Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What is a Tort?: House Bill No. 34

A careless driver has caused an automobile collision and the injured victim does not know where to turn. He reads his automobile insurance policy only to add to his confusion. He calls his attorney and the first question he asks is "What is a tort?" This scenario plays out daily throughout Pennsylvania. People are injured through no fault of their own and are forced to "figure out" what type of insurance they had purchased. Few, if any, know what the word "tort" truly means. Nearly every day that very question is asked of me. " I have been injured in an accident through no fault of my own, what can I do? What is a tort?"

Blacks Law Dictionary defines a tort as a civil wrong for which a remedy may be obtained in the form of damages.

In 1990, the Pennsylvania State Legislature, in its collective wisdom, amended the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law to provide two types of "tort" options. One option would be the selection of full tort while the other option would be the selection of limited tort. Although the options sound good, when purchasing automobile insurance few people have any idea of what the options mean. Only after being injured in an automobile accident and they have conferred with an attorney do they truly understand their rights as controlled by the insurance policy they may have purchased years before. Full tort means one’s full right to seek compensation for injuries that have been sustained, or in other words, a full right to sue while limited tort, the other selection, limits one’s right to recover for injuries, or in other words, a limited right to sue.
Over the past seventeen years, Pennsylvanians have been confused and have continually misunderstood the automobile insurance which they have purchased. The Pennsylvania Legislature has offered no guidance or explanation. At least three House Bills commonly referred to as Plain Language Bills have languished in Committee for several years and hopefully at least one of them may soon be voted upon by the full membership of the House of Representatives. The most likely scenario is that House Bill No. 34 will be the first to be acted upon unless the Legislature continues to drag its feet. This legislation, commonly known as a Plain Language Bill, would change the language of automobile policies from the hard to understand terminology "full tort and limited tort" to the much more consumer friendly terminology of "full right to sue and limited right to sue," obviously making insurance policies easier to understand and allowing Pennsylvanians to best choose the type of insurance right for them and their families. Consumer confusion helps no one and I can think of no reason why every Pennsylvania representative and senator would not support the Plain Language legislation. Please call your legislator and senator and ask them to support House Bill No. 34. Don’t wait until you have been in an accident to find out about your automobile insurance. Check your policy and make sure you have selected the type of insurance that best protects you and your loved ones.

Submitted by:
James T. Davis, Esquire