Insurance Lingo 101 – What is Personal Injury Protection (PIP)?

A few weeks ago, I got in a car accident near my home in southern California.  My car was toast, but luckily the other driver and I both walked away without sustaining any injuries.  If we weren’t so fortunate, and instead ended up in the hospital, we might be exploring whether our auto insurance policy includes Personal Injury Protection (PIP).

Understanding PIP is important if you want to ensure that you are adequately covered on the road.  Below, I will explain what PIP is, who needs it, and how it functions.

What is PIP?

Personal Injury Protection insurance is a type of auto insurance that covers medical expenses for injuries sustained in a car accident.  PIP is sometimes referred to as “no-fault” coverage because it will cover you regardless of whether the accident was your fault.

In many states, PIP will cover more than just medical expenses.  It might reimburse you for lost wages from missed work or costs incurred because you can’t perform certain tasks due to your injuries.  However, the “Personal” in Personal Injury Protection means that the insurance only covers the person who has the insurance.  If you are found liable in an accident, your PIP benefits won’t pay for the other person’s injuries.  It goes without saying that PIP also won’t cover damage to your car or the other driver’s car.

How is it applied to car insurance claims?

If you are hurt in a car accident and have PIP, notify your insurance company, and they will activate the coverage.  This process might take a little time, but don’t wait to receive treatment.  You or the hospital will submit your medical bills to your insurance company.

If you exhaust the funds provided by PIP, you will then have to submit medical bills to your health insurance company.  One thing to keep in mind with PIP is that the insurance company will pay medical bills and reimburse lost wages in the order they are received.  If you think you might have significant medical bills, make sure you submit the lost wage forms early.  That way you will receive reimbursement before you exhaust the PIP money.

Who needs PIP?

Some states require PIP coverage, while others make it optional.  The District of Columbia and the following twelve states require PIP insurance by law:

  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah

PIP is mandatory in these states because they have what is referred to as no-fault insurance law.  This means that each party has to pay for their own damages.  They implemented this system because they believed it would reduce the number of lawsuits filed against drivers who were at fault in accidents, thus freeing up the legal system for more serious issues.  No-fault laws are also supposed to reduce insurance fraud.  PIP is not mandatory in the other 38 states.

What are the PIP limits?

The amount of PIP required by states differs, but the average amount is $10,000.  Some states require much more than that.  New York has a minimum requirement of $50,000 PIP.

As mentioned above, most states don’t have a PIP requirement because they use a tort system for auto insurance.  A tort system requires that the state determine who is responsible for causing an accident, and makes that person pay for costs incurred in the accident.  My home state of California operates this type of system.

Let’s go back to my recent car accident to see how PIP might operate in a real scenario.  If the other driver and I were both hurt and sent to the hospital, California insurance law would require the driver at fault to pay the medical expenses.

If instead I were a Michigan driver and collided with another driver while passing through Detroit, we would both presumably have PIP insurance.  My PIP insurance would pay my medical bills and his PIP insurance would pay his medical bills.

If you live in a no-fault state, your insurance premiums tend to be higher than in other states because you are required to have more coverage.  You might save some money by shopping around online for the best rate.  This can be done easily by entering your information on insurance company websites and comparing auto insurance quotes.

Topics: Auto Insurance

2 Responses to “Insurance Lingo 101 – What is Personal Injury Protection (PIP)?”

  1. Like you pointed out, with the exception of states that require it, drivers don’t need to buy PIP if they have adequate medical coverage. Health insurance and personal injury protection are usually overlapping coverages, so if you are required to buy PIP, just get the minimum amount.

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