Liability car insurance: 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 vehicle in an accident. It is required by nearly every state in order to legally drive and register your vehicle.
Liability coverage is defined by two key coverages: bodily injury and property damage liability.
- Bodily injury covers the medical bills you caused after an accident. It is usually on a per-person and per-accident basis.
- Property damage: covers the property damage you cause — whether to their vehicle, home, bicycle, etc.
|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 personal preference and 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 insurance:
- Liability covers damages you cause to other drivers and their property
- Liability insurance is mandatory in all states except New Hampshire
- Liability car insurance policies are the most basic form of car insurance
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 a 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.)
How much does liability insurance cost?
Within any facet of car insurance, how much you pay will depend. For a 30-year-old male driver who drives a 2016 Honda Civic with no accidents, the average cost of a 50/100/50 liability policy is $727 or $121 per month.
State Minimum Liability Only
State Minimum with 500 Comp-Coll
50/100/50 BI-PD with 500 Comp-Coll
100/300/100 BI-PD with 500 Comp-Coll
If you're looking for more information on the average cost of car insurance, see our article.
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 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.
How much liability insurance do you need?
Each state has its own mandatory liability 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 appear as high-risk to insurance companies
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 risk 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.
6mo with State Min Bi Limits
6-mo with 50/100 Bi Limits
6-mo with 100/300 Bi Limits
To avoid higher rates, consider keeping your liability coverage at 100/300/100, if possible.
For more information on determining your coverage levels, see our additional articles below:
State-by-state minimum liability limits
See below to learn how much liability insurance you need in your state.
This article was written by one of The Zebra’sresident insurance experts. Each article is thoroughly researched to ensure we provide readers the most accurate — and helpful! — information possible. That’s insurance in black and white.®