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If you injure someone in a car accident, bodily injury coverage helps to pay their medical costs. It can also cover their lost wages if they can’t work after the crash.
Although this coverage won't cover your own medical expenses, it applies to most other people involved in the accident, including:
Other drivers and their passengers.
Passengers in your own car, if they're not from the same household.
This coverage is necessary for many reasons, and it’s legally required in most states. It can also cover legal expenses from a lawsuit if you injure someone in a crash, provided you have enough insurance.
Keep in mind this coverage won't pay for any repairs or property damage, whether it’s for your vehicle or the other driver's. In fact, bodily injury coverage won’t pay to cover any of your immediate expenses. This means you’re on the hook to pay for any car repairs along with your own medical expenses and any lost income unless you have additional coverage.
Looking for coverage to cover your own expenses after a crash? Read our guide on types of car insurance coverage to find out what you need.
What bodily injury liability covers
Bodily injury liability coverage can pay for another person's:
Medical expenses, such as emergency care, hospital fees, follow-up visits and medical equipment like crutches.
Lost income, if they can’t work as a result of the accident.
Funeral costs, if injuries from the accident are fatal.
Pain and suffering, if the injured driver or passengers have long-lasting emotional trauma or pain.
This coverage can also cover your own legal fees and legal counsel if the injured party decides to sue you.
Bodily injury liability coverage limits
When you buy bodily injury coverage, you’ll see two numbers that refer to your coverage limits, such as “100/300.” These numbers correspond to a per-person and per-accident limit, respectively.
For example, let’s say you buy a policy with bodily injury limits of 100/300. You then cause an accident that results in the following expenses for injuries for the three people in the other car:
Total expenses: $180,000*
*Based on average cost of motor-vehicle injuries according to the National Safety Council.
This is how you can interpret your insurance coverage and how much you’ll have to pay out of pocket:
Bodily injury limit per person. The first number, 100, is your bodily injury per-person payout limit. Your policy will not pay for any one person’s injuries over this number. In this case, both Michael and Anne have medical expenses under $100,000, so your insurance will cover the entirety of their expenses. However, because Chris’ medical costs are over $100,000, you’ll have to pay the rest of his expenses on your own, in this case, $10,000.
Bodily injury limit per accident. The second number, 300, is your per-accident limit, or the maximum amount your policy will pay for all injuries in any one accident. This number remains the same no matter how many people are injured in a crash. As you can see above, the total medical expenses in this case cost $180,000. Your policy will cover $300,000 per accident, so it may seem like your insurance can cover the entire accident. But your bodily injury limit per person still applies. Even though these expenses won’t exceed the per-accident limit, you're still over the per-person limit for Chris.
How much do you owe? For this accident, you'll need to pay $10,000 out of pocket in total.
You may see a third number when you’re looking at your bodily injury liability limits. For instance, “100/300/100,” where the third number refers to the property damage liability limit per accident. This is the amount your insurer will pay to repair another person’s vehicle or other property per at-fault accident. Read more about property damage liability insurance.
Do you need bodily injury liability coverage?
Yes, you most likely need bodily injury liability coverage to legally drive anywhere in the U.S. except for parts of Alaska, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Virginia.
However, you need to meet certain requirements to be exempt from coverage in certain states. For instance, in Alaska you can opt out of car insurance only if you live in a remote area. Meanwhile, Virginia residents must pay $500 to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles in lieu of buying coverage if they wish to opt out.
Although New Jersey doesn’t require bodily injury coverage, you must buy other insurance — property damage liability and personal injury protection — to legally drive. Property damage liability covers damage you cause to another vehicle or property in an at-fault accident, while personal injury protection covers medical expenses if you’re in an accident, regardless of fault.
Find out how much coverage your state requires by using the drop-down box below.
How much bodily injury coverage do you need?
At a minimum, you’ll want to get the amount required to drive legally in your state. Some experts recommend having bodily injury limits of at least $100,000/$300,000. However, you may want to buy insurance with higher limits to protect any financial assets that could be seized in a lawsuit. In general, it’s recommended to have enough coverage to cover your net worth.
If you don’t have enough liability coverage to pay for an at-fault accident, you’ll still be responsible for paying for the other person’s injuries. Not having high enough limits could cause the other party to sue you and potentially put your savings, house and other assets at risk.
Many auto insurers won’t sell bodily injury liability coverage over $500,000. If your insurer doesn’t sell a policy with high enough limits to cover your net worth, consider buying umbrella insurance. Umbrella coverage can help cover you if you’ve maxed out your liability insurance limits.
» MORE: Compare auto insurance rates