What is liability car insurance?

What You Should Know

  • Liability car insurance covers bodily injury and property damage for everyone besides the policyholder
  • Drivers who want personal coverage in the event of an accident must purchase additional insurance coverage
  • 49 states require liability coverage

Insurance protects drivers financially when they’re involved in a car accident. Specifically, liability auto insurance coverage allows drivers to avoid the financial responsibility for bodily injury and property damage when they’re at fault in an accident.

While drivers must carry liability insurance in nearly all states, not everyone who gets behind the wheel knows how this coverage works.

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We’ll explain how auto liability insurance coverage works when you cause a car accident.

What is liability car insurance?
What is liability car insurance?

What does liability car insurance cover?

Liability car insurance consists of two separate coverages that work together to cover expenses related to a car accident you cause.

Below are the two liability coverages:

  • Bodily injury/death. Bodily injury covers medical and funeral costs for the injury or death of anyone involved in the accident except you.
  • Property damage. Property damage covers damages you cause to someone’s vehicle or property.

Your liability policy comes with three numbers, each representing the coverage limit. For example, if you see 15/20/10, your bodily injury/death coverage is $15,000 for one person per accident, $20,000 bodily injury/death coverage for more than one person per accident, and $10,000 property damage coverage per accident.

Under some circumstances, liability insurance also covers legal fees if you get sued by anyone involved in the accident.

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What does liability car insurance not cover?

Unfortunately, there are a few things not covered by liability insurance for the at-fault driver, including:

  • Vehicle damage
  • Medical expenses for driver or passengers
  • Expenses beyond the policy limit

Since liability insurance doesn’t cover expenses related to your injuries or property, you may want to consider these optional coverages for added protection.

  • Comprehensive. Covers your vehicle damages or replacement if it gets damaged by something other than a collision –– for example, vandalism, hail, or a falling object.
  • Collision. Covers vehicle repair or replacement if it gets damaged in a car accident.
  • Personal injury protection. Covers medical expenses and lost wages for you and your passengers.
  • Medical payments (MedPay). Covers medical bills for you and your passengers. MedPay can also cover you as a pedestrian, so if you get struck by a vehicle while walking across the street, you’re covered.

If you want to avoid paying out of pocket in an accident, it’s vital to carry full coverage consisting of comprehensive, collision, and liability.

Is liability car insurance required?

Yes, liability insurance is a requirement in 49 states. However, the coverage limits vary depending on your location.

StateMinimum Liability Limits
California15/30/5 (1)
Florida10/20/10 (1)
Kentucky25/50/25 (1)
New Hampshire25/50/25
New Jersey15/30/5 (2)
New Mexico25/50/10
New York25/50/10
North Carolina30/60/25
North Dakota25/50/25
Rhode Island25/50/25
South Carolina25/50/25
South Dakota25/50/25
Tennessee25/50/15 (1)
Utah25/65/15 (1)
Washington, D.C.25/50/10
West Virginia25/50/25

(1) Drivers are able to meet liability requirements with a policy with a combined single limit. Limits vary by state. (2) These limits are for a standard policy. Drivers also have the option of choosing a basic policy with limits of 10/10/5.

While every state requires drivers to carry a certain amount of liability insurance, it is not uncommon for drivers to question if this coverage is enough.

There are also circumstances where full coverage, including collision and comprehensive coverage, is a must, even if you live in a state where liability or full coverage isn’t required, For example, if you financed your vehicle, full coverage is mandatory until you pay the loan off.

How much liability car insurance coverage do drivers need?

Since every state has its own minimum liability coverage amount, you can confirm this limit with your insurance company or state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

While obtaining the required liability coverage is a good start, you might not feel comfortable with that amount after considering the cost.

Since liability insurance has limits, you could be left paying expenses out of pocket if your policy doesn’t cover the full cost of medical payments and property damage.

For example, if your liability coverage has a property damage limit of $15,000 and your accident causes $18,000 of property damage, your insurance will only pay $15,000. The remaining $3,000 is your responsibility, and you could get sued if you can’t pay it.

When choosing a coverage amount, drivers shouldn’t only consider their ability to cover out-of-pocket costs but their assets’ value too. If you’re feeling uneasy about the state minimum liability coverage, it won’t hurt to choose a higher limit to ensure sufficient coverage.

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How much does liability car insurance cost?

Liability insurance costs between $500 and $600 per year, but most companies offer annual rates lower than that. Compare the top ten companies below to see which offers the cheapest liability auto insurance.

Insurance CompanyAnnual Liability Rates
American Family$582
Liberty Mutual$771
State Farm$408
National Average$541

Of course, this number can easily increase if you don’t maintain a good driving record. For example, a speeding ticket or an at-fault accident can increase your premium by hundreds of dollars.

What You Need To Know About Liability Car Insurance

Liability insurance is required in 49 states. It pays for damages and injuries you cause in an at-fault accident. However, you are responsible for out-of-pocket costs if the damages exceed your liability limits.

If you can’t afford an auto accident, we recommend carrying more than minimum liability coverage. Higher policy limits will raise your monthly auto insurance rates but save you money after an accident.

We encourage drivers to shop around to find affordable liability insurance. Rates vary by company and by driver, which can work in your favor, especially if you don’t have a clean driving record.

Frequently Asked Questions About Liability Car Insurance

Keep reading for answers to commonly asked questions about liability insurance and requirements.

What is liability car insurance?

Liability auto insurance, required in 49 states, covers the cost of bodily injury and property damage for others involved in an accident you cause.

Should I get liability-only car insurance?

Liability-only insurance doesn’t always offer drivers the protection they need, so considering additional coverage is beneficial.

If you have a newer, expensive vehicle and don’t have the money to pay out of pocket for repairs, you should consider full coverage.

What is supplemental liability insurance for car rentals?

Liability insurance covers rental vehicles, but if an accident occurs, it will cover only up to the state legal minimum coverage amount. Supplemental liability insurance offers coverage beyond the minimum required amount.

The content on this site is offered only as a public service to the web community and does not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. This site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an insurance company or an attorney licensed or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction. You should always consult a suitably qualified attorney regarding any specific legal problem or matter. The comments and opinions expressed on this site are of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the insurance company or any individual attorney.

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