What is the difference between full tort and limited tort automobile insurance?

Full tort (also referred to as full right to sue or full right to recover) is the type of automobile insurance you should buy. If you try to save a few dollars by choosing the limited tort option, you will not be able to recover for pain and suffering, unless a jury decides that you sustained a “serious injury.”  Most people do not realize what they are giving up when they chose limited tort.

Statistics show that over the course of a lifetime, a driver will be involved in an average of 3 to 4 accidents.  The cost difference between a full tort and limited tort policy is small (typically around 15%). However, the rights you are giving up are huge. The $10 to $20 per month you save on the premium may cost you tens of thousands of dollars of recovery when you are injured in an accident.  

You are not fully covered or fully protected if you have limited tort insurance.  Contact your insurance agent to make sure you have the full tort option on your policy.

If you have limited tort and have already been involved in an accident, please contact our office to see if any of the exceptions to the limited tort law apply to your situation.  Exceptions such as the other driver being convicted of driving under the influence or the other driver operating a vehicle registered in another state allow you to collect for non-economic (pain and suffering) damages.

Injures to your neck and back or other soft-tissue injures often do not qualify as “serious injures” in the eyes of an insurance company or jury. If you have limited tort coverage, you cannot collect money to compensate you for your pain, suffering or inconvenience caused by these injuries. Even broken bones or other injures which you may consider serious, may not be considered to be a “serious injury” by the insurance company or jury. Therefore, you should protect yourself by always choosing full tort coverage on your automobile insurance policy.

What kind of coverages should I have on my automobile insurance?

When selecting insurance coverages, your insurance agent will discusses with you amounts of coverage for damage to your vehicle, injury to another’s vehicle or person as well as other coverages including medical expenses, wage loss, etc.  In Pennsylvania, a driver is required to have only $15,000 of insurance coverage to pay a person injured because of the actions of that driver.  This $15,000 in required coverage has not increased for decades.  As a result, many drivers on the roads today are only covered by $15,000 of insurance. 

When you are injured because of some other driver’s actions, $15,000 is often not nearly enough money to reimburse you for your bodily injuries, lost wages, medical expenses and other items.  To protect yourself from this situation, it is necessary that you purchase underinsured motorist coverage.  This coverage is relatively inexpensive and protects you when the other driver does not have sufficient coverage.

For example, if you are injured and your injuries and damages total $200,000 and the other driver’s liability insurance coverage is only $15,000, you will not be compensated for the $185,000 that exceeds the $15,000 of coverage.  If you have purchased underinsured motorist coverage on your own automobile insurance policy, then your policy will pay you the additional $185,000 so that you are fully compensated. 

Many drivers on the road today have not purchased or maintained automobile insurance.  Therefore, when you are injured in an accident with one of these drivers, there will not be any insurance to compensate you for your losses unless you have purchased what is called uninsured motorist insurance. This type of insurance is surprisingly inexpensive. You should speak with your insurance agent or our office to make sure that your automobile insurance policy contains the limits you want so that you are fully protected in the event of an accident. 

Who pays my medical bills?

Pennsylvania has a “no-fault” law which requires medical bills from injuries in an accident to be paid from your own automobile insurance policy until such limits are spent. Currently, the law requires drivers to have at least $5,000 of medical insurance coverage on their policies, which is the amount most drivers have. Higher limits can be obtained. When you are in an accident, your bills are sent to your own automobile insurance company until the $5,000 limits have been paid. At that point, the medical bills must be submitted to your health insurance company. If you have no insurance, the bills are your responsibility. Out-of-pocket medical expenses and medical payments made by medical assistance, Medicare or HMO type insurance companies can be recovered from the other driver... if that driver has sufficient insurance coverage. Because other drivers often do not have adequate coverage, it is important to purchase underinsured insurance coverage on your own policy.

How does my attorney get paid?

In personal injury cases, we are not paid unless we recover money for you. Our fee is a percentage of the monies received on your behalf from one or more insurance companies.

Why is it important to hire an experience attorney to represent me concerning my automobile accident?

Insurance companies are not known for being generous to victims injured in automobile accident cases.  Claims representatives typically try to settle the claim for as little as possible.  Insurance companies, especially when dealing with tractor trailer accidents, begin preparing their defense immediately, often even sending employees to the scene of a crash before the vehicles have been cleared. 

You need to hire an experienced automobile accident lawyer and you need to hire that attorney as soon as possible.  You need a lawyer who understands how insurance companies evaluate cases and how they negotiate settlements.  The insurance companies often try to take a recorded statement from you shortly after the accident.  The insurance company will request copies of your medical records and will review the records for “evidence” that your injuries are somehow not related to the crash.  You need an attorney who understands this process and will fight to obtain the compensation you deserve.

Attorney Hall has represented insurance companies and their insureds from the early stages of a claim through jury trials and appeals.  Attorney Hall understands what insurance companies look for and how they operate.  He has the tools to fight the insurance companies and win.  Attorney Hall has over 20 years of experience in representing persons injured in tractor trailer, automobile, motorcycle and other accidents.

How does a jury decide what my injury is worth?

If an insurance company is unwilling to pay fair compensation for one’s claims, the case proceeds to trial and a jury determines who is responsible for the accident and the amount of damages.  Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, juries are given very little guidance concerning appropriate awards for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.  Before beginning deliberations, the Judge instructs the jurors concerning their duties. 

The Judge instructs the jury that the injured party is “entitled to be fairly and adequately compensated for all physical pain, mental anguish, discomfort, inconvenience and distress that you find she has endured from the time of the injury until today and will endure in the future as a result of her injuries.”  This instruction is not particularly helpful for jurors.  Juries in Central Pennsylvania are often comprised of individuals who are conservative and skeptical when it comes to awarding money to someone injured in an accident.  As a result, these juries often fail to adequately compensate an injured party.

A better jury instruction would be for the jurors to be informed that they need to determine what someone would have to pay them for the injuries the victim sustained to be inflicted upon them.  Such an instruction would undoubtedly result in a fairer award for damages but such an instruction is not currently permitted by the laws in Pennsylvania.

When you are injured, you need an attorney who can effectively present your case and cause the jurors to appreciate the full extent of your injuries.  Only with the help of an experienced lawyer can you obtain a verdict that fully and adequately compensates you. 

I am thinking about buying a home or refinancing my current home.  Should I hire an attorney?

You should hire an attorney any time you are making a purchase such as a home or other real estate or borrowing against such property.  Banks will often try to persuade borrowers to use the bank’s settlement company, which typically does not have a lawyer involved.  Using such a settlement company is no less expensive than having a lawyer assist you and often is more expensive.  With such an important matter, you should have the assistance and advice of a lawyer.

By having a lawyer represent you for your real estate transactions, you have the benefit of the education and experience of the lawyer in reviewing your sale documents and title search.  The lawyer is available to advise you concerning all of the legal issues that are involved in the transaction.  In addition, the lawyer is there to represent and protect you should any matters arise concerning the purchase. If a right-of-way or driveway use agreement is required by the lender, a lawyer (not a settlement agent) is needed to prepare the legal document. If you are considering buying a home or borrowing against your home, contact our office for assistance.

What happens if I die and do not have a Will?

If a resident of Pennsylvania dies without having written a Will, there is a statute that specifies who receives the property from one’s estate.  20 Pa. C.S. 2102.  Persons who are entitled to receive your property pursuant to this statute might not be the same persons (or may not be in the same percentages) as what you would desire.  By having a Will, you get to chose who receives your property.  You also get to chose who will be in charge of your estate when you pass. 

A carefully written Will will minimize the possibility of problems in the administration of your estate and will minimize the potential for conflict among the beneficiaries of your estate.  By discussing your situation with an attorney, your Will will be structured to minimize taxes and ensure that as much of your property as possible passes to those you wish to receive such property. 

How often do I need to update my Will?

Your Will should be reviewed anytime you have a significant change in your life.  If a spouse or child passes away, if you go through a divorce or if the value of your assets increases or decreases considerably, you should review your Will with an attorney.  In the event of a divorce in Pennsylvania, the former spouse is treated as having passed away prior to the person who is the subject of the Will.  However, other persons named in the Will can still inherit after the divorce. 

For example, your Will might say if my wife Jane does not survive me, I give my estate to Jane’s sister Jill.  If you do not change your Will after you and Jane become divorced, Jill will still inherit your estate.  This is the case even if you have not spoken with Jill in the twenty years since the divorce..

How do I know if will lose my driver’s license if I plead guilty to a criminal charge?

Often, there are collateral civil consequences for criminal convictions.  For instance, in Pennsylvania, if you plead guilty to a drug crime such as possession of a small amount of marijuana or possession of drug paraphernalia, you will be forever prohibited from obtaining a permit to carry a concealed firearm (unless you receive a pardon from the governor).  At our office, we often receive calls from someone who went to obtain or renew their concealed carry permit and were denied because of a drug or other conviction.

If someone is convicted of a crime which is rated as a misdemeanor of the first degree or higher, they cannot purchase, own or possess a firearm.

Certain convictions, such as underage drinking, result in the suspension of a driver’s license.

If you are charged with a crime, you should speak with Attorney Lindsay and know all of your options before agreeing to any plea deal offered by the District Attorney.  Attorney Lindsay can discuss your options and all of the consequences of a plea deal offered by the prosecutor.