiums, you should understand that when you give up the right to sue for pain and suffering damages you are giving up a lot. Pain and suffering damages are often the largest portion of personal injury awards or settlements. Under limited tort, while you can still seek compensation for lost wages and medical expenses, these damages are not likely to make you whole if you are injured. .
Assuming the case does not meet one of the few statutory exceptions (e.g., being hit by driver convicted of DUI), a limited tort claimant seeking pain and suffering damages must prove “serious bodily impairment.” This is a very high standard to meet that most claimants cannot meet, even though they have significant injuries.
For example, many would assume a broken bone, such as a leg, is a “serious” injury. If the bone heals correctly, however, and there are no other permanent injuries, the person will likely fail to establish a “serious bodily impairment.”
Cases involving so called “soft tissue injuries,” such as whiplash or lower back strain, are particularly troubling. Even if the person is injured for many months and is unable to perform their daily activities without pain, the insurance company representing the other driver will be very reluctant to concede that the injuries rise to the level of “serious bodily impairment.” In fact, they will likely dig in their heels and require a full jury trial on the issue.
If you are considering purchasing limited tort auto insurance or you already have it, you need to ask yourself: is it truly worth the few dollars you save? Most of the time the answer to that question is a resounding “NO.”
The Marsh Schaaf law firm has extensive experience representing individuals injured in motor vehicle accidents. If you or a loved one have suffered injuries because of someone else’s negligence, give us a call at 456-5301 to schedule a free consultation.