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Overview of Tort Auto Insurance

In the U.S. there are 38 states which have some sort of tort law for auto insurance [1]. Clearly this form of coverage is important to know about since the majority if drivers across the country have to abide by tort principles when it comes to their auto insurance. Every state has its own specific way of applying tort law, including regulations on what type and how much liability insurance each driver must carry, and exactly how liability is determined in an accident. But there are some essential features common to all tort states. A solid understanding of tort law can help drivers in these states make more informed choices about their auto insurance coverage.

Tort Auto Accident Law

The one basic premise behind tort law as it pertains to auto insurance which makes it unique is that it seeks to determine fault in every accident situation. The overarching school of thought informing much of tort law is that the assessment of fault is an important first step to be completed prior to the awarding of damages. In a tort system for auto insurance, the driver who is at fault in an auto accident is responsible for paying the cost of the victim's medical expenses, as well as other costs which could include pain and suffering, lost wages and property loss. If you are covered by auto insurance in a full tort state, you can pursue damages for your losses including medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

In a tort system, all drivers in the state are required to carry some sort of auto liability insurance to help them pay for any such damages they may incur as a result of an at-fault accident. Auto liability insurance standards and requirements vary by state, but as a general rule they seek to arm drivers to pay out expenses related to these accidents without putting themselves deep into debt or facing other serious financial consequences. Another goal of mandatory liability coverage is to try to minimize court cases stemming from car accidents by increasing the number of insured drivers on the road, and thus improving the chances of any particular case being handled out of court through negotiation between insurance providers.

Limited versus Full Tort

In some, but not all tort states, drivers have options as to what sort of tort auto insurance they would like to take on. In these states, there is an option for what is called limited tort auto insurance as well as an option for full tort car insurance. Limited tort auto insurance does have one major appeal for drivers as opposed to full tort policies in that it can save them some money on their premiums. Some experts estimate the savings to be somewhere around 15 percent on average [2], although the actual savings vary widely on a case by case basis and it is impossible to predict in any given situation without gathering quotes reflecting both options and deciding from there.

In the limited tort auto insurance option, the covered policy holder gives up the right to seek compensation for pain and suffering if he or she is injured in an auto accident. The rights of those who choose to take on limited tort auto coverage are limited to the pursuit of damages related to the actual financial costs of the accident, such as initial medical care and lost wages. Many drivers do not regard this sort of limit as all that restrictive, and they summarily dismiss the limits as a small price to pay for the savings they see when choosing limited tort auto insurance over full tort.

The truth is this can truly be a big limiting factor. Anyone who has ever been seriously injured in a car accident can attest to the grim reality of the pain and suffering that often follows the crash itself. The pain and suffering connected to the aftereffects of a car crash can sometimes last for months or even years. Those who have never had a serious injury as a result of a car accident might be more likely to choose limited tort over full tort than would someone who has been through such an accident.

One important point to ponder if you are thinking of pursuing the limited tort option: the limits you choose also apply to any passenger in your vehicle at the time of an accident, including your children, and to any covered member of your family who is hit as a pedestrian. Some of us have an easier time taking a risk on less comprehensive coverage for ourselves than we would for our loved ones, so it is good to know all the coverage consequences of any choice we make.

Of course, there are exceptions to limited tort insurance in which the claimant can seek compensation for pain and suffering. But these cases are limited to death, severe and permanent disfigurement, and catastrophic injuries which significantly impair bodily functions. Assessment of catastrophic injuries is itself very limited, with many serious injuries failing to qualify. These exceptions are quite rare.

It is impossible to say for sure which one of these tort auto insurance options would appeal to any particular driver. Surely if money were no object everyone would choose full tort coverage. But unfortunately, money and the financial impact of our premiums are often the driving factor in decisions we make as policy holders regarding the specifics of our auto insurance coverage.

Tort Different from No Fault

A tort auto insurance system is philosophically different from auto insurance laws in no-fault states. No fault auto insurance is exactly what it sounds like, a system not interested in assigning fault for every accident. No fault insurance essentially requires drivers covered under this insurance format to pay for their own expenses in the aftermath of an accident. The theory behind no fault is that by requiring every driver to take responsibility for his or her own medical expenses and property damages, it will encourage higher rates of insured drivers on the roads and lower rates of lawsuits. But in reality, this has not really been the case in no fault states; at least one of them has actually gone back to tort law as a result of "flaws" in the no fault system [1].

In contrast to no fault doctrine, tort seeks to assign blame for an auto accident as a precursor to paying out damages associated with the crash. Tort insurance law can benefit you if you are a safe driver. If, on the other hand, you tend to get into a lot of at-fault accidents, you might not really see many benefits to this system (although in all honesty, you will also pay elevated rates for auto insurance in no fault states).

Tort auto insurance law is the dominant form of car insurance regulation across the country. Both full tort and limited tort have certain advantages. It remains the responsibility of drivers in states offering both options to take a closer look at both of them and decide which one of the two best suits their coverage needs.

[1] http://www.rmiia.org/Auto/Steering_Through_Your_Auto_Policy/Tort_Auto_Insurance_Basics.htm Retrieved 2010-01-17.
[2] http://www.edgarsnyder.com/car-accident/resources/auto-insurance/tort.html Retrieved 2010-01-17.

 

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