PA Auto Insurance

QUICK FACTS

  • Auto insurance is required to operate all vehicles on public roads
  • The choices you make in purchasing insurance can have enormous impact on the type of case you can pursue in the event of an accident
  • Some insurance benefits are mandatory but others are optional 
  • Decisions you make when purchasing auto insurance can have a significant impact on your ability to pursue a claim.

A PRIMER ON PENNSYLVANIA’S MOTOR VEHICLE RESPONSIBILITY LAW

Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Responsibility Law requires every automobile insurance policy issued in the state to maintain 3 types of mandatory coverages. Two of these mandatory coverages are referred to as “Third Party Benefits” because they provide protection to third parties who are injured in a car crash. These benefits are fault based, meaning that a person is eligible to receive these benefits if he or she did not cause the crash.

The other mandatory coverage, known as “First Party Benefits,” provides medical insurance benefits for the named insured and family members on an automobile insurance policy for injuries sustained in a car crash. Unlike “Third Party Benefits,” “First Party Benefits” are not fault based. A named insured and/or family members are eligible for these benefits even if they caused the crash.

Limited Tort vs. Full Tort Coverage

When you purchased auto insurance, you decided between full tort and limited tort coverage, probably on a price basis. 

But if you’re involved in a car accident in Pittsburgh, having only limited tort coverage limits your ability to pursue “non-economic injury”. What does that mean? Watch the video for a complete explanation.

Mandatory Insurance Coverages

Third Party Bodily Injury Benefits – Every operator of a motor vehicle is required to be financially responsible which means that they maintain certain minimum insurance coverages to compensate injured victims for bodily injuries that they cause.

Although insured vehicles can maintain higher limits, each automobile insurance policy must provide minimum bodily injury insurance coverage of $15,000 per person and $30,000 per crash to compensate third parties for injuries they sustain in a car crash.

If an insured vehicle has the minimum bodily injury liability limits, the maximum insurance coverage available to compensate a third party who is injured by the operation of the insured vehicle is $15,000.  If more than one person is injured, each injured person will still be limited to maximum coverage of $15,000, but the total amount of bodily injury insurance coverage available to be allocated among all of the injured individuals is $30,000. For instance, if 3 individuals are injured in a crash, none of the injured individuals can recover more than $15,000 in bodily injury coverage and the total amount available to be distributed amongst them is $30,000.

Third Party Property Damage Benefits– In addition to bodily injury liability coverage, each automobile insurance policy issued in Pennsylvania must also provide for $5,000 in property damage insurance coverage. This type of “Third Party Coverage” is available to compensate a person who sustains property damage (as opposed to bodily injury damages) caused by the negligence of another driver.

First Party Medical Benefits – In Pennsylvania, we have what can be best termed as a “quasi” or “modified” No Fault System.  Under Pennsylvania’s now longstanding automobile insurance law, a person injured in a motor vehicle crash, is entitled to recover certain damages (pain and suffering, disfiguring, emotional distress, etc.) from the responsible other driver’s automobile insurance policy. However, the payment of a crash victim’s initial medical bills (and sometimes lost income), is paid by their own automobile insurance policy.  In Pennsylvania, every motor vehicle insurance policy must provide medical benefits of $5,000 per injured person. Under Pennsylvania law, these benefits must be used before any other potentially applicable health insurance coverage, such as your regular healthcare insurance is used.  Unlike Third Party Benefits which are fault based, fault is irrelevant for first party medical benefits.

Because these benefits are payable by your own automobile insurance policy, they are commonly referred to as “First Party Coverage Benefits.”  Again, it does not matter who caused the crash, the medical benefits under your automobile insurance must be used before any other medical insurance. Because these medical benefits are mandatory and you paid for them through your premium payments, the use of these benefits will not increase your future insurance premiums.  Also, the amount that a healthcare provider can charge for medical care is at a significantly reduced rate.  As a result, even the minimum amount of $5,000 in medical benefits will pay for an extensive amount of medical care.

Optional Insurance Coverages

While not mandatory, Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Act requires that the following optional “First Party Benefits” be made available for purchase by automobile insurance carriers:

Recovery of Lost Wages

In Pennsylvania, it’s not mandatory that you purchase income loss benefits under your insurance policy. However a lot of insurance policies do provide for insurance loss benefits as optional coverage.

You can use this coverage to pay for your ongoing wages lost while you recover. Typically there is a 5-day waiting period, meaning the first 5 days that you’re off work are not covered and not subject to insurance.

After that 5-day period, you are then eligible for the lost wages under your policy — which are typically paid at a reduced basis, usually around $1500 – $2000 per month.

Additional Medical Benefits

  • Medical benefits that provide coverage for all reasonable and necessary medical treatment up to $100,000.
  • Extraordinary medical benefits which provide coverage from $100,000 to $1,000,000.

Income Loss Benefits – These benefits usually have a 5 day waiting period.  If a crash victim misses work for longer than 5 days, income loss benefits under his or her insurance policy will provide lost income compensation in the amount of 80 percent of the injured victim’s gross income, up to a maximum of $2,500 per month.

Accidental Death Benefits – In the event of a traffic related fatality, these benefits will pay the deceased person’s Estate up to $25,000.

Funeral Benefits – Similar to accidental death benefits, in the event of a traffic related fatality, the deceased person’s Estate will receive funeral benefits up to $2,500.

Uninsured Motorist Benefits

Despite the law requiring motor vehicle owners to be financially responsible for maintaining the above described mandatory third-party bodily injury liability limits, many drivers unfortunately (and illegally) operate vehicles that do not have insurance.

The way in which a car crash injury victim can protect himself or herself from being injured by an uninsured driver is to purchase optional uninsured motorist benefits. While again not required, uninsured motorist coverage benefits, if purchased, will be available to compensate a car crash injury victim for injuries and damages caused by an uninsured driver or one who causes a crash, but cannot be identified (i.e., flees the scene).

There is no question that uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage benefits, which are described below, are the best ways for a Pennsylvania resident to make sure they have sufficient insurance coverage to compensate them for injuries and other losses resulting from a car crash.

Underinsured Motorist Benefits

This optional benefit is similar to uninsured motorist coverage benefits. However, underinsured motorist coverage benefits become applicable when the person who caused the crash did not have adequate third party, third party bodily injury liability limits, to fully compensate the injured victim.

The minimum bodily injury liability limits of $15,000 described above were first established in 1974 and have not been increased for inflation over the past 46 years. As a result, it is often the case that drivers who maintain the minimum bodily injury limits described above, will not have sufficient coverage to fully compensate crash victims for the injuries they suffer.

It is for this reason that underinsured (and also uninsured) motorist benefits are two of the most important optional coverages an insured driver can purchase to make sure they have adequate insurance coverage to compensate them for injuries suffered in a car crash.

Pedestrian Involved Accidents

If you’re involved in an accident while a pedestrian, it’s important to understand that your medical bills and your lost wages are typically going to be paid by your own automobile insurance policy — if you have one.

If you don’t have an automobile insurance policy, then you will be eligible for the medical benefits and the wage benefits under the person’s policy that caused the crash.

Involved in a Car Accident

While Working

If you’re involved in an accident while working in Pennsylvania, your medical bills and lost wages are going to be covered under your worker’s compensation coverage.

You need to work with your employer to pursue a worker’s compensation claim.

However, if you’re injured and need to recover for your personal injuries such as pain and suffering, then those elements of damages are recoverable against the driver that caused the accident.

You can pursue a claim against the driver of the other vehicle if you’re injured in an accident while working.

What If You Had an Expired License?

Even if you’re driving a vehicle without a license and are involved in an automobile accident, that doesn’t prevent you from pursuing a claim against the person who hit you.

The fact that you did not have a license at the time of the accident is not permissible at the time of trial and will not prevent you from pursuing damages. 

What If You Weren’t Wearing a Seatbelt?

If you weren’t wearing a seatbelt while you were involved in an accident that wasn’t your fault, that will not prevent you from pursuing damages against the person who caused the accident.

In Pennsylvania, the fact that you weren’t wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident is not admissible at the time of your trial. You’ll still be able to pursue a claim for civil damages. 

Injured & Need an Attorney?
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~The outcome of an individual case depends solely on the particulars of that case.~

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