Is Pennsylvania a No-Fault State?
April 15, 2023 | Pennsylvania Law
Pennsylvania, like other states, requires motorists with vehicles registered in-state to purchase auto insurance. So what happens after a car accident? Whose insurance pays for what? That all depends on the particular system each state uses to assign liability after a traffic accident. Most states use at-fault systems, while a few states use no-fault systems. Pennsylvania is one of only three states that operates a “choice no-fault” system.
How “At-Fault” Auto Insurance Works
In an “at-fault” auto insurance state, an injured driver or passenger can immediately:
- File a third-party claim against the at-fault driver’s auto liability insurance policy; or
- Sue the at-fault driver (typically for negligence) in court.
How “No-Fault” Auto Insurance Works
No-fault insurance will pay compensation regardless of whose fault the accident was. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) is a type of no-fault insurance that covers bodily injury from a car accident.
In a no-fault state, someone injured in a car accident cannot sue the at-fault driver unless their injuries meet a certain threshold. State law typically limits damages to economic damages, excluding non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
No-fault compensation is often insufficient to compensate for catastrophic bodily injuries. For this reason, no-fault states typically set a threshold of “serious” injury, beyond which the injured party can sue the at-fault driver for both economic and non-economic damages, just as they can in at-fault states. An injury resulting in permanent disfigurement, for example, might qualify as a “serious” injury.
Pennsylvania’s “Choice No-Fault” System
Three states – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Kentucky — operate a hybrid system referred to as “choice no-fault.” Under Pennsylvania’s choice no-fault system, whenever they purchase insurance, drivers must choose between “limited tort” (no-fault) and “full tort” (at-fault) coverage.
Naturally, full tort coverage is more expensive. However, full tort coverage also allows injured victims more options for compensation after an accident. If an accident occurs, the state and the insurance company will honor the driver’s pre-existing choice.
Non-Economic Damages Under Pennsylvania Law
The choice between no-fault and at-fault insurance is significant in part because, under Pennsylvania law, an injured victim can receive non-economic damages of the following varieties:
- Pain and suffering. This compensates for physical distress. Pain and suffering damages sometimes amount to three to five times the amount of economic damages.
- Emotional distress. This might include anxiety, depression, shock, and more.
- Loss of enjoyment of life. This compensates for the loss of hobbies and activities that used to bring joy, such as exercise.
- Permanent scarring or disfigurement. Extensive facial scarring would qualify, for example, as would amputation of a limb.
However, drivers cannot always receive these damages, especially if they’ve selected limited tort coverage. Furthermore, in cases of outrageous behavior, such as an intentional assault, a court might even award punitive damages.
Full tort coverage allows accident victims to file claims against the drivers responsible for their injuries, regardless of how severe the crash was. These claims can have significantly higher values because of the ability to recover non-economic (and potentially punitive) damages.
Pennsylvania’s Mandatory Insurance Requirements
Pennsylvania requires all drivers with a car registered in Pennsylvania to purchase the following minimum insurance coverage:
- $5,000 in no-fault medical benefits coverage;
- $15,000 in bodily injury liability insurance per person (and $30,000 total coverage per accident); and
- $5,000 in property damage liability insurance.
You can substitute certain types of comprehensive auto insurance policies with coverage limits of at least $35,000.
The vast majority of Pennsylvania drivers carry at least this much insurance coverage. Keep in mind that certain classes of drivers, such as commercial truck drivers, must carry far more insurance.
In Pennsylvania, property damage insurance is a form of liability insurance. In other words, Pennsylvania applies an “at-fault” compensation system to car accident property damage claims. There is no no-fault option the way there is with bodily injury claims.
Contact a Pennsylvania Car Accident Lawyer
If you suffered an injury car accident in Pennsylvania, consider seeking the services of a car accident lawyer if you believe the accident may have been someone else’s fault. The more serious your injuries are, the more you are likely to need a lawyer. Most personal injury lawyers will charge you nothing unless they win your case.
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