I sat as an arbitrator today in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas and heard two personal injury cases in which each plaintiff alleged his/her injuries were serious enough to overcome the limited tort threshold. For anyone who has purchased motor vehicle liability insurance and still does not know what the limited tort threshold is, it is the selection you make when you elect to give up the right to sue for “minor” injuries in exchange for a lower insurance premium.
Now, mind you, I represent plaintiffs in personal injury cases and do this for a living, so I was not unsympathetic to the plaintiffs and their attorneys. I believed they suffered injuries in the accidents. However, I simply found their proof lacking when it came to establishing a “serious impairment of a body function.” Perhaps the plaintiffs or their attorneys simply lacked an understanding of what this means. The law requires that a plaintiff not only establish an injury, but also demonstrate how it has had a significant impact on his/her usual and customary activities. It is not enough to claim one experiences pain when lifting, bending, reaching, etc. or that you can no longer pick up your child. It also doesn’t help when, as in one of the cases today, the plaintiff fills out her doctor’s questionnaires reporting minimal impact on her activities and then tries to convince the arbitrators otherwise.
If you are concerned about your ability to be compensated in the event you are injured in an automobile accident, the simplest solution is to select full tort. If you have selected limited tort, one thing you can do to help your attorney is to keep a diary after the accident writing down all the specific occasions and examples of how your injuries impact your life. Dates, times and places of repeated occasions when you could not participate in a family activity, had to give up a second job or income producing hobby, or otherwise significantly altered your normal work/play activity will help your attorney convey to the factfinder how significant an impact you have suffered. Having to give up golf when you only play four times a year or having to play in pain, even as a regular duffer, won’t win the day.