Liability insurance coverage

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In most states across the United States, car insurance is mandatory for all registered vehicles. Although the required insurance amount varies from one state to another, there are some mandatory coverages that remain the same almost everywhere, and one of them is liability coverage. Liability-only insurance costs $565 per year on average. If ever you are involved in an at-fault accident with another vehicle and the other party sues you for the damages caused to them, your liability coverage is what helps cover the expense.

What is liability insurance?

Auto liability insurance is a specific type of car insurance coverage that covers injury and damage you cause in a car accident. Within liability coverage, there are two types of coverage.

  • Bodily injury liability covers the cost of other parties’ injuries that you cause when you are at fault in an accident. This can include emergency care, continued medical costs and even lost wages.
  • Property damage liability coverage covers the cost of damage to other parties’ property when you are at fault in an accident. The most obvious example is damage to vehicles, but other types of property include buildings and fences.
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What does liability car insurance cover? What does it not cover?

Liability insurance is designed so that if you cause an accident, you can help cover the medical expenses and property damage of the other driver and involved passengers. That is why most states require it. Liability insurance coverage is a way to help prevent the at-fault driver or other affected people from being left with significant out-of-pocket expenses and receive at least some level of compensation for suffering damage or injury in an accident that you cause.

While auto liability insurance covers most of the categories of costs related to your liability in an accident, there are a few costs that are not covered. For example, liability insurance will not cover damage caused by intentional acts. Other costs are specific to the type of insurance.

What does bodily injury liability cover?

Although every claim is unique, bodily injury coverage will generally cover the following categories:

  • Emergency medical expenses, including an ambulance and hospital care
  • Ongoing medical expenses, such as doctor visits and rehabilitation
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Funeral expenses
  • Related legal expenses

Also, keep in mind that it only pays up to your policy’s limits. If the injured party’s medical expenses exceed the limit of bodily injury coverage on your policy, you will be responsible for the difference out of pocket.

What does property damage liability insurance cover?

Property damage liability coverage generally pays for:

  • Vehicle damage
  • Damage to buildings, homes or businesses
  • Damage to fences, mailboxes and other structures
  • Lost business revenue
  • Related legal expenses

Your property damage liability coverage pays for damage caused by you to other people’s property. It does not help with damage to your own car. For that, you will need collision coverage.

The above expenses are all covered up to your policy limit. Any costs that exceed your policy limit may become your personal responsibility, even if you have liability insurance.

How much does liability insurance cost?

The average cost for minimum coverage auto insurance in the United States is $565 per year, while full coverage costs $1,674 per year. However, car insurance costs vary depending on where you live.

In addition to the state you live in, insurance companies use several factors to determine your insurance premiums, including:

  • You age
  • The type of car you drive
  • Your driving history
  • Your ZIP code
  • The coverages and coverage limits you choose to purchase

The cost for liability-only car insurance coverage can vary depending on any one of these factors. Additionally, you have a range of coverage limits you can choose from. Higher limits will give you more coverage, but will generally increase your premiums.

How much liability insurance do I need?

Everyone has different insurance needs, but there are some general guidelines you can use to help determine how much coverage you may need. Talking to a licensed agent or insurance professional is always a good way to determine how much coverage is appropriate for your situation.

Know your state’s insurance laws

The minimum coverage you need to carry depends on the state you reside in and whether it is a no-fault or tort state. In a no-fault state, in addition to liability, property damage, and bodily injury coverage, a driver may also be required to carry personal injury protection, medical payments, and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverages.

You will need to purchase at least your state’s minimum required liability limits to legally drive, and these required limits vary by state. You can use our state-specific car insurance guide to see what is required in your state. When viewing required liability coverages, you will see three numbers separated by a forward slash.

  • The first number is the minimum bodily injury liability required per person in thousands
  • The second number is the minimum bodily injury liability required per accident in thousands
  • The third number is the minimum property damage liability required in thousands

So when you see 25/50/25 for Alabama, that means if you live in Alabama, you must carry at least $25,000 of bodily injury liability per person, $50,000 of bodily injury liability per accident and $25,000 of property damage liability.

These are just the minimum required coverages. Most insurance professionals recommend that you carry higher liability limits if you can afford to do so.

Think about your financial situation

Car insurance, although generally mandatory, may seem like an unnecessary expense for those on a tight budget. However, paying a few hundred dollars a year for at least the minimum coverage can save you from greater financial strain. For instance, if you crash your car into someone else’s property and are sued for the damages, those expenses can be far steeper than your insurance premium. Not having auto insurance could also open you to state penalties and the risk of license suspension.

Canceling your insurance or a lapse in coverage could also make you a high-risk customer and result in more expensive premiums later on. Therefore, instead of forgoing insurance, it may be worthwhile to look for an affordable insurer and available discounts to keep your costs low.

Consider your net worth

How much liability insurance you need can also depend on your net worth. If you have a lot of assets – such as a house, car or sizable bank account – and not much debt, you may want to purchase more liability insurance to cover your net worth and prevent assets from being taken in a judgment. You may even want to consider an umbrella insurance policy to provide extra liability coverage.

Best providers for liability insurance

Because everyone has different insurance needs, the best car insurance company will vary for every driver. The following companies, chosen by market share, have available discounts and third-party rankings worth considering:

Car insurance company Average annual premium for minimum coverage
USAA $384
Geico $433
State Farm $539
Progressive $582
Allstate $696

Each of the providers listed have various discounts on offer to reduce the cost of annual premiums. When shopping for car insurance, one of the best ways to find the right policy for you is to obtain quotes from several providers and compare them. This way, you can see who can offer you the coverage you are looking for at the lowest price.

What is the difference between liability insurance and other types of car insurance coverage?

Liability insurance helps pay for the medical expenses and damages caused to the other driver and passengers. However, it does not pay for damage to your own vehicle. There are several coverages that can be purchased when you are buying an auto insurance policy. Bodily injury and property damage liability coverages are just two of them. You may also want to consider purchasing:

  • Comprehensive coverage: This pays for damages to your own vehicle caused by weather events, fire, theft, vandalism, or striking an animal.
  • Collision coverage: This pays for damages to your vehicle caused by crashes and collisions with other vehicles or objects.
  • Uninsured/underinsured motorists coverage: This pays for damages to your vehicle or property caused by a motorist with little to no insurance coverage.
  • Roadside assistance coverage: This pays for the expenses if your vehicle breaks down in the middle of the road and needs to be towed.
  • Car rental coverage: This covers the expenses for a rental vehicle while your car is in repair after a covered accident.
  • Gap insurance: This pays for the outstanding loan amount on a financed vehicle if it is totaled or stolen before the loan has been paid off.

There are numerous car insurance coverage options, and each insurance company offers its own suite of coverages. Talking to a licensed agent about your policy may be the best way to determine what coverages you should purchase.

Frequently asked questions

What is the right liability car insurance coverage?

Many factors determine the right liability insurance policy for you so there is no one-size fits all. Your state’s minimum limits is just one component to think about, though you may want to consider purchasing higher coverage amounts if possible. Consider talking to your financial advisor and insurance company about what type of coverage will be sufficient.

Does liability insurance cover my car if someone hits me?

Liability insurance does not cover your car if another driver causes an accident. In this case, the other party’s insurance should take care of your damages. You can also purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance in case you are hit by a driver who does not have sufficient liability insurance. If you have collision insurance, you may also be able to pay your deductible and have your collision coverage pay for the rest of the damages to your car.

Will my personal assets still be at risk if I have liability insurance?

If you cause an accident in which the other party’s costs exceed your liability insurance limit, your personal assets could be at risk. Consider purchasing a policy with a limit that covers your total net worth. If you meet a certain limit of liability insurance of your underlying home and auto policies, you can also buy umbrella insurance to get more liability protection.

What happens if I cause an accident and the other driver makes a liability insurance claim?

If you are found to be at fault in an accident and your insurance company has to pay for the other driver’s damage, you can expect your insurance premiums to increase in most cases. To keep premiums low, make sure to obey traffic laws and avoid driving behaviors that can cause accidents. Some insurance providers also offer safe driving programs that monitor your behavior on the road and provide discounts for good habits.

Written by
Cate Deventer
Insurance Editor
Cate Deventer is a writer, editor and insurance professional. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in professional and technical writing from Indiana University East. She began writing for Bankrate in January 2021 and has nearly a decade of experience in the insurance industry as a licensed insurance agent. Cate has worked with over a dozen insurance companies and is experienced with auto, home, flood, umbrella and life insurance.
Edited by
Insurance Editor