What is Liability Car Insurance?

Learn more about what goes into the most basic component of car insurance.

Location pin icon
No junk mail. No spam calls. Free quotes.

Why you can trust The Zebra

The Zebra partners with some of the companies we write about. However, our content is written and reviewed by an independent team of editors and licensed agents. Reference our data methodology and learn more about how we make money.

Author profile picture

Ava Lynch

Insurance Analyst

Credentials
  • 7+ years of Experience in the Insurance Industry

Ava joined The Zebra as a writer and licensed insurance agent in 2016. She now works as a senior insurance contributor, providing insights and data a…

Author profile picture

Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

Credentials
  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

Ross h…

Author profile picture

Beth Swanson

SEO Content Strategist

Credentials
  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Beth joined The Zebra in 2022 as an Associate Content Strategist. She is a licensed insurance agent whose goal is to make insurance content easy to r…

Liability car insurance covers bodily injury and property damage

Liability insurance coverage protects other drivers from bodily injury or property damage you might cause in an at-fault accident. It is the most basic form of auto insurance and does not cover you or your motor vehicle in an accident. It is required by nearly every state in order to legally drive and register your vehicle.

Liability coverage comprises two key coverages: bodily injury and property damage liability.

  • Bodily injury covers the medical bills for which you are responsible in a collision. Bodily injury insurance is allocated on a per-person and per-accident bases.
  • Property damage covers the property damage you cause — to a vehicle, structure, bicycle, or other property.

Useful liability coverage terminology

When you see coverage amounts in a quote or policy, you might be a little confused about what each number actually means. For example, 50/100/50.  The following table can help you understand exactly how these numbers apply when it comes to your car insurance coverage. 

question mark
Limit Coverage description
50/ $50,000 in bodily injury liability coverage per person
100/ $100,000 in bodily injury coverage per incident
50 $50,000 in property damage liability per incident

The amount of liability coverage you carry depends on your personal preference and the laws in your state. Because car insurance is regulated at the state level, each state sets minimum policy limits for liability coverage.

In this article, we'll discuss the basic components of liability car insurance and how much it costs:

  • Liability covers damages you cause to other drivers and their property.
  • Liability covers attorney's fees if you are sued because of an accident.
  • Liability insurance is mandatory in all states except New Hampshire.
  • Liability insurance costs vary depending on the level of coverage you choose and the company from which you purchase a policy.
  • What other varieties of liability insurance exist?
  • How much liability insurance are you required to carry?

Bodily injury liability coverage

Bodily injury liability is a type of car insurance that covers injuries caused by an at-fault driver. Alongside physical injuries, bodily injury liability covers pain and suffering, loss of income, and other expenses for which you may be deemed liable after a vehicle collision. Bodily injury liability insurance is mandatory coverage in every state except Florida and New Hampshire and helps to cover:

  • Medical bills caused by injuries
  • Emotional and physical pain or suffering
  • Wages lost or diminished earning capacity caused by accident

Property damage liability coverage

Property damage liability coverage pays for damage to another person's property or any loss-of-use costs for which you're found liable. Property damage liability coverage helps to cover expenses like:

  • Vehicle damage and repairs
  • Repair of damaged structures
  • Debris removed as a result of an incident (trees, signage, etc.)
wrecked car

Other uses for liability coverage

Liability coverage can also cover your legal fees if you are sued because of an accident. If you were to lose your case, your liability coverage would be likely to assist in the settlement up to your coverage limits. Any amount beyond your coverage limit must be paid out of pocket.


How much does liability insurance cost?

Within any facet of car insurance, how much you pay for liability car insurance will vary. For a 30-year-old male driving a 2016 Honda Civic with no accidents, the average cost of a 50/100/50 liability policy is $64 per month.

Average rates for liability coverage

Updating data...

Coverage Avg. Annual Premium Avg. Monthly Premium
State Minimum Liability Only $597 $50
50/100/50 BI/PD Liability Only $764 $64
100/300/100 BI/PD Liability Only $748 $62

Source: The Zebra

The Zebra’s Dynamic Insurance Rating Tool data methodology

The Zebra’s Dynamic Insurance Rating Tool for home and auto insurance rates utilizes the latest ZIP code-level rate filings from across the U.S., sourced from Quadrant Information Services and S&P Global. These filings, typically updated annually or biennially by insurers, are verified through Quadrant’s QA process and then integrated into The Zebra’s estimator.

The displayed rates are based on a dynamic home and auto profile designed to reflect the content of the page. This profile is tailored to match specific factors such as age, location, and coverage level, which are adjusted based on the page content to show how these variables can impact premiums.

For a comprehensive understanding, see our detailed methodology.

Which insurance company has the cheapest liability insurance rates?

Using the methodology outlined here, we compared rates for liability-only auto insurance by coverage levels.

Average rates for state minimum liability coverage

Updating data...

Company Avg. Annual Premium
USAA $434
GEICO $451
State Farm $583
Nationwide $603
Progressive $693
Farmers $718
Allstate $729

Source: The Zebra

Average rates for 50/100/50 liability coverage

Updating data...

Company Avg. Annual Premium
USAA $549
GEICO $624
Nationwide $711
State Farm $756
Progressive $881
Allstate $934
Farmers $945

Source: The Zebra

Average rates for 100/200/100 liability coverage

Updating data...

Company Avg. Annual Premium
USAA $534
GEICO $608
Nationwide $683
State Farm $726
Farmers $856
Progressive $873
Allstate $925

Source: The Zebra

USAA is the cheapest across the board for liability-only car insurance at all coverage levels. If you do not qualify for USAA, GEICO is the second-cheapest option. Depending on your individual driving profile, your premium could vary. Use our rates as estimates and begin your search for liability insurance with USAA and GEICO.

Although carrying high liability limits costs more, it can save you money in the long run. Not only will exceeding your limits leave you responsible for any additional costs, but a history of low coverage is also considered a risky driving factor by auto insurance companies. Any time your insurance company views you as a potentially risky client, you can expect a higher premium as a result.

Next, we'll examine how your rate will change if you opt for collision and comprehensive coverage on top of your required liability insurance. The addition of these physical coverages is what makes a policy full coverage. The driver profile used for the following analysis has a $1,000 deductible.

USAA logo

USAA and GEICO are the cheapest insurance companies for full coverage insurance.

On average, expect your rate to increase by about 56% if you add comprehensive and collision coverages to your policy. Liability-only policies tend to be the cheapest for a reason — they don't protect you or your vehicle if you're involved in a collision.

Our sample driver profile may not perfectly match your personalized pricing. Submit your zip code below to compare car insurance quotes side-by-side and ensure you get the best insurance at the lowest price.

insurance policies

Compare liability insurance rates online today.

Location pin icon
No junk mail. No spam calls. Free quotes.

Types of liability insurance

Most large auto insurance companies in America offer a variety of liability insurance coverage options. These commonly include:

  • Commercial auto insurance: For company vehicles, a commercial auto insurance policy may be necessary to cover gaps a personal policy does not cover. Commercial insurance policies offer additional liability coverage for business vehicles such as trucks and transportation vehicles. A commercial auto insurance policy would be useful in a situation where an employee backs into another vehicle on a job site.
  • Business owners policy (BOP): A BOP is similar to a Commercial Auto Insurance policy but offers additional property protections. This policy can help to cover store merchandise or equipment, expenses caused by business interruption, and on-property injury costs. If a hurricane were to destroy your shop, a BOP could help cover the cost of repairs and offer employees some compensation while the business is interrupted.
  • Professional liability insurance (errors and omissions insurance): This type of policy covers costs stemming from lawsuits for professional errors. These include being sued for negligence or giving bad professional advice.

What doesn't liability insurance cover?

The big omission of liability car insurance is it does not cover any damage or bodily to you or your vehicle. Physical coverage to your vehicle, aka comprehensive and collision coverage, are separate coverage you can elect to add to your car insurance policy.

What is not covered by liability insurance?

  • Collision Coverage: If you drive a valuable vehicle, i.e., worth more than $4,000, consider adding this coverage to protect your vehicle from damage by striking a fixed object (such as a wall or another vehicle)
  • Comprehensive Coverage: Usually paired with collision coverage, comprehensive coverage protects your vehicle from incidents not covered by collision coverage. This includes theft, vandalism, or animal damage.
  • Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: This coverage protects you and your vehicle from damage done by a driver without insurance - or someone with insufficient insurance. Like liability coverage, it is broken down into property damage and bodily injury coverage options. This coverage can also apply if you're injured by a hit-and-run driver.
  • Personal Injury Protection (PIP): This add-on provides assistance for medical expenses and work-loss coverage after an accident, independent of fault. If you don't have health insurance, PIP is worth considering. This insurance policy is commonly coupled with no-fault insurance.

Other liability insurance considerations

Per-occurrence limit vs. split limit policies

Different policies and companies can structure their liability limits differently. A per-occurrence limit is the most your policy will pay after one occurrence. For example, if you have a per-occurrence limit of $50,000, that is all you will receive after an at-fault accident for the other driver's bodily injury and property damage.

A split limit policy is more common and is what we described above. You will have separate amounts of coverage for your property damage and bodily injury. Generally, a split limit policy is more recommended than a per-occurrence policy.

How much liability insurance do you need?

Each state has its own mandatory liability auto insurance minimums. While we've listed the minimum amounts of liability insurance required by state at the end of this section, it's often a good idea to carry more than the minimum. We generally recommend limits above 50/100/50 - especially if you have financial assets.

Although you might save a few bucks by dropping coverage, it's not recommended to maintain a low level of liability car insurance coverage because:

  • You are responsible for any remaining damage not covered by your insurance
  • You could be perceived as high-risk by insurance companies
car insurance coverage

You're responsible for damages not covered by your property damage liability coverage:

Because some states have very low property damage liability limits, you end up being responsible for any damage not covered by your insurance. Let's say you're a California resident who totals another driver's 2019 Ford F150 - listed at $28,155 - in an at-fault accident. In California, mandatory minimum liability car insurance covers $5,000. You would be responsible for the remaining $23,155. Depending on your financial situation, this could be a tricky hole to climb out of without sufficient levels of property damage liability coverage.

You appear as a high-risk driver to insurance companies:

Carrying your state's minimum liability coverage not only leaves you on the hook for any damages leftover from a claim but also stands out as a red flag for insurers. If you elect to carry high liability limits, you shoulder some of the insurance company's financial responsibility and risk. If you carry the bare minimum of property damage and bodily injury liability car insurance, you pass more risk along to the insurer - leading to more expensive premiums, in many cases.

To avoid higher insurance rates, consider keeping your liability coverage at 100/300/100, if possible, and find out more about how much car insurance coverage you need.

 


State-by-state minimum liability limits

Explore the table below to learn how much liability insurance you need in your state. Or, use The Zebra to gather quotes and get coverage today.

Alabama 25/50/25
Alaska 50/100/25
Arizona 25/50/15
Arkansas 25/50/25
California 15/30/5
Colorado 25/50/15
Connecticut 25/50/25
Delaware 25/50/10
Florida —/—/10
Georgia 25/50/25
Hawaii 20/40/10
Idaho 25/50/15
Illinois 25/50/20
Indiana 25/50/25
Iowa 20/40/15
Kansas 25/50/25
Kentucky 25/50/25
Louisiana 15/30/25
Maine 50/100/25
Maryland 30/60/15
Massachusetts 20/40/5
Michigan 50/100/10
Minnesota 30/60/10
Mississippi 25/50/25
Missouri 25/50/25
Montana 25/50/20
Nebraska 25/50/25
Nevada 25/50/20
New Hampshire  25/50/25
New Jersey 25/50/25
New Mexico 25/50/10
New York 25/50/10
North Carolina 30/60/25
North Dakota 25/50/25
Ohio 25/50/25
Oklahoma 25/50/25
Oregon 25/50/20
Pennsylvania 15/30/5
Rhode Island 25/50/25
South Carolina 25/50/25
South Dakota 25/50/25
Tennessee 25/50/25
Texas 30/60/25
Utah 25/65/15
Vermont 25/50/10
Virginia 30/60/20
Washington 25/50/10
Washington D.C. 25/50/10
West Virginia 25/50/25
Wisconsin 25/50/10
Wyoming 25/50/20

Compare rates and find the policy that's right for you today.

Location pin icon
No junk mail. No spam calls. Free quotes.

RECENT QUESTIONS

Other people are also asking...

Is it necessary to get umbrella insurance with uninsured / uninsured coverage?

Umbrella insurance provides additional liability coverage above and beyond what you have on your auto and homeowners policies. This protects your assets if you are sued for injury or damage that you may have caused to another party for which you are liable. Umbrella insurance generally does not pro…
Aug 2, 2017 Columbus, OH

Should I file a claim if I damaged my car backing out of the driveway but I only have liability?

If you only have liability coverage then you won't be able to file a damage claim. Your policy would need to include collision coverage at the time of the incident for you to be able to get it repaired through your insurance provider. Unfortunately, you aren't able to add any additional c…
Jun 21, 2017 Dallas, TX

Can an insurance company recant liability and ask for a refund one month after paying me for damages to my vehicle?

I have not heard of a claim decision being reversed and asking for the claims payout money back. They should be providing you with evidence of why they are refusing to pay the claim — if you haven't asked for this already, you should demand it. I strongly advise getting help from someone who i…
Nov 19, 2019 Jacksonville, FL

Do you need car insurance before registering a car in Virginia?

The short answer is yes, Virginia does require you to have basic liability insurance in order to register your vehicle in that state. If it's helpful, The Zebra can help you get car insurance quotes from several carriers in your state. You can also give us a call at 888-807-3823 to speak to an…
Jun 22, 2019 Alexandria, VA

About The Zebra

The Zebra is not an insurance company. We publish data-backed, expert-reviewed resources to help consumers make more informed insurance decisions.

  • The Zebra’s insurance content is written and reviewed for accuracy by licensed insurance agents.
  • The Zebra’s insurance editorial content is not subject to review or alteration by insurance companies or partners.
  • The Zebra’s editorial team operates independently of the company’s partnerships and commercialization interests, publishing unbiased information for consumer benefit.
  • The auto insurance rates published on The Zebra’s pages are based on a comprehensive analysis of car insurance pricing data, evaluating more than 83 million insurance rates from across the United States.