What is liability car insurance coverage?

Auto liability insurance coverage can pay for injuries to others and damage to others' property. If you're found responsible for a motor vehicle accident, your auto liability coverage may cover the other party's medical and repair expenses — up to the limits of your policy. It may also cover legal expenses if the other party files a lawsuit against you. Nearly every car insurance policy includes liability coverage, and almost every state requires you to have it.

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What does auto liability insurance cover?

If you're at fault in an accident, your liability coverage can cover property damage (PD) and bodily injuries (BI) you cause to others. Here's how the two parts of auto liability coverage work:

Bodily injury (BI) liability coverage

Bodily injury liability covers medical treatment and other expenses for people injured in an accident you're found to be at fault for. BI liability may cover the following related to accidents you're liable for:

  • Others' medical expenses
  • Others' pain and suffering
  • Others' lost wages
  • Legal costs for related lawsuits others file against you

Property damage (PD) liability coverage

The property damage part of liability covers costs to repair property damaged by an accident you're found at fault for. This might include:

  • Damage to other cars
  • Damage to property like a mailbox, house, business, street sign, or guardrail
  • Legal costs for related lawsuits others file against you

How do car insurance liability limits work?

Auto liability insurance limits are typically broken into three numbers to reflect how much coverage you have per person and per accident. For instance, if you're in Illinois and have the minimum auto insurance liability limit required in the state, you'll see $25,000/$50,000/$20,000 on your policy. Here's what those numbers mean:

  • Bodily injury liability per person: $25,000 is the maximum amount your insurance company would pay out for injuries you're liable for, per person.
  • Bodily injury liability per accident: $50,000 is the maximum amount your insurer would pay out for injuries you're liable for, per accident.
  • Property damage liability per accident: $20,000 is the maximum amount your insurer would pay out for damage to someone else's vehicle or property you're liable for, per accident.

Consider the following scenarios, assuming your BI liability limits are $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, and your PD liability limit is $20,000 per accident.

Scenario one:You hit another driver and cause them $20,000 in injuries and $15,000 in property damage. Your insurance should pay both amounts because all injuries and damage fall below your coverage limits per person and per accident.

Scenario two:You're at fault in a car crash, but in this case, you injured the driver and two passengers. Suppose each has $25,000 in injuries. You may think you're covered because you have $25,000 in bodily injury per person. However, $50,000 is the maximum your insurer will pay out per accident based on your coverage. Since expenses for injuries total $75,000, you'll be responsible for the remaining $25,000 out of pocket.

Watch our quick guide to learn more about liability coverage:

Do I need auto liability coverage?

Yes, auto liability coverage is required in nearly every state. However, each state has its own minimum coverage requirements. Don't worry, though; insurers can only sell policies that meet or exceed your state's minimum required car insurance coverage.

While homeowners insurance policies include personal liability insurance coverage, you'll still need to purchase your state-required amount of auto liability coverage before you get behind the wheel. And if you have other types of vehicles, find out if you need RV liability coverage, motorcycle liability coverage, and boat liability coverage.

How much auto liability coverage do I need?

You'll need at least your state's minimum required liability coverage amount. Car accident costs can easily exceed a life's savings, so consider increasing your coverage amount to something close to your net worth. That way, if you're liable for a high-cost accident, you'll have more protection for the amount you're at risk to lose.

Note that your rate will be affected by the coverage limit you choose. Get more tips on figuring out how much car insurance you need. Our car insurance estimator can also give you an idea of which coverage level is right for you.

Have a high net worth? Consider a combined single limit (CSL)

If you have a high net worth, an auto policy with a combined limit for bodily injury and property damage may make more sense than single-limit liability coverage, which is the standard. CSL amounts usually range between $300,000 and $500,000. Premiums for CSL policies are higher, but the coverage limit can be divided in whichever way necessary to satisfy a claim against you.

Scenario One:You have a split-limit policy that covers bodily injury up to $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. However, you cause an accident that results in $120,000 in medical expenses for one individual, leaving you on the hook for $20,000.

Scenario Two:You cause the same accident as in scenario one, but you have a combined single limit of $300,000 for BI and PD. Your insurance would cover the full $120,000, since your maximum CSL of $300,000 applies to any type of liability claim.

How much is liability car insurance coverage?

Auto liability coverage costs on average $81 to $146 per month from Progressive.* Your price will typically depend on your age, location, driving record, vehicle type and usage, and more. Average car insurance rates vary by state, and each state has its own minimum required coverage amount.

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