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Liability Coverage for Bodily Injury

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Liability Coverage for Bodily Injury

injured personThe most important component of auto liability insurance coverage is for bodily injury.  This coverage financially protects an owner or driver in situations where they have caused an accident that has resulted in physical and/or psychological injuries to other people.  Those persons who were injured as a result of the bodily injury liability coverage policyholder’s negligence can bring claims under that coverage which the insurance companies are obligated to resolve on their policyholder’s behalf and, if necessary, to “defend” in court if a lawsuit is filed related to the injury claims.

Minimum Bodily Injury Liability Coverage 

In California, it’s required to have minimum coverage for bodily injury liability in the amount of $15,000 per person and $30,000 per incident.  That means that any individual person injured in an accident by the policyholder’s negligence can receive a maximum of $15,000, with up to a maximum of $30,000 paid for all injury claimants from a single accident.  Operating a vehicle while not having bodily injury liability coverage can get a vehicle owner or driver in substantial trouble — citations, fines, and even suspension of a driver’s license can result. It’s also just plain wrong to operate a vehicle without this coverage – it’s shirking a basic responsibility that can put other people are harm.

Additionally, not having bodily injury liability coverage puts a negligent driver or owner at significant personal financial risk.  People who may be injured as a result of the negligence and who find out there is no bodily injury liability insurance may end up suing them directly in small claims court or superior court.  If they receive a court judgment, the injured person(s) can collect directly from the uninsured driver or owner’s assets or personal income.

Minimum Coverage May Be Inadequate for Injuries

While California requires all owners and drivers to be protected by a minimum “15/30” bodily injury liability policy when operating a vehicle, this amount of coverage really isn’t adequate for most people.  A $15,000 policy limit is often adequate for relatively minor claims of neck and back strain injuries. But, it is completely inadequate for injury claims involving broken bones, head injuries, spinal disc injuries, or other moderate to severe injuries.  These types of injury claims will rapidly exceed the minimum $15,000 policy limits in value, and the driver or owner protected by this small policy will quickly find themselves again exposed to potential lawsuits and court judgments that may need to be resolved out of their personal assets and income.  Obviously, even the cost of a minimum “15/30” policy may be a financial challenge for some folks. Still, as soon as someone finds themselves able to easily cover the cost of a minimum bodily injury liability policy, they’re probably now in a situation where they should consider higher limits – it means they likely have personal income and accumulating personal assets that need greater protection.

Bodily Injury Liability Claims 

Bodily injury liability claims cover most of the components of what people think of as a typical “personal injury” claims.  (The primary component not covered by bodily injury liability coverage is property damage liability, which is covered by another required insurance.)  The “value” of a personal injury claim when a settlement of the claim is being negotiated – and the vast majority of all personal injury claims are concluded by settlement rather than be a jury trial or arbitration award – is based upon the “damages” that the injured person has sustained. “Damages” here is a legal term meaning the losses the injured person has as a result of his or her injuries; and damages break down into two categories:  economic damages (also called “special” damages) are those losses which have a specific, defined dollar value, and non-economic or “general” damages, which do not.  For those few claims which do proceed all the way to a jury verdict or an arbitration award, the final awards are usually broken down into these categories as well.

Elements of a Bodily Injury Liability

The main elements of a bodily injury liability claim typically include:

Medical bills past and future. A primary component of any personal injury claim is the medical expenses the injured person has incurred in order to receive medical examination and treatment for the injuries and ongoing symptoms that resulted from the accident.  For injury victims who have not fully recovered from their injuries by the time of settlement or who have suffered injuries with permanent problems that will require ongoing medical treatment, the value of future medical expenses to treat their injuries is also a component in the value of their bodily injury claim.  The general rule is that these medical expenses must be for medical care “reasonable and necessary” for the injuries that were suffered and that the dollar value of the care is within the amount typical for that specific treatment in the community where it was provided.  Arguing with insurance adjusters and defense attorneys over the reasonableness, necessity, and value of medical bills is a primary service that experienced personal injury attorneys can provide to their clients in order to receive full value for their claims.

Wage loss to date and in the future.  Even personal injury victims whose injuries are relatively minor may be instructed by their doctors to take a few days off work to rest and speed recovery from their injuries.  Those with more significant injuries, however, may have to take extended time off work, might lose their jobs due to physical limitations on work, or even have to make career changes or go on permanent disability due to permanent injuries and reduction in their physical capacity to work.  The “damages” for these losses are for past and future “wage loss” – actual calculated dollars for time lost from their current employment — or for past and future “earning capacity loss” — a reduction in their ability to work and earn income.

Pain and suffering. “Pain and suffering” is the primary component of “general damages” in most personal injury claims.  It refers to the actual physical pain related to the injuries that the bodily injury claimant suffered in the accident, as well as the mental anguish associated with those injuries, undergoing treatment for those injuries, etc.  Other related elements of general damages, depending upon the nature of the injuries that were suffered, may include physical disfigurements such as scarring and physical impairment and lowered quality of life.  Since general damages such as pain and suffering do not – by definition – have a specific, economic dollar value, communicating the nature and severity of these damages to an insurance adjuster, defense attorney, jury, or arbitrator who may be tasked with assigning a dollar value to the damages is a primary duty of the victim’s personal injury attorney.

Loss of consortium. “Loss of consortium” is an element of general damages that belongs not to the injury victim but to the victim’s spouse.  In California, this type of claim is limited to a legal spouse as of the date of injury to the victim, and it includes such things as loss of companionship, physical relationship, love, and care that may result from the victim’s physical injuries.

This is not an exhaustive list of the types of damages that go into the valuation of a personal injury claim.  Other items that may be included in some cases are the loss of value of household services (an item of economic damages) or the negligent infliction of emotional distress when someone directly witnesses the injury or death of a close relative (an element of general damages).  Sorting out the relevant damage elements, accurately and completely evaluating them, and clearly communicating them is critical to a successful resolution of a bodily injury liability claim.

The short video below explains more about bodily injury liability coverage.

For more on the types of insurance coverages you may need, see these links:

For information about insurance companies, their claim tactics, and how an experienced personal injury lawyer should handle them, check out the links below:

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