In our "Real Life Question and Answer" Series we present actual questions that have been posed by real people and the answers we've provided. In this case, a woman with limited tort suffered a broken nose when she was rear ended at a STOP sign She had questions about whether her injury was a serious injury as defined in Pennsylvania law. We offered answers.

REAL QUESTION FROM A REAL PERSON:

I was stopped in line at a stop sign when i was rear ended. I suffered a fractured nose, and lost a week's worth of work. The other driver has accepted full liability. I only have limited tort coverage, and have already had corrective surgery to repair the injury. However, my nose is permanently crooked and I have been advised that a second surgery would be more invasive with more potential side effects. At this time I have not elected for the second surgery. I am a 25 year old female and I work in private wealth management in a client facing industry, as well as attend law school evening part time with the intention of becoming a litigator.

Any advise on whether I can overcome the limited tort parameter?

ANSWER FROM Purchase, George & MURPHEY:

Short answer is you probably have or will meet the limited tort threshold, but I can't guarantee it.

There are a bunch of issues presented by your question. The first is whether or not you validly elected limited tort. Every PA policy must include the offer of limited tort as an option but if you don't voluntarily elect limited tort then the policy defaults to full tort. If the carrier cannot produce a validly executed limited tort election form then you may not be subject to the limited tort limitations. You should ask your carrier for a copy of your signed election form.

The next group of issues presented relates to whether or not any of the general exceptions to limited tort apply. For example, was the other driver a PA driver? From your description, it sounds like the other driver was not charged with DUI but if he was a conviction or ARD would take you outside the scope of limited tort. Are there any other auto insurance policies in your household or on which you would qualify as an insured? There are a number of other exceptions that bear examining.

Finally, if we are satisfied that the limited tort option applies, we come to the question of serious injury. There are two ways of getting past the serious injury threshold that seem likely to apply here. The first is serious and permanent disfigurement. The change in the appearance of your nose might implicate this requirement. The second is serious impairment of a bodily function. Determining whether or not an injury constitutes a serious impairment of a bodily function requires consideration of a multitude of factors, including: the length of time there is an impairment, the degree of impairment, the importance of the bodily function impaired, and the impact of the impairment on the life of the injured person, among other issues.

It seems very likely to me that the injuries you describe are sufficient to get past summary judgment. Thus, a jury may one day be given the definition of serious injury and asked to make the determination after a trial. So, it's impossible to guarantee a particular outcome. However, I think you've got a strong likelihood of settling the case short of trial or prevailing at trial, if it comes to that.

You should consider contacting an experienced PA lawyer who handles personal injury cases to discuss it further. I'd be happy to discuss it with you if you'd like. 814-580-5017.