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Automobile Insurance Terms

Liability. Collision. Comprehensive. Full Tort. Limited Tort. What do these terms-and others-really mean? Are they necessary for your auto insurance protection?

Some coverages are required by various states. Others aren't mandatory, but are simply a good idea to protect you and those you care about. Use this information to find the coverage that's right for you-and your budget.

COLLISION Often required by lenders if you have financed or leased your car, this coverage pays for damage to your vehicle caused by an auto accident.

COMPREHENSIVE (OTHER THAN COLLISION) Pays for damage resulting from causes other than collision. These can include such things as vandalism or even natural disasters. Once again if you have a car loan, your lender may require you to carry this coverage.

LIABILITY (Bodily Injury) If you're responsible for injuring someone in an auto accident, this protection pays your legal defense if you are sued and may pay monetary damages for injuries to injured persons up to the limit of liability you select.

LIABILITY (Property Damage) If you are held liable for damaging someone's Property or vehicle, this coverage pays any claims against you, as well as covering your legal defense costs up to the limits of liability you select.

UNINSURED MOTORISTS Covers you and your passengers for injury or damage in the event you're involved in an accident with a motorist who has no auto insurance and is legally liable for your injuries. Also protects you if you're victimized by a hit-and-run driver.

UNDERINSURED MOTORISTS protection pays you in the event you're injured by someone who is legally liable for your injuries and whose limits of liability are insufficient to cover your injuries or damages.

DEDUCTIBLE This is a dollar amount you choose that you must pay toward repairs or other costs before your auto insurance will begin to cover a loss. If you select a $500 deductible on your collision or comprehensive coverage, you'd pay the first $500 for any repair work made necessary by a collision, and the insurance would pay the remaining charges. In general, the higher your deductible, the lower your premium.

Full Protection vs. Almost No Protection

A very important aspect of your automobile insurance policy is your choice of limited tort coverage or full tort coverage. While your insurance policy generally provides for payment of your liabilities to-others and coverage for some of your own losses, the choice between full and limited tort is really unrelated to coverage issues but instead is an election of your legal rights.

"Tort" means private or civil wrong or injury. It is a wrongful act for which you have the right to sue. It is not as serious as a crime but more serious than a mere incivility. Negligent driving is a tort.

Whether or not you remember, you have chosen a full tort option or a limited tort option under your existing insurance policy. If you selected the full tort option, you have the right to sue anyone whose negligence relating to the use of an automobile has injured you. You may sue for any of your uninsured or uncovered medical expenses or lost wages. You may also sue for your pain and suffering, for other economic losses, and for the permanent or continuing limitations on your activities and income that may result over the long term from your injuries.

If you elected the limited tort option, you cannot sue someone who negligently injures you in an automobile accident unless you seek only actual out-of-pocket losses. You cannot sue to recover compensation for your pain and suffering or future limitations unless your injuries led to serious impairment of a body function, permanent and serious disfigurement, or death.

The most recent Pennsylvania court decisions set a very high threshold for determining when an injury is serious. These recent court decisions make it very difficult if not almost impossible for most people who have opted for limited tort coverage to recover compensation for their pain and suffering or future limitations if they are injured in an automobile accident.

There are a few specific exceptions to your relinquishment of rights under the limited tort option. You can still sue if the negligent driver was drunk, was driving an out-of-state vehicle, injured you intentionally, or was uninsured. You can also sue if you were an occupant of a vehicle that is not a private passenger car or if you are suing a business responsible for a motor vehicle defect that caused your injury.

Your election of the limited tort option limits the rights of all members of your household unless they have their own separate insurance policies.

In deciding whether to opt for limited or full tort coverage, pay careful attention to the difference in the costs of the policies. Be sure to carefully consider whether the small reduction in your insurance premiums justifies your relinquishment of very important legal rights. We urge you to select full tort coverage for you and your loved ones.

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