This is a great question. First, full coverage has nothing at all to do with full tort. Full coverage means a person has chosen to buy optional insurance coverage. Common examples are comprehensive insurance (damage to your car when it is not moving), uninsured motorist benefits, underinsured motorist benefits, wage loss, rental car, towing, etc. Full coverage has no bearing on the choice of full or limited tort. Conversely, choosing full tort does not mean you have full coverage and we have seen many auto insurance policies in which the insured person elected full coverage yet, sadly, with limited tort.
Second, “tort” means a civil wrong. Full tort = full right to sue. Limited tort = limited right to sue, subject to several exceptions. Full tort is a misnomer. It should be called full right to sue, just as limited tort should be called limited right to sue. You can choose to elect limited or full tort without regard to whether you buy optional coverages such as those listed above. However, you must choose full or limited tort when you buy new coverage. If you choose nothing, the law says you are full tort by default.
Third, your choice of limited tort or full tort binds you and your household members related to you by blood or marriage. If you chose limited tort, everyone in your family just chose it too. You bound them, unless someone else has his or her own auto insurance policy. Say, for example, your 12 year old is in his best friend’s Mom Jan’s Honda Pilot en route to a soccer game, when the Pilot gets rear ended at a red light. Your son probably can’t sue for his pain and suffering (noneconomic damages). Why? Because he is bound by YOUR choice of limited tort.
Full Tort vs Limited Tort
It does not matter which tort option Jan chose. Your son does not live with Jan. He lives with you. It only matters what tort option YOU chose, because your son is a member of YOUR household, not of Jan’s household. Some would say, what tort option was the Pilot? The answer is none. Tort options in Pennsylvania apply only to people, not to their cars. A car cannot have a tort option. A person can.
A person who owns a car registered in Pennsylvania must make an election—limited or full right to sue (tort). It applies to YOU and YOUR family, not to someone else. A reckless motorist, who was 100% at fault in causing an accident, can get away scott free after hurting your family member because by choosing limited tort, you inadvertently waived your family’s rights to sue him for the pain and suffering he caused your family. He walks away, because of your insurance choice. Your tort option limits YOU and YOUR family’s rights against OTHERS, even to make a claim out of court for your family member’s pain and suffering. The first question asked of us by the insurance company for the driver who was at fault is, “what is your client’s tort option?”
Make the right choice. Pay the extra premium, even if it is 20% more. You will be glad you did if one of your loved ones is hurt in ANYONE’s car. Your tort option stays in your pocket, and those family members who lives with you. There is no such thing as a limited tort car, there is only a limited tort person. Don’t be a limited tort person. Only the named insured in the household can make the choice for his or her family’s welfare. Make the right one. Full tort = full protection—for you and for your family.