When you are injured in a motor vehicle accident in Pennsylvania due to another driver's negligence, the second question you need to answer, after finding out who pays your medical bills, is whether you can pursue a negligence claim for personal injuries to obtain compensation so that you can be made whole for your loss. Even though this would appear to be a simple question, it is not in Pennsylvania.
Every owner of a motor vehicle registered in Pennsylvania must obtain automobile insurance on their vehicle pursuant to 75 Pa. C.S. § 1701 et. seq. Since 1990, a vehicle owner has the choice between selecting a "full tort" policy or a "limited tort" policy . A "full tort" policy is a traditional policy wherein the insureds on the policy have an unrestricted right to bring a claim against a negligent driver, regardless of the type of injuries sustained. A "limited tort" policy is where the vehicle owner obtains a discount from the insurance carrier and in return for that discounted policy the vehicle owner gives up his or her right to bring a personal injury claim for any injuries that are not considered a "serious injury", regardless of how negligent the other driver may have been. The problem is that the vehicle owner's tort selection is binding on all of the "insureds" under the policy who do not own their own vehicle and are consequently not a named insured on any other policy. Pennsylvania auto law defines an "insured" as anyone residing with the vehicle owner (named insured) who is a spouse or relative of the vehicle owner. Thus, any child, grandchild, sibling, parent, grandparent or spouse (even if married after the auto insurance policy went into effect) may be bound by the household vehicle owner's tort selection.
There is no problem or confusion with a vehicle owner getting paid a discount in return for that vehicle owner knowingly giving up his or her right to pursue an injury claim. The problem and confusion with the law is that injured people who are not the vehicle owner are having their unrestricted right to pursue an injury claim against a negligent driver taken away without receiving any compensation (consideration) by the insurance carrier, and in most situations without their knowledge or consent. Simply because a person moves back in with his or her parents or a sibling or lives with their grandparents or children or grandchildren or gets married, that person's right to pursue a personal injury claim may be barred by their household relative's selection of a "limited tort" insurance policy on their automobile. The "insured" person can be a minor. The "insured" person doesn't have to have a driver's license. The "insured" person doesn't have to be in the insured vehicle at the time of the accident. Based on the above, it is no surprise that most people have no idea whether they have full tort rights or whether a household relative has contracted away their rights leaving them bound by a limited tort selection. Unfortunately, most people don't find out the answer to this question until after a negligent driver injures them in a motor vehicle accident and it is too late to change the tort selection.
Thus, after finding out which insurance company will pay your medical bills, your next question should be to find out whether you are bound by a "full tort" or "limited tort" automobile insurance policy that you selected or a household relative of yours selected (if you don't have your own policy). If you don't own a vehicle and don't live with a household relative, then your god given full tort rights have not been contracted away and you have an unrestricted right to bring a personal injury claim against a negligent driver regardless of the extent of your injuries.
If you find out that you are bound by a limited tort policy, then you cannot pursue a personal injury claim unless your injuries constitute a "serious injury." Pennsylvania auto law defines a "serious injury" as "a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement." What constitutes a "serious impairment of body function" or which disfigurements are considered permanent and serious are gray areas of the law that are determined on a case by case basis, usually by a court.
Fortunately, there are several exceptions, wherein a person bound by a limited tort selection may still have full tort unrestricted rights. Even where the automobile insurance company tells you that you can't pursue an injury claim due to a limited tort selection, you may still be able to pursue a full tort claim if you meet one of the exceptions. You should always consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to determine what your tort rights are and if limited tort, whether your claim meets one of the exceptions to limited tort.