Your guide to an essential type of coverage
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Bodily injury coverage is the bedrock of most auto insurance policies. While it is required in most parts of the United States, bodily injury liability can still be difficult to understand. This article will explain what it is, why it’s important, how much you need, and how to get it.
Bodily injury (BI) liability kicks in if somebody is injured in an accident that you cause. The coverage pays for expenses related to other people’s injuries, whether the injured party is another driver, their passenger, or a pedestrian.
If the cost of someone’s injuries exceeds your bodily injury coverage, you may be on the hook for any excess expenses. This can get expensive quickly, so it’s worth taking this type of coverage seriously. We will explain how to select your coverage amount later in this article.
For anyone you injure in an at-fault accident, BI liability covers the following:
Bodily injury coverage can pay for expenses beyond medical bills, including lost wages, legal fees, mental health expenses, and even funeral costs.
BI liability does not cover damage that you cause to the other person’s vehicle or any additional property. For that, insurance providers usually offer BI liability’s fraternal twin: property damage liability coverage. This is required in every state except New Hampshire and Virginia, and it helps pay for property damage in at-fault accidents.
BI coverage does not apply to damage to your own vehicle. That’s what collision coverage and comprehensive coverage are for. Comprehensive insurance covers damage that the driver did not cause; think vandalism, weather, and theft. It’s crucial to make sure you are adequately covered across the board.
BI liability also does not cover your own medical costs if you get injured in an accident. It only pays for injuries to other drivers and passengers.
If you cause an accident in which you are injured, any medical coverage you purchased will help pay your bills. If you get injured in an accident that is not your fault, then the other driver’s BI liability should cover your medical bills. However, claims can take a long time to settle, so make sure you pay your medical bills in the meantime.
If the driver who caused your injuries does not have insurance, then you can turn to any personal injury protection and/or uninsured motorist coverage that you have decided to purchase as part of your policy. Some states require such coverage, so it’s a good idea to check with your provider.
Bodily injury liability covers other drivers, passengers, or pedestrians you injure in an accident. There is no limit to the number of people who may file a claim against you, but most plans limit how much can be paid to each injured party. We explain this in more detail below.
Bodily injury liability only covers injuries or costs of care for other people involved in an accident. It does not cover property damage that you cause, which can include damage to other cars, lampposts, mailboxes, or other structures that you may hit. You will need property damage liability coverage to pay for such damage. Most states require both BI and property damage liability.
Bodily injury policies typically contain two numbers: a per-person limit and a per-accident limit. For example, if your coverage is listed as $50,000/$100,000, that means your provider will pay up to $50,000 for any injured individual, up to a total of $100,000 for the entire accident. The at-fault driver is responsible for anything above these limits.
Almost every state has a minimum amount of bodily injury coverage that you must purchase if you want to drive. This ranges from no requirement (Florida)2 to $100,000 per accident (Alaska3 and Maine). Here are the state laws on the minimum limit for bodily injury coverage:
|State||Minimum per-person bodily injury liability||Minimum per-accident bodily injury liability|
|District of Columbia||$25,000||$50,000|
|Florida||Not required||Not required|
|New Hampshire||Not required||Not required|
|New Jersey||Not required||Not required|
|Virginia||Not required||Not required|
On average, the minimum bodily injury liability required in the U.S. is about $25,000 for the first person and $50,000 for accidents involving two or more people.
However, these numbers represent the floor, and you should consider purchasing more coverage to ensure full liability protection in case of an accident. Medical procedures are expensive in the U.S., and costs can quickly spiral out of control. The average cost for a car accident-related emergency room visit is $3,300, and the average hospitalization costs $57,000. We recommend getting the maximum amount you can afford so that your insurance fully covers the person injured in an accident.
If you do not have enough BI coverage to pay for the other party’s needs, they could go to court to require you to pay. This could lead to the process of subrogation, in which the other driver’s insurance company sues you for what you owe, which can result in liquidated assets and even wage garnishment if you can’t pay the settlement.
You may want to purchase more than the minimum required bodily injury coverage to protect yourself from unexpected costs after an accident.
If the person injured in an accident suffers expensive injuries, they may exceed the limits of your bodily injury liability coverage. If this happens and your legal defense fails, you could be on the hook for a significant amount of money.
If you are worried about this occurrence, consider purchasing umbrella insurance. Umbrella insurance covers claims in excess of your regular policy limits. This can provide peace of mind in case of a large claim.
Most umbrella coverage limits start at $1 million and increase in increments of $500,000 from there.
The amount you pay for BI coverage will depend on your car, your driving history, how much coverage you buy, and where you live. North Dakota has the cheapest average liability insurance rates at just over $300 per month, while Louisiana’s costs over $1,000 per month on average (note that these sums represent bodily injury and property damage coverage combined). The average annual cost of liability insurance is $603.84.5
The good news is that you can get a better deal by buying more coverage. In other words, robust liability coverage may cost only marginally more than the bare minimum.
Insurance providers have made it easy to acquire the bodily injury coverage that you need.
Like most insurance policies, BI liability has some exceptions and restrictions. These vary by provider and will likely be stated in the fine print of your policy. One common exclusion is that your coverage will not protect you if you are proven to have acted intentionally in an accident.
Exclusions may also apply if you were driving commercially at the time of an accident, say as a ride-share driver. A less common example of an exclusion is the case when somebody is covered by multiple policies and each specifies when the other applies.
It is the injured party’s responsibility to file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This is known as a third-party claim, since it does not involve the policyholder. These are the steps you’ll typically follow:
Adequate BI coverage can make the process smoother for all parties in the event of an accident. The ins and outs of BI liability may seem daunting, but this article provides all the information you need to make an informed decision when you buy insurance. You’ll be glad you took the time to learn about it as you continue your safe driving journey.
Still confused? Here are some common questions and answers.
Yes, you legally need bodily injury coverage in every state except Florida, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Virginia. Even in those exception states, in order to forgo BI coverage, you may have to prove you have money to pay for someone else’s injuries that you cause.
Bodily injury liability insurance covers medical expenses or lost income sustained by a driver or passenger as a result of an accident determined to be the other driver’s fault.
Bodily injury coverage may cover any substantial physical or mental anguish that an accident causes, but the victim will have to prove their suffering with documentation.
Personal injury protection covers anyone injured in an accident, regardless of who was at fault. Your bodily injury coverage does not cover you, just other people. It only kicks in when you are determined to be at fault.
What is covered by a basic auto insurance policy? Insurance Information Institute. (2022).
Florida Insurance Requirements. Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. (2022).
Mandatory Insurance. Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles. (2017).
2018/2019 Auto Insurance Database Report. National Association of Insurance Commissioners.(2022).