Welcome to Pennsylvania Law TV. Today we will be talking about motor vehicle accidents and insurance issues. My guest is attorney Dave Miller and he is going to talk with us about this topic. So Dave thanks for being here today.
Dave: Thank you for having me.
Dei: Well Dave, supposing I am injured in a car accident, what insurance pays for what? We have my car insurance, my health insurance and the at fault drivers auto insurance?
Dave: Well this is a very confusing area and a lot of people have a lot of questions when they first call our office about this. The law in Pennsylvania requires that if you’re covered by an automobile insurance policy in which you’re the named insured, your automobile policy will pay medical bills up to the amount of benefits that you have on your policy. Another version of this is if you’re a resident relative. Let’s say you’re an 18 year old driver still living with Mom and Dad, they have a policy of insurance, you don’t have your own, you’re considered a resident relative of their policy, and your primary insurance for your medical bills will be under their policy. Now the minimum amount of medical coverage on an automobile policy in Pennsylvania is $5000. You can certainly get more than that and I highly recommend that.
But let’s talk about what happens after that limit, whatever it may be, maybe runs out. The next step is your medical bills will then go to your private health insurance. If you have Blue Cross Blue Shield or a Geisinger health plan, they will begin to pick up those bills and they will be paid according to that policy. Now under medical coverage and automobile policies in Pennsylvania there is no co pays or deductibles. After you exhaust that coverage whatever co pays and deductibles you might be responsible for under your personal health insurance would then kick in. That’s why I highly recommend that if you can afford it, to increase your medical coverage on your automobile policy, as in the end if you have significant treatment it’s going to be more beneficial to you in the long run from a financial stand point.
Another aspect of this is wage loss. You can have an optional wage loss coverage on your automobile policy and that’s where you would look to primarily for that coverage. Beyond that you might have a disability policy through work or some policy that you paid for on your own, and after you have exhausted your benefits through your automobile policy for wage loss, those types of policies may kick in. This is an area where it takes not necessarily an attorney but somebody who is very familiar with these areas and how to interpret the policy language because many of the provisions in these policies kind of inner play with each other. Sometimes it does take a law degree to figure out who’s responsible to pay for what. But that is the primary order, first it’s your automobile policy in which you’re either the named insured or resident relative and then your private health insurance will kick in after that.
Dei: Okay now let me ask you this, suppose you’re injured by an at fault driver from another state, does that complicate things?
Dave: In some respects it may. For the response here I will assume that the crash would have happened in Pennsylvania. If it happened in Pennsylvania, it’s actually a benefit to you for the other driver to have their vehicle registered out of state. If you have full tort coverage, it really makes no difference because you’re always able to recover for both your economic and none economic damages in a crash. But let’s say you have a limited tort policy. Normally in Pennsylvania if you have limited tort you can only recover your economic damages unless you sustain a serious injury. It’s a very gray area of the law and it’s not a position you want to be in when you have been out of work and a lot of medical bills and you’re in pain, and you might have a long road to recovery in pain. Having an insurance company deny your economic and none economic damages claim because you have a limited tort policy puts you in a very difficult position.
Now the benefit of having an out of state responsible driver in a car crash is that’s an exception under the statute to the limited tort rule, and you’re automatically qualified for full tort coverage which allows you to recover both your economic and none economic damages in a crash.
Dei: So Dave tell us what you recommend in terms of auto insurance coverage for a Pennsylvania resident?
Dave: The first recommendation I would make is to select full tort coverage versus limited tort coverage. The default in Pennsylvania is for full tort coverage. But many times people select limited tort coverage because it’s less expensive. You would actually at the time of purchasing your policy sign off that you want limited tort coverage and that form will reflect the decreased premium. But in the long run if you’re in an automobile crash that’s not your fault you will want to have full tort coverage. That is simply because you avoid the gray area of having to breach this imaginary threshold, a very gray area of a threshold of having a serious injury. Because quite honestly, most clients come to me, and they think that their injury is serious but a judge may think differently. We don’t want to put you in that kind of position.
You can alleviate that position by simply selecting full tort coverage at the time you purchase. I would also recommend that you increase your limits of liability. What you want to do is do a self-analysis of – if I’m in a crash and I am at fault what coverage do I need to protect my personal assets. The minimum required coverage in Pennsylvania is $15000 for personal injury to anyone person, $30000 to any amount of individuals involved in one crash and $5000 for property damage. Certainly most crashes with the value of today’s vehicles, that is not going to be enough coverage to protect your personal assets if you are found at fault for an automobile crash in Pennsylvania. And then the last thing I would recommend is increase your medical coverage on your auto policy.
The minimum requirement is $5000 of medical coverage. As best as you can it makes sense to increase that medical coverage on your auto policy. There are no deductibles there is no co-pays under your automobile policy. And if you’re in a significant crash and you need emergency treatment maybe an X-ray a Catscan at the emergency room, that $5000 is spent very quickly. If you have additional coverage in your automobile policy then you have a buffer. You have more coverage to use if needed, maybe some physical therapy or any other type of treatment that you may need, and also medications. It’s important to have as much medical coverage as you can on your automobile policy. You will find that is much less expensive than going out onto the marketplace and having your medical treatment resulting from an automobile crash fall into a personal health policy.
Dei: Very good, well Dave if someone has specific questions how can they reach your office?
Dave: They can reach us two ways. One is on the internet at www.oconnorlaw.com and they can reach us by phone at 1-800-518-4law.
Dei: Thanks for your time today.
Dave: Thank you.
Dei: Until next time this is Dei Lynam for Pennsylvania Law TV.