This article offers an introduction to car insurance laws and coverage requirements in Pennsylvania. We'll look at Pennsylvania's "no-fault" car insurance system and the kinds of insurance coverage that drivers are required to carry under Pennsylvania law. If you're looking for more general information on the legal rules related to auto accidents in Pennsylvania, you'll find it in our companion article Car Accident Laws in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania requires that, in order to own and operate a motor vehicle in the state, you carry certain minimum amounts of insurance:
In addition, the state also accepts certain all-purpose policies with a minimum of $35,000 total coverage.
While these are the minimum amounts of auto coverage required under Pennsylvania law, you might consider carrying higher limits for some or all of these different kinds of coverage. If you are held liable after a car accident and the damages exceed the limits of your policy (not all that far-fetched a scenario if you've only met Pennsylvania's relatively low minimum requirements), then you may be personally liable for paying the difference.
Pennsylvania does not require that motorists purchase uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). UIM is a supplemental feature of your policy that provides protection if you are injured in an accident where the at-fault driver either has no auto insurance at all, or their policy limits are insufficient to cover your damages. For more information on UIM coverage, see Uninsured Motorist Coverage: The Basics and Underinsured Motorist Coverage: How It Works.
Pennsylvania is one of about a dozen states that uses a "no-fault" system when it comes to financial responsibility for injuries after a car accident. In a no-fault state, a driver (and anyone else covered under the policy) usually turns to the "medical benefits" or "personal injury protection" coverage in his or her own policy, at least initially, to cover medical bills and other financial losses, regardless of who was at fault for the accident.
One wrinkle in Pennsylvania is that drivers have the option of choosing between "full tort" versus "limited tort" coverage. In this way, Pennsylvania is known as a "choice" no-fault state.
The "Limited Tort" option usually means you'll save on your monthly premiums, but you also waive your right to recover certain damages, including compensation for pain and suffering, unless your injuries meet the threshold requirements laid out under Pennsylvania law -- specifically, the accident must have involved "serious injury", which usually means something more than soft tissue injury, and even head injuries don't tend to qualify unless they're pretty significant. "Serious injury" in Pennsylvania typically requires serious impairment of a body function or permanent and serious disfigurement, according to recent court decisions in the state. You can see all the details of this law at Act 6 of Title 75, Section 1705.
In contrast, "Full Tort" gives you unlimited options after a car accident, meaning you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver, regardless of the severity of your injuries, and you can seek compensation for pain and suffering and all other losses.
Keep in mind that the no-fault rules only apply to personal injury; if you have suffered property damage as a result of the accident, the at-fault driver can still be on the financial hook for those losses.
For more information on how no-fault works, see No-Fault Car Insurance and State Laws: The Basics.
For more information on Pennsylvania's motor vehicle insurance requirements straight from the government, see the Pennsylvania Insurance Department's Automobile Insurance Guide.