Bodily injury liability coverage defined

Bodily injury liability coverage pays for the medical expenses of those harmed in a car accident that you caused. While it is meant to protect other motorists and pedestrians against injuries caused by you, it also protects you from having to pay for damages out-of-pocket. Read on to find out more about this part of your liability coverage as well as how much is required in your state.


Liability insurance and bodily injury coverage

Liability coverage is one of the car insurance coverage types most commonly required by states. It consists of two parts: bodily injury and property damage liability. Your liability insurance pays for the damages or physical harm that you cause to others in an at-fault accident. It’s important to note that liability insurance never pays for your own injuries or damage to your property. It only covers those who suffer injury or property damage as a result of your actions.

This type of coverage is offered by every car insurance company in varying amounts. Drivers are usually required by their state to have a specified limit of liability coverage in order to be legal. Find out more about liability limits below. 


What is a bodily injury coverage limit?

Almost every state requires a mandatory amount of coverage in order to be considered a legal driver. This amount is often referred to as a limit. From an insurance company’s perspective, the limit is the total amount that they will pay to cover any claim against you.

Liability coverage is often written out in what’s known as split limits, which often look like this: 25/50/25. Each number corresponds to a different coverage type. The first number refers to bodily injury per person, while the second number is the limit for bodily injury per accident. The last number refers to your limit for property damage.

Find out how each class of bodily injury coverage works:


Bodily injury per person 

If you cause a car accident, this is the total amount that your insurer will pay for any individual person’s injuries. With a per-person limit of $25,000, for instance, your insurance company would only pay up to this amount regardless of the amount of the total bill.


Bodily injury per accident

If you injure more than one person in an accident for which you are at-fault, this number is the total limit to what your insurer would pay for all injured parties. For instance, with a per-accident limit of $50,000, there would only be a total of $50,000 to cover all injuries. Keep in mind that your insurer will never pay over the per person limit for a single person’s injuries, regardless of where you set your per accident limit.


What else does bodily injury liability cover?

Bodily injury covers more than just the medical bills of those you harmed. Along with these medical costs, you can expect your coverage to pay for the following:

  • Legal fees: If you are taken to court because of your accident, this coverage can go toward covering the cost of your legal defense.
  • Lost wages: If the injuries you cause to another person while behind the wheel result in someone not being able to work, your bodily injury coverage could help cover wages lost.
  • Funeral costs: If you cause an accident that results in fatalities, bodily injury liability can help pay.
  • Pain and suffering: While it can be hard to show the exact emotional impact that an accident has caused, liability insurance will cover emotional distress that you cause to another person. Some states may limit the amount allowed for such a claim.


What are the bodily injury liability limits in each state? 

To make sure that your insurance policy covers you appropriately, it may be important to consider a limit increase. Most experts recommend limits of at least 50/100/50 for bodily injury and property damage liability. Carrying only the minimum limits required can leave you exposed to risk. See below how much bodily injury insurance is required in your state.

StateBodily Injury Liability Limits (per person/per accident)
New Hampshire 25/50
New Jersey15/30
New Mexico25/50
New York25/50
North Carolina30/60
North Dakota25/50
Rhode Island25/50
South Carolina25/50
South Dakota25/50
Washington DC25/50
West Virginia25/50


Extra protection: umbrella insurance

An umbrella policy is a great way to shore up your liability coverage and add further protection. An umbrella policy may not be ideal for everyone, but it can be a great option for those with significant assets. Insurance companies typically require higher levels of liability coverage before an umbrella policy is offered. 

Essentially, if your liability limits are exhausted after an accident that you cause, your personal umbrella insurance would kick in to cover any additional costs. Because of how rapidly hospital costs can accrue, this can be a good idea for high-net-worth individuals. 


Exceptions to carrying bodily injury liability 

There are some circumstances where carrying liability insurance is not required. In some cases, your state may allow you an exemption if you can prove that you have sufficient funds to cover any damage that you may cause. This is often done by posting a bond with the state that is typically higher than the insurance limits required.

Also, some states allow for what is called a combined single limit, which allows you to combine your limits to cover any combination of bodily injury and property damage liability claims. For instance, if you injure one person in an accident, instead of being limited to the per person limit for bodily injury coverage, your bodily injury per accident and property damage limits could be allocated to covering their medical expenses.



In general, it’s important to keep your bodily injury liability limits as high as you can reasonably afford. If you are concerned about the added costs of increasing your coverage, it may be time to compare rates and weigh your options.

The Zebra can help you find low-cost insurance quotes from top insurers, giving you the chance to compare coverage options and find an auto policy that is right for you.

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Ross Martin
Ross MartinManager, Content Quality

As a licensed insurance agent, Ross researches and writes insurance content intended to help users make informed decisions.

Ross's background is in writing and education. He holds a master's degree from Royal Holloway, University of London.

Ross's work has been cited by The New York Times, Investopedia, The Simple DollarThe BalanceCar and Driver and Fox Business. He has been quoted by CNET, I Drive Safely and Kin Insurance