Full Tort vs. Limited Tort: What’s the Difference?

It's more than just your ability to sue for pain and suffering

Paramedic helping an injured person after a car accident
•••

Tashi-Delek / Getty Images

In a few states, you need to choose between full tort or limited tort for your car insurance. The most significant difference between these options is your ability to sue for non-economic damages after an accident, such as pain and suffering or loss of life’s pleasures. With full tort, there are more options if you have accident-related injuries. However, this type of coverage costs more.

If you live in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Kentucky, you have the right to opt out of your state’s no-fault system and retain your right to sue. If you decide to do that, you get to pick limited or full tort insurance.

What’s the Difference Between Full Tort and Limited Tort?

Full Tort Limited Tort
Cost More expensive Less expensive
Damages allowed to pursue Economic and non-economic damages Economic damages
Exceptions required for further claims No Yes

Cost

Full tort costs about 15% more than limited tort, so expect to pay more on your car insurance premiums if you select this option, where it’s available. However, the less-expensive option does limit your ability to pursue non-economic damages.

Damages You’re Allowed To Pursue

There are two types of damages following a car accident: economic damages and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are tangible items you can measure financially. These include: 

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Damage to vehicles

You can sue for economic damages with both full and limited tort insurance.

Non-economic damages aren’t as easily expressed in monetary terms, but they are still a common type of loss after an accident. Non-economic damages may include:

Full tort insurance protects your right to sue for these types of damages. Limited tort insurance removes that right unless certain exceptions are met.

Exceptions Required for Further Claims

With full tort insurance, you can pursue claims for both economic and non-economic losses after an accident. With limited tort insurance, you can only sue for intangible damages unless there’s an exception, such as:

  • You sustain serious bodily injury
  • You’re a cyclist
  • The at-fault driver was drunk
  • The car is registered in another state
  • The other driver doesn’t have insurance

If one of these exceptions applies, you may be allowed to seek non-economic losses.

“Serious bodily injury” is a specific legal term. It means an injury that causes serious, permanent disfiguration, or the loss of a body member or organ. These types of injuries typically have a high risk of death.

Special Considerations

Depending on which state you live in, the exact terms and conditions surrounding tort law may vary. For example, every driver is automatically limited on their tort rights in Kentucky. If you want to reject those limitations and have full tort, you must fill out a form and file it with the Department of Insurance.

In New Jersey, basic car insurance policies only give you a limited tort option. However, standard car insurance plans in the state give you the option of choosing either one. The basic car insurance plan provides enough coverage to meet the state’s minimum requirement and costs less per month. However, it’s likely not enough coverage to protect all your assets if you get into a crash that causes a lot of damage.

Which Is Right for You?

If you need to decide between limited tort and full tort insurance, limited tort insurance may be the right choice if you:

  • Are trying to save money on your car insurance
  • Don’t mind being unable to sue for pain and suffering damages, emotional shock, and other non-economic damages

Full tort insurance may be a better choice if you: 

  • Can afford to spend more on your car insurance premiums
  • Want to minimize financial risk if you get hurt in an auto accident

Full Tort vs. Limited Tort Example

Here’s a quick example to help you better understand the difference between full tort and limited tort.

Let’s say you were driving a car when another vehicle hit you from behind and caused your head to hit the steering wheel. You go to the doctor and have $1,000 in medical expenses. You have to take some time off of work to go to your appointments and lose $300 in pay. Unfortunately, your head injury isn’t healing quickly. You continue to have debilitating headaches for months, and your quality of life is affected.

You can file a claim for your medical expenses and lost wages no matter which tort option you have. However, because your injury isn’t severe enough to be deemed catastrophic, you can only seek long-term damages for your pain and suffering if you have full tort. Without that type of coverage, you can’t seek compensation for this result of the accident.

Make sure you check local laws to know what steps you need to take to sign up for full or limited tort. When applying for insurance, ask your insurance agent for help so you can pick the one that is best for you.

The Bottom Line

Limited tort insurance costs less. However, it also limits your ability to sue the at-fault driver for non-economic losses such as pain and suffering. Full tort insurance will have a higher premium, but with that, you get more legal rights. With this option, you’re able to seek compensation for all types of damage from a car accident. If you have the money to spend on your premiums, full tort is the option with fewer risks.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How does limited tort vs. full tort affect drivers from out of state?

If the at-fault driver is from another state, limited tort doesn’t apply. This means you can seek non-economic compensation even if you weren’t seriously injured.

How are pain and injury claims calculated?

Professionals often use the pain and suffering multiplier method to calculate these types of claims. Your medical expenses and other damage are added up, then multiplied by a number between 1.5 and five. The number used varies based on the severity of your injuries.

To whom do you mail tort forms?

Your insurance adjuster can provide information about where to send forms related to a tort claim.