How Have Pennsylvania Courts Defined “Serious Injury” for the Purpose of Overcoming “Limited Tort”?

By on September 9th, 2013

Posted in Pennsylvania Law Monitor

As a follow-up to my last post, this post will elaborate on the legal definition of “serious injury” in the context of Pennsylvania “Limited Tort” law.  As stated in my last post, aside from catastrophic injuries resulting in death or permanent serious disfigurement, a Plaintiff must prove that their injuries have resulted in “serious impairment of body function” in order to overcome the “Limited Tort” threshold.  In this regard, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has unequivocally adopted the reasoning of the Michigan Supreme Court as established in DiFranco v. Pickard, 398 N.W.2d 896 (1986).  See Washington v. Baxter, 719 A.2d 733, 740 (Pa. 1998).

 

In DiFranco, supra, the Michigan Supreme Court made the following holdings:

1. Catastrophic Injury Not Required

The “serious impairment of body function” threshold is a significant, but not extraordinarily high, obstacle to recovering non-economic damages.

2. Impairment Need Not Be of an Entire Body Function

Plaintiff may recover damages for injuries which seriously impair, in whole or in part, a body function.

3. “Ability to Live a Normal Life” Not a Requirement

Plaintiff’s general ability to live a normal life is no longer used to determine whether Plaintiff suffered a serious impairment.

4. Not a Requirement that an Injury Impair an Important Body Function

Focus is on how injury affected a particular body function, not on injury itself.

5. “An Impairment Need Not Be Permanent to Be Serious”

6. Factors Jury May Consider in Determining Serious Injury

a) The extent of the impairment;
b) The particular body function impaired;
c) The length of time the impairment lasted
d) The treatment required to correct the impairment; and
e) Any other relevant factors.

The key takeaway here is that the “Limited Tort” threshold is not as difficult to overcome as some believe. While there is no doubt that the selection of the “Limited Tort” option often creates an impediment to recovery, a Plaintiff does not need to prove a catastrophic or even a permanent injury in order to recover. Again, I believe it is important to educate clients regarding the “Limited Tort” standard as early as possible. Often times these cases will hinge on a Plaintiff’s ability to describe, in as much detail as possible, the impact that their injuries have had on their lives. If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident and are concerned regarding your ability to recover due to your selection of the “Limited Tort” option, contact the experienced attorneys at Stark & Stark for a free consultation

 

 

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