What Is Tort Insurance for Automobiles?

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  • What Is Tort Insurance for Automobiles?

Most states in the US operate on a tort system for auto insurance. The tort system has to do with who pays for damages after a car accident. It can get confusing to figure out what tort means for you, especially because there are two different kinds of tort insurance (limited or full) in some states. 

Clovered is here to lead you through those murky waters and bring you out on the other side with a thorough understanding of tort insurance, how it works, and the difference between limited and full tort.

What Is Tort Insurance?

Tort car insurance is a system in which, after an accident, the driver who caused the accident is responsible for covering the cost of medical bills for everyone involved. Usually, this cost is covered by the at-fault driver’s liability insurance

The tort insurance definition makes it the opposite of no-fault insurance, in which each driver involved in an accident relies on their own insurance to cover medical bills, no matter who was at fault. Since it’s the opposite of no-fault, you can think of tort insurance as “at-fault insurance.”

What Is Tort Liability?

Liability is legalese for blame. If you’re liable for a car accident, that means you’re the one taking the blame for all the damage caused in that accident. Tort liability means there are consequences for taking that blame. In this case, the consequences are paying (or having your insurance pay) for injuries you caused to other drivers and their passengers. 

In states without tort liability insurance – aka no-fault states – no one takes the blame for a car accident, as far as insurance companies are concerned. Every driver involved is responsible for covering their own medical expenses with their own personal injury protection insurance

Note: Even in no-fault states, a driver who causes a car accident must cover the cost of the resulting property damage. The tort vs. no-fault insurance system we’re talking about here only applies to who pays for medical expenses caused by the accident. 

Limited Tort vs. Full Tort Auto Insurance

This is where things can get a little confusing, but luckily, only three states need to know about it: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Kentucky.

Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Kentucky are generally no-fault states, but they give drivers the ability to opt-out of the no-fault system and choose tort car insurance instead. Drivers who opt for tort auto insurance have to choose between full or limited tort, which has to do with the right to sue an at-fault driver for damages after an accident. 

In actual tort states (which includes all but 12 states), there’s no such thing as full or limited tort auto insurance. 

What Is Limited Tort Car Insurance?

People who choose limited tort insurance waive their right to sue another driver for pain and suffering. The definition of pain and suffering is subjective and varies depending on which lawyer or judge you’re talking to, but basically, this means you would only be eligible to sue an at-fault driver if the accident caused serious injury or death. 

Why would anyone choose to limit their right to sue? Because limited tort insurance costs less than full tort. With limited tort, you can save money now, but the tradeoff is that you might be stuck paying at least some of your own medical expenses later if you get in a serious accident.

Can I Sue With Limited Tort?

In severe cases, you can still sue an at-fault driver even if you have limited tort insurance. For instance, you could sue for damages if the accident caused a lasting disfigurement or impairment that permanently affected your ability to earn a living. But you couldn’t sue for anything “non-monetary,” such as emotional scarring or anxiety.

Sometimes, a judge might choose to make an exception to this rule and allow you to sue for pain and suffering. Common limited tort exceptions include scenarios like if the at-fault driver was convicted of a DUI or driving without insurance.  

What Is Full Tort Car Insurance?

With full tort insurance, your right to sue an at-fault driver after an accident is entirely unrestricted. You literally have to pay for that right, though, with higher car insurance premiums.  

Is Full Tort Worth It?

The only difference between limited and full tort is that with full tort, you have the right to sue for pain and suffering – emotional damage, minor injuries, etc. – after a car accident, and with limited tort, you don’t. You have to decide if you think that right is worth paying more for your car insurance. 

Does Full Tort Mean Full Coverage?

No, full tort does not mean the same thing as full coverage. The two terms are entirely unrelated. Full coverage means an auto insurance policy that includes liability, collision, and comprehensive coverage. Full tort has nothing to do with the types of coverage your car insurance includes. 

Which States are Tort States?

Check the table below to find out if you live in a no-fault or tort state.

No-fault States Tort States
  1. Florida
  2. Hawaii
  3. Kansas
  4. Kentucky
  5. Massachusetts
  6. Michigan
  7. Minnesota
  8. New Jersey
  9. New York
  10. North Dakota
  11. Pennsylvania
  12. Utah
  1. Alabama
  2. Alaska
  3. Arizona
  4. Arkansas
  5. California
  6. Colorado
  7. Connecticut
  8. Delaware
  9. Georgia
  10. Idaho
  11. Illinois
  12. Indiana
  13. Iowa
  14. Louisiana
  15. Maine
  16. Maryland
  17. Mississippi
  18. Missouri
  19. Montana
  20. Nebraska
  21. Nevada
  22. New Hampshire
  23. New Mexico
  24. North Carolina
  25. Ohio
  26. Oklahoma
  27. Oregon
  28. Rhode Island
  29. South Carolina
  30. South Dakota
  31. Tennessee
  32. Texas
  33. Vermont
  34. Virginia
  35. Washington
  36. West Virginia
  37. Wisconsin
  38. Wyoming
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The editorial content on Clovered’s website is meant to be informational material and should not be considered legal advice.

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