How to Choose Liability, Bodily Injury & Property Damage Coverage

Car insurance—you've got to have it, but that doesn't always mean you understand it. And a lot of the car insurance information out there is just not all that helpful.

So we're cutting out as much of the insurance speak as possible. We're telling you not just what a coverage means, but what it will cost you and how to know if you even really need it. Oh, and we're doing it in a way real humans can understand.

So, welcome to Car Insurance in Everyday English. Part I.

Let's start with liability.

"What exactly is liability insurance?"


Liability comes into play when an accident is your fault. (Hey, it happens. And that’s why this exists.) If other people get injured, your insurance company will pay for their medical expenses. If you damage any property that belongs to someone else, like their car, your insurance company will pay to get it fixed. Basically it’s there to help you avoid paying for your mistake out of pocket.

Let's break it down a little more. Liability coverage is made up of two parts: bodily injury and property damage.

Bodily injury is what pays for any injuries to others caused by the accident. This includes everything from medical expenses like doctor visits and physical therapy to lost wages and funeral expenses.

Property damage is what covers damage to someone’s property. Pretty straightforward. Typically this would be their vehicle, but it would also cover things like someone's fence if you, say, accidentally back into one. (Not that this would ever happen, right?)

Property damage

"Is there anything liability doesn't cover?"

Yup. You.

Liability won't pay for any medical expenses you or your passengers incur as a result of an accident if you're at fault. Same goes for your car. If you're at fault and damage your car, liability won't pay to have it fixed. (But don't worry! You'll be able to get different coverage for your own medical expenses and property.)

Do I need liability insurance?"

The answer is a resounding YEP. You do.

That’s because everyone driving a car is required to have liability. It’s actually the law. Consider it the bare minimum coverage you can have to stay this side of legal.

STOP driving if you don’t have liability insurance

"How much liability coverage do I need?"

Well, that depends: how much can you afford to pay for car insurance coverage and how much risk are you willing to take on?

You’ll be given a few different options for how much liability coverage you can have. These are called limits, and you're choosing the maximum amount your insurer will pay in an accident. Higher limits mean your insurer pays out more, so you have a higher insurance rate. Lower limits mean your insurer pays out a lower amount, so you'll have a lower insurance rate. Makes sense.

But, if you do cause an accident and there are costs that go above and beyond your limits, you could be stuck covering them. (If your limit is $100,000 and the cost is $105,000, you could be on the hook for the extra 5k.) So the idea is that the higher your limit, the less likely it is that you'll have to pay anything out of pocket.

The good news? You can actually select the limits you're most comfortable with for both risk and cost. And in our car insurance app we show you exactly how much different limits would increase or reduce your insurance rate, which is pretty handy.

Get a hand with your car insurance

"Okay then, what are my limit options?"

For liability, you will actually choose limits for bodily injury and property damage separately.

For bodily injury, you'll choose the max your insurer will pay per person and the max your insurer will pay in total per accident.

An example of a limit you can choose is: 50,000/100,000

If you choose this, your insurance policy would pay out up to $50,000 per person injured in an accident, and up to $100,000 total per accident.

For property damage, you'll be given options for the max your insurer will pay out per accident to fix any damages. (An example of a limit you can choose is: $100,000.)

That means your insurer would pay out a maximum of $100,000 to cover any damages per accident. Again, any costs above and beyond that could be on you.

"Just tell me what car insurance coverage to buy!"

Okay, so we can't tell you which limits to choose, but hopefully this information about what liability covers and the implications of choosing different limits will help you make the best decision for you.

And fear not: when you buy a Root policy, the Root app walks you through every step of the process with ridiculously clear instructions. (We'll even handle the breakup with your old insurance company.)

Download the app now

Hey, that's just part 1. Ready to move on? Let's head on over to Part 2 of this series, where we'll talk about comprehensive and collision car insurance coverage.

Itching to skip ahead? Move onto Part 3 - MedPay, PIP & UM/UIM Coverage or Part 4 - Rental & Roadside Assistance Coverage.

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