Auto Insurance Coverage
Automobile insurance laws in Pennsylvania require the owner of a vehicle to have a minimum amount of liability insurance on the vehicle. Liability insurance provides compensation to another person in the event that you cause an accident and are found to be liable to that person for damages. The minimum amount of coverage required by law in Pennsylvania is $15,000 (75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1702), but you can purchase higher amounts of liability insurance in order to protect your personal assets against the risk of higher damages being awarded against you in the event you cause another serious injuries.
When Ginn & Vickery, P.C., Attorneys at Law represents a person who is injured in an accident, one of the first things we do is investigate all possible insurance coverage that is applicable. There are two categories of auto insurance – first party coverage and third party coverage. First party coverage covers you and your property (such as medical expenses, damage to your vehicle and the insurance company's duty to defend you in the event that you are sued as the result of your operation of a vehicle, etc.). Third party coverage is for your responsibility to pay for injury caused to other people (and vice versa), whether in your vehicle, or another vehicle involved in the accident. The coverage (and its exclusions) is set forth in your insurance policy. In exchange for the payment of a premium, the insurance company promises to provide compensation in the event of certain occurrences. Though a full recitation of insurance coverage and laws would occupy several large text volumes, the following is brief synopsis of the most typical coverage and issues.
As previously stated, this type of insurance is required by law. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1702. The liability portion of an insurance policy is specifically for defending and settling any claims or paying any judgments rendered against the insured in an automobile negligence claim. If you are injured by the negligence of another, we will make a claim under the bodily injury liability coverage of the negligent driver's insurance policy. Liability coverage is not health insurance, and it is not designed to pay for your medical bills as they are incurred. Rather, it is designed for a one-time settlement or payment of all of your damages. Liability insurance minimums required by law in Pennsylvania are:
- Fifteen thousand ($15,000) dollars for bodily injury or death of one person in any one accident;
- Thirty thousand ($30,000) dollars for bodily injury or death of two or more persons in one accident, not to exceed the per-person limits above;
- Five thousand ($5,000) dollars for injury or harm to property of others in one accident. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1702.
Lawsuits in Pennsylvania must be filed against the negligent driver and may not also name the insurance carrier as a defendant. In fact, the jury is not allowed to know that there is insurance coverage available to the defendant. If the jury renders a verdict in excess of the defendant's liability policy limit, the defendant is then personally liable out of his or her own assets for the additional amount.
Medical Payments (Med-Pay) Coverage
When purchasing automobile insurance for yourself, you may seek to include several additional types of coverage other than liability insurance. One of these types of coverage is called medical expense benefits coverage, which is required by Pennsylvania law. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1711. Medical payments coverage is a form of health coverage called by various terms, including "med-pay," "personal injury protection (PIP)," medical expense benefits, or "economic loss protection benefits." This coverage is available to the insured driver (the individual who holds the policy which includes med-pay coverage) and any passengers in the insured's vehicle for injuries sustained in the accident, regardless of the fault of the driver. It is important to note that the insurance policy of the negligent party does not pay med-pay or PIP benefits to an injured plaintiff. These benefits are limited to the driver or passengers in the insured vehicle, regardless of fault. The plaintiff looks to his own insurance policy or the policy on the vehicle in which he was a passenger for med-pay or PIP benefits.
The amount of med-pay benefits that may be paid to any individual is determined by reference to the policy limit for this particular type of coverage, as stated in the insurance policy declarations sheet for the person who purchased the coverage. The minimum amount of coverage under Pennsylvania law is $5,000. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1711.
Uninsured And Underinsured Motorist Benefits
Two other related types of voluntary coverage you can (and should) purchase are uninsured and underinsured motorist benefits. These types of coverage protect you against a negligent defendant who illegally does not have liability insurance coverage or has minimum coverage that is inadequate to fully compensate you for your injuries. If you are involved in an accident with an uninsured but negligent individual, we would make a claim for you under your own uninsured motorist coverage. Your own insurance carrier would then have to pay any judgment which may be rendered, up to the limits of the policy which you purchased.
If the person who caused the accident has liability insurance, but the policy limit of his or her liability insurance is less than the uninsured motorist coverage of your policy, we can make an additional claim under your own policy for what is called underinsured motorist benefits, in the event that your damages exceed the limits of the other party's liability coverage. A complicated body of case law has evolved dealing with this type of benefit, and the experience of an attorney familiar with these issues is important in order to obtain the maximum amount of recovery for you.
Collision coverage is a type of voluntary coverage you can purchase that provides for the repair or replacement of your own vehicle after an accident, regardless of whether or not you are at fault. This is different than property liability insurance coverage discussed above. An innocent victim of an accident may present a claim for the property damage under his or her own collision coverage or under the negligent defendant's property damage liability insurance coverage. Your own collision coverage normally includes a deductible, whereas property damage liability insurance coverage does not. In an automobile accident case, after a claim has been paid under collision coverage, the insurance carrier that paid the claim may proceed against the property damage liability insurance carrier for the negligent defendant to recover the amount paid out. This process is called subrogation, and does not affect your recovery.
Pennsylvania law also requires that an insured driver purchase either limited or full tort coverage. Tort coverage applies to the pain and suffering benefits an insured is entitled to if the insured is not at fault for the accident. Limited tort coverage requires the insured to give up the right to receive pain and suffering compensation if injured in an accident. An exception to this law is when the insured is seriously injured. A serious injury is limited to death, serious impairment of bodily functions, or permanent serious disfigurement. Full tort coverage is optional; however, it allows the insured to receive pain and suffering benefits if another driver is at fault for the accident. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1705.