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Bodily injury liability insurance: what is it and what does it cover?

    Article Highlights

    If you’ve ever read the fine print of your car insurance policy, you will have probably seen that you’re covered for bodily injury liability, or BIL. That’s not something you need to think about — until you’re in an accident that includes injuries. Suddenly your BIL coverage becomes very important. 

    What is bodily injury liability

    A bodily injury liability insurance definition is that it covers the costs when you have an at-fault accident that results in injuries to the other driver, their passengers or pedestrians. The costs covered include:

    • Medical expenses from ambulance costs and hospitalization to equipment such as a walker or crutches.
    • Loss of income if the injured party is unable to work due to their injuries.
    • Legal fees if the injured party files a lawsuit against you.
    • Funeral costs if a death results from the injuries.

    How bodily injury liability works

    There are two types of BIL coverage, and commonly, you’ll have both. First is the BIL coverage per person and second is per accident. You’ll see them written as numbers, such as 25/50. This means your policy will cover $25,000 worth of costs per person for each accident and $50,000 total, regardless of how many people are injured, per accident.

    There’s also a third type of coverage called property damage liability, which covers costs to repair the other driver’s car or any other damage, such as to a fence or tree. Your insurance coverage may be written: 25/50/25, with the first two numbers related to your BIL coverage, and third to your property damage coverage — in this case, for $25,000.

    Let’s take a look at how it works. Let’s say you are late for work and you run a red light. Unfortunately, you hit a car that is legally in the intersection, causing injuries to the driver that result in $35,000 medical bills. If you have 25/50 coverage, your insurer will pay $25,000, and you’ll have to pay the remaining $10,000.

    If there’s a second person in the car who sustains an injury costing $10,000, your insurer will cover that, because the total for both is under your maximum coverage per accident, or $50,000. But you’ll still need to pay anything over $25,000 for the driver’s injuries. 

    How to understand bodily injury limits

    It’s important to understand that those two numbers, which in our example are 25/50, indicate the maximum limit of your coverage. Once you go over those maximum per-person and per-accident limits, you are responsible for any costs that result from the accident.

    So let’s go back to our example from above. With two persons injured, your total claim for medical expenses is $35,000, with you paying $10,000 that is over your per person limit. What happens if there’s a lawsuit or lost wages involved? You’ve already reached your limit of coverage for the driver’s injuries, so you’d have nothing left to cover any additional costs. If the passenger files the lawsuit, however, there would be the possibility of $15,000 to cover it.

    How much bodily injury liability insurance is required?

    Most states in the U.S. (the exceptions are Florida, New Hampshire, and Virginia) require you to carry a minimum amount of BIL coverage. You cannot drive legally unless you have it. But that doesn’t mean you should stop there. If you can afford it, consider purchasing higher limits of bodily injury liability insurance to financially protect you in the event of a serious accident.

    Minimum bodily liability insurance requirements by state

    StateMinimum bodily liability per person/per accident (in thousands of $)
    FloridaNA or 10/20*
    New HampshireNA or 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
    VirginiaNA or 30/60*
    West Virginia25/50

    *In these states, bodily injury liability is not required, but if you do opt in, these are the minimum state requirements.

    How much bodily injury liability insurance should you have?

    Although you need to have at least the minimum amount of BIL insurance that your state requires, it may be a good idea to have more. Medical care can be expensive, as are legal fees if there should be a lawsuit following your accident. You might find yourself responsible for tens of thousands of dollars in the event of a serious accident.

    Let’s look at another example: You’re in an accident and are determined to be 50 percent at fault. The driver of the other car has a broken back and other injuries requiring surgery. Her medical costs mount up quickly, totaling $200,000. You have, wisely, purchased as much BIL insurance as you could afford, a total of 100/300. 

    Since you’re 50 percent at fault, your share of the medical fees would be $100,000, or half of what her total is. Because you had a robust policy with a high per-person bodily injury coverage, you would be able to rely on your insurance to cover all the costs.

    How much does bodily injury liability car insurance cost?

    There are many factors that go into your insurance premium, so your costs are unique to you. Your age, gender, marital status, location and type of car may all play a role in determining your premium, depending on your state. The average cost of auto insurance in the U.S. is $1,555 annually for full coverage, which also includes collision and comprehensive insurance, but your specific rate will vary. 

    According to the Insurance Information Institute, the national average for bodily and property liability coverage is $650.35. This is based on 2019 data, the latest available. Your own rates will probably differ.

    To determine your rate for bodily injury liability insurance, it’s best to get several estimates from different insurers and to ask for prices at different rates of BIL coverage. You might ask, for example, for one quote with the BIL set at 25/50 and another with it set at 100/300. You may be surprised by how little it costs to go with the higher amount.

    How to file a bodily injury liability claim

    Filing a bodily injury liability claim is the first step in what can be a complex and time-consuming process. You may not know for sure what the total medical costs will be for several months, and it may be some time after the accident before you know if there will be a lawsuit.

    • Your first step is to determine whose insurance company — yours or the other driver’s — should receive the bodily injury claim.
    • Contact your insurer as soon as possible after the accident, even if fault hasn’t been determined. Through a process called subrogation, your own company can manage the claim even if it’s the other driver’s company that will pay.
    • If you’ve been hurt, have a friend or family member make the call. The key point is to alert your insurer that you’ve had an accident that will require a claim as soon as possible.
    • Your insurer will assign an adjuster to your case. He or she will gather details, review the police report and talk to the other driver’s insurer.
    • For complex accidents, there may be a waiting period. You might get a check fairly quickly for the damage to your car (if you have collision coverage) but BIL may take more time because medical claims need to wait until all bills have been received, including follow-up care. Your adjuster should keep you informed on how the claim is going.
    • Once the injured party has submitted all their medical claims, and the question of a possible lawsuit has been determined, they will receive a check covering their costs, up to the maximum amount that you’ve got coverage for. You will be responsible for anything in excess of that if you are at fault in the accident.

    The takeaway

    • Bodily injury liability pays for medical costs, legal costs and funeral costs for the other driver, passengers and pedestrians in an at-fault accident.
    • Almost every state has a minimum bodily injury liability coverage required to drive legally.
    • Filing a bodily injury claim may take time to resolve, since all bills must be submitted.

    You may wonder, does bodily injury cover me in an accident? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Bodily injury coverage is designed to pay for the costs that the other driver, their passengers and any pedestrians incur in an accident where you are at fault.

    Mary Van Keuren

    After 30 years as a writer and editor in academia, Mary now writes full-time for the insurance and finance industries. Her work has appeared on Reviews.com, TheSimpleDollar.com and Bankrate.com, as well as other consumer-focused websites.

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