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What is bodily injury liability insurance?

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When you are responsible for injuries to a person in an accident, the bodily injury liability part of your automobile insurance policy will pay the amount of your liability to the injured person. This amount can include hospital, medical, rehabilitation and long term care costs, as well as damages for pain and suffering and lost earnings if the injury limits the injured party’s ability to work.

Additionally, if you are sued for your part in an accident, your bodily injury liability insurance will pay your costs to defend yourself. These amounts include attorneys fees and court costs.

Key Takeaways

  • Bodily injury liability insurance protects you from having to pay out of your own pocket when you cause injuries to others in an auto accident.
  • Bodily injury liability insurance does not cover medical costs for you and your passengers or damage to your vehicle or the other party’s.
  • Most states require that residents maintain minimum levels of bodily injury liability coverage but many experts recommend increasing these limits to realistically address the risk in today’s litigious environment.

What is bodily injury liability?

When you are at fault for an accident, your bodily injury liability coverage helps pay the medical expenses of the other motorist and their passengers. The coverage covers everyone listed on your policy as a designated driver who operates the covered vehicle. Drivers listed on the policy are also covered when driving another person’s automobile with their permission.

Like all car insurance coverages, bodily injury liability coverage helps protect your assets. If you do not carry this important coverage, a court could require you to pay for the injuries of another driver from your own pocket.

When you cause an accident that injures the other driver or their passengers, you can file a claim with your insurer to help pay the medical costs. The provider will only cover costs up to the limit of your bodily injury liability coverage. For example, if you submit a claim for $25,000 in medical expenses but you only carry $15,000 in coverage, you will need to cover the $10,000 gap using your own assets.

What does bodily injury liability insurance cover?

Bodily injury liability coverage can help pay several types of expenses, including:

  • Funeral expenses: If another driver or her passenger dies in a road accident that you cause, your bodily injury liability coverage can help pay funeral and burial costs.
  • Legal expenses: When an accident victim sues you for causing bodily injuries, this type of coverage can help pay your attorney’s fees and a court award.
  • Lost wages: If injuries render an accident victim unable to work, your bodily injury liability coverage can help replace lost income.
  • Medical bills: Bodily injury liability coverage can help pay various medical expenses, including, emergency room fees, hospital costs, medical equipment and surgery bills. The coverage can also pay for doctor’s visits and rehabilitation costs.
  • Pain and suffering: Besides paying your legal expenses, your bodily injury liability coverage can also pay the accident victim for the pain and suffering caused by injuries.

What does bodily injury liability insurance not cover?

As you can see, bodily injury liability coverage can cover a variety of expenses. However, it will not cover:

  • Medical expenses of you and your passengers: To cover the medical bills of you and your passengers, you will need to carry medical payments or personal injury protection coverage.
  • Damage to another driver’s vehicle: To cover damage you cause to another driver’s car, you will need property damage liability coverage.
  • Damage to your automobile: Collision and comprehensive coverages protect your vehicle, but bodily injury liability coverage does not.

How much bodily liability injury insurance do you need?

Most states require motorists to carry minimum levels of car insurance. Most require each driver to purchase bodily injury and property damage liability coverages. Some also require all drivers to carry medical payments or personal injury protection coverages, and some states also require car owners to buy uninsured motorist coverage, underinsured motorist coverage or both.

State laws also dictate the minimum levels of liability coverage you must purchase. When you research the compulsory coverages you must carry, you will likely see the requirements described as three numbers, separated by forward slashes. For example, Arizona requires drivers to carry bodily injury and personal property liability coverages, with minimum limits of 25/50/15. Here is what each number means:

  • 25: $25,000 in bodily injury liability coverage to cover the medical costs of one person in a single accident.
  • 50: $50,000 in bodily injury liability coverage to cover the medical costs of more than one person in a single accident.
  • 15: $15,0000 in property damage liability to cover the repair costs of another driver when you are at fault for an accident.

The minimum amounts of liability coverage you must purchase vary by state. Nonetheless, this three-number way of describing the requirement applies to all states.

According to Bankrate’s Car insurances rates by state for 2021, states require you to carry the following minimum levels of bodily injury liability coverage:

State Required bodily injury liability coverage
(one person, one accident / all persons, one accident)
AL $25,000 / $50,000
AK $50,000 / $100,000
AZ $25,000 / $50,000
AR $25,000 / $50,000
CA $15,000 / $30,000
CO $25,000 / $50,000
CT $25,000 / $50,000
DE $25,000 / $50,000
DC $25,000 / $50,000
FL $10,000 / $10,000
GA $25,000 / $50,000
HI $20,000 / $40,000
ID $25,000 / $50,000
IL $25,000 / $50,000
IN $25,000 / $50,000
IA $20,000 / $40,000
KS $25,000 / $50,000
KY $25,000 / $50,000
LA $15,000 / $30,000
ME $50,000 / $100,000
MD $30,000 / $60,000
MA $20,000 / $40,000
MI $50,000 / $100,000
MN $30,000 / $60,000
MS $25,000 / $50,000
MO $25,000 / $50,000
MT $25,000 / $50,000
NE $25,000 / $50,000
NV $25,000 / $50,000
NH $25,000 / $50,000
NJ $15,000 / $30,000
NM $25,000 / $50,000
NY 25,000 / $50,000
NC $30,000 / $60,000
ND $25,000 / $50,000
OH $25,000 / $50,000
OK $25,000 / $50,000
OR $25,000 / $50,000
PA $15,000 / $30,000
RI $25,000 / $50,000
SC $25,000 / $50,000
SD $25,000 / $50,000
TN $25,000 / $50,000
TX $30,000 / $60,000
UT $25,000 / $65,000
VT $25,000 / $50,000
VA $25,000 / $50,000
WA $25,000 / $50,000
WV $25,000 / $50,000
WI $25,000 / $50,000
WY $25,000 / $50,000

Bodily injury liability limits

California requires all motorists to carry at least $15,000 worth of bodily injury coverage to pay the medical bills of one person in an accident and $30,000 to cover the medical costs of more than one person. But that is very likely not enough. In fact, required minimum liability limits in all states do not reflect the actual cost of paying for auto accident injuries.

According to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the average expense of mending a broken leg can cost as much as $7,500 and a three-day stay in the hospital can run $30,000. So, if you are at fault for an accident and the other driver sustains a broken leg, the medical bills could cost $37,000 or more. That does not include compensation for lost wages or pain and suffering. If you only purchased California’s minimum level of bodily injury liability coverage, you would be on the hook for at least $22,000. If the injured driver does not have medical insurance or underinsured motorist coverage, they could sue you to recoup losses.

Financial experts recommend that you carry at least $100,000 in bodily injury liability coverage for one injured person and $300,000 to pay the expenses of multiple victims. Most major car insurance providers will allow you to increase your coverage to these levels, perhaps even higher.

For maximum protection, purchase a personal umbrella liability policy. An umbrella policy takes over when your car insurance liability coverages hit their limits. For example, if you cause an accident and the other driver sustains an injury that costs $350,000 in medical expenses but you only carry $300,000 in bodily injury liability coverage, your umbrella policy can cover the additional $50,000.

According to the III, you can purchase an umbrella policy that pays up to $1 million for as little as $150 to $300 annually. Best of all, a single umbrella policy adds an extra layer of liability coverage to your auto and home or renters policies.

Frequently asked questions

Where can I find information about my state’s car insurance requirements?

Typically, you can find information about your state’s compulsory car insurance on your state’s department of insurance website. Some state departments of transportation also feature insurance requirements on their websites. Local insurance agents should stay abreast of state requirements, but it is always a good idea to research the information on your own before buying car insurance.

How do I file a bodily injury liability claim?

Claims filing requirements vary by insurer. Some providers allow you to file online or through a mobile app, while others require you to contact a local agent or national claims center. Check the fine print of your auto insurance policy to learn more about how to file a claim.

How much does bodily injury liability coverage cost?

According to the Insurance Information Institute, U.S. drivers pay an average annual liability insurance rate of around $611, which includes bodily injury and personal property liability coverages. But this average does not reflect what you will pay for coverage. Insurers determine your car insurance rate based on several factors, including the make and model of your car and your annual mileage, as well as personal factors such as your claims history, credit history, driving record, gender and marital status.

Learn more: The cheapest car insurance companies

Written by
Michael Evans
Former Personal Finance Contributor
Michael Evans is a former contributor to Bankrate and has worked in numerous industries, including education, finance, government, insurance and journalism. He began writing professionally while working for the world's first online mortgage brokerage in San Francisco, California. His writings have appeared in print and online publications, including Fox Business, International Living, Motley Fool and Yahoo Finance. He and his family divide their time between residences in Northern California and Colombia. When Michael is not writing, he enjoys working in his photography business and playing with his cat, Cyndi Lou.
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