Car Insurance Full Tort: Everything You Need to Know


Have you ever wondered about the difference between full tort and limited tort car insurance options in Pennsylvania? You’re not alone – this complex subject confuses many drivers. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about full tort coverage to help you make an informed decision about your auto insurance.


Choosing between full tort and limited tort can feel like choosing between two unfamiliar concepts. However, understanding the basics is essential for protecting yourself financially in the event of an accident. Let’s start by clarifying some key definitions.

Understanding Tort Law and Personal Injury Claims


Tort law deals with civil wrongs, harms, or injuries, especially those that are not criminal acts. It focuses on determining liability and compensation for losses resulting from an accident.

In a car accident, injured parties may choose to file a personal injury claim to recover damages for things like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. These claims are evaluated under tort law to determine liability and compensation.

Choosing full tort or limited tort affects your ability to file certain types of personal injury claims after a car accident. So it’s important to understand the difference between the options before making your selection.

Full Tort vs. Limited Tort: Understanding the Key Differences

With full tort coverage, you retain the right to sue for unlimited personal injury damages. Limited tort restricts your ability to sue and recover damages under certain conditions.


  • Full Tort: You can sue for pain and suffering and other non-economic damages regardless of the accident details. This provides the broadest rights to make a personal injury claim.
  • Limited Tort: You give up the right to sue for non-economic damages like pain and suffering unless the accident results in a “serious injury” as defined by law. Economic damages like medical bills and lost wages are still recoverable.

The main tradeoff is full tort costs more in premiums, while limited tort provides modest savings. The choice depends on your individual accident risk and financial situation. Let’s examine each option in more depth.

Full Tort Coverage Explained

With full tort coverage, you retain an unrestricted right to sue for pain and suffering or non-economic damages in all car accidents, regardless of fault or severity of injury. This provides the broadest protections under tort law.

Some key advantages of full tort include:

  • Right to sue for any injury type: You can file a personal injury lawsuit and claim compensation for pain and suffering or other non-economic losses in all accidents, even minor ones.
  • Higher compensation potential: The ability to sue for non-economic damages increases the potential value of personal injury claims and settlements if an accident occurs.
  • Less restricted rights: Full tort does not place any conditions or restrictions on the types of accidents or injuries that allow non-economic damages claims, offering the most expansive rights under tort law.

Naturally, this comes at a higher premium cost compared to limited tort. Carriers see full tort as providing broader coverage so they pass on more of the liability risk in premium rates. Rough estimates indicate full tort policies cost 5-10% more annually on average.

So for those concerned about maximum financial protection and compensation rights following an accident, full tort coverage may provide peace of mind worth paying a modestly higher premium. The tradeoff is paying more each month for coverage you may never need.

Limited Tort Coverage Explained

With limited tort, you give up the unrestricted right to sue for pain and suffering and other non-economic damages. However, economic damages like medical bills and lost wages remain recoverable through insurance or lawsuits.

Specifically, limited tort only allows recovery of non-economic damages if the accident results in a “serious injury” as defined by law. The definition requires injuries resulting in death, serious impairment of bodily function, or permanent serious disfigurement.

Some key points about limited tort coverage:

  • Restricted rights: Filing a lawsuit for non-economic damages is only allowed for accidents causing “serious injuries” meeting a high legal standard.
  • Lower premiums: As limited tort provides less liability coverage for insurers, policy rates are typically 5-10% less than full tort on average.
  • Only minor accident protections: For minor accidents not meeting the serious injury threshold, compensation would only include economic damages covered by policies.

The tradeoff here is modestly lower premium costs in exchange for giving up some financial protections and injury claim rights. Limited tort may suffice for lower-risk drivers less concerned about non-economic compensation.

To summarize the two options side by side:

Coverage Type Full Tort Limited Tort
Right to Sue for Non-Economic Damages In all accidents Only for “serious injuries” defined by law
Potential Compensation Higher Lower
Premium Cost Higher (5-10% on average) Lower (5-10% on average)
Rights and Protections Broadest More Restricted

Now that you understand the contrasting features, let’s look at some scenarios to illustrate the practical consequences of each choice.

Real-World Scenarios: What Each Option Means in an Accident

Scenario 1: Minor rear-end fender bender with no reported injuries.

  • Full Tort: You could still sue an at-fault driver for any discovered pains/injuries later and claim non-economic damages.
  • Limited Tort: The only recoverable damages would be economic costs like repair bills covered by insurance. No non-economic claims are allowed.

Scenario 2: Accident causes whiplash and two weeks of missed work.

  • Full Tort: Able to sue at-fault party and likely receive compensation for medical bills, lost wages, plus non-economic damages for pain/suffering.
  • Limited Tort: As injuries don’t meet the “serious” threshold, only recover economic damages through insurance, unable to claim non-economic.

Scenario 3: Accident results in broken leg requiring months of physical therapy.

  • Full Tort: Significant compensation expected via lawsuit covering all costs and damages.
  • Limited Tort: Injuries meet the “serious impairment” criterion, allowing full economic/non-economic claims as with full tort.

As illustrated, even minor accidents that end up resulting in aches/pains could still be fought over in court under full tort. Limited tort restricts those types of claims. The choice comes down to your tolerance for risk versus premium costs.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Coverage

To make the best choice, carefully consider these important factors:

  • Personal injury risk: Those prone to injuries or involved in high-risk activities may favor full tort protections.
  • Driving record: Drivers with a poor record face higher accident risks, making full tort more beneficial for financial protection.
  • Financial situation: Limited tort saves money but also sacrifices some compensation rights and maximum payouts after an accident. Consider financial resources and risk tolerance.
  • Location and commute: High-traffic urban areas mean greater exposure to accidents that may require full tort rights.
  • Family/future plans: Full tort ensures availability to support dependents for life changes like future children via higher potential payouts.
  • Premium costs: Limited tort typically saves 5-10% or more annually, but full tort may be worthwhile if at higher risk financially.

Thoroughly assessing these criteria helps identify which option matches individual needs and priorities regarding coverage, costs, and post-accident rights based on lifestyle and circumstances. Let an agent assist with determining the right fit.

Questions to Ask Your Agent

To get clarity on coverage details, be sure to ask an insurance agent:

  • How premium costs compare between options based on your profile and needs.
  • Scenario examples to illustrate the practical consequences of each choice.
  • Clarification on tort law definitions and standards that impact eligibility for non-economic claims.
  • Recommendation of full tort or limited tort based on risk assessment of your situation.
  • Availability of discounts or other ways to mitigate full tort premium costs if that option is best.

An informed discussion exploring different accident scenarios and individual factors leads to the most well-reasoned decision. Avoid assumptions and get expert guidance tailored to your auto insurance needs.

Making the Final Full Tort vs Limited Tort Choice

Weigh all relevant considerations with care before committing to either full tort or limited tort coverage. There are good arguments for both choices depending on the circumstances. Consult an experienced agent for an objective recommendation.

Overall, choose the option aligning closest with your:

  • Risk exposure and tolerance for financial losses
  • Resources and capacity to manage costs or lost income from injuries
  • Preference for higher premium savings or greater legal protections

For many lower-risk drivers, limited tort meets needs nicely. But full tort provides maximum compensation rights in major injury cases for a modest added premium cost worth it to some.

With a clear understanding of policy features and their real impact based on your profile, you’re ready to pick coverage aligned with your priorities, values, and lifestyle. Consult relevant experts and make the best choice for your situation.

FAQ: Full Tort vs Limited Tort

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions that may provide additional clarity:

1. Can I switch between full tort and limited tort?

You can change your tort election once per year without underwriting when you renew your auto insurance policy. Switching may impact your premium costs.

2. How is “serious injury” defined under limited tort?

A serious injury requires death, serious impairment of bodily function, or permanent serious disfigurement. Courts determine if an injury meets this threshold on a case-by-case basis.

3. What if I’m in an accident outside of Pennsylvania?

Your tort election only applies to accidents that occur in Pennsylvania. For accidents elsewhere, you’d follow the tort laws of that jurisdiction.

4. Does my tort choice impact uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage?

No, your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is separate and provides compensation regardless of tort election if injured by an uninsured/underinsured at-fault driver.

5. How long do I have to file an injury claim after an accident?

In Pennsylvania, you generally have 2 years from the date of an accident to file a personal injury lawsuit for damages. The statute of limitations is an important consideration.