Bodily Injury

Reviewed by Stefan Tirschler

Noun

bod·i·ly in·ju·ry | ˈbɒdɪli ˈɪn(d)ʒ(ə)ri

Definition: Damage to a person’s physical condition, including pain, illness or resulting death

I was found liable for the bodily injury my neighbour suffered when he slipped and fell on my driveway.

What is bodily injury?

Even though “bodily injury” is a legal term, it’s surprisingly literal: bodily injury means a person’s body was injured. If an incident causes someone physical pain, illness, or death, they’ve suffered bodily injury. The term usually only applies to physical injuries, not psychological ones.

Does home insurance cover bodily injury?

Yes, it does, depending on the circumstances.

When it comes to home insurance and bodily injury, liability is the name of the game. Liability refers to who is responsible—legally—for an incident where someone is injured, or property is damaged. Home insurance policies include personal and premises liability coverages. One aspect of these coverages is protection against bodily injury liability claims.

What does that mean?

Example

Dave is a lazy guy. He hasn’t been shovelling his front step as much as he should this winter. The step is getting a little bit icy. One day, Dave’s neighbour Estevan comes over to visit. He slips and falls on the icy concrete steps, and breaks his arm. Estevan is unable to work for a few weeks while his arm heals. Going weeks without pay is a problem, so Estevan starts a lawsuit against Dave.

The lawsuit argues that Dave had a duty to keep his home safe for visitors, which he obviously didn’t do. Dave failed to do his duty, and so he is found liable for Estevan’s injuries. Dave has to pay Estevan $50,000 in damages to compensate for the lost wages and the pain of the injury.

In this example of bodily injury, Dave is found liable because he didn’t do what was legally expected of him. “Being found liable” means that a court of law has decided the injury is Dave’s fault, and it’s his responsibility to make it right. The court makes Dave pay damages to Estevan. “Damages” refers to the money awarded in a lawsuit. The money compensates the victim for their loss.

Estevan suffered a bodily injury, and a court determined that it was Dave’s fault. Dave has to pay Estevan to make it right.

That’s where liability insurance comes in.

Example

Dave has home insurance, which includes premises liability coverage up to $1 million. When someone gets injured in an accident on Dave’s property, this coverage pays the damages if he’s found liable as a result of his own negligence. Estevan suffered bodily injury at Dave’s home, so Dave’s home insurance covers the $50,000 in damages. Dave only has to pay his $1,000 deductible.

Home insurance policies cover damages when the insured person is made to pay them due to the insured person’s negligence (as long as the situation meets the policy conditions). Liability insurance is a relatively complex subject. It deserves an article of its own, but here’s the abridged version as it relates to bodily injury:

Liability insurance kicks in when the insured has to pay damages because they were negligent. Negligence means they didn’t uphold the standard of care expected of them. It means they were careless. Liability insurance covers accidents, but it will never cover intentional acts.

Home insurance policies include both premises and personal liability coverages. Premises liability covers situations where a third party is injured during a visit to the insured home. Personal liability coverage covers the insured when they harm someone or something while away from home.

When we say “third party,” we mean a person who is not:

  1. The policyholder, or anyone insured by the policy; or,
  2. The insurance company.

Those are the first two parties; the third party would be the injured one. This is important in cases where a family member is injured at home. Family members living together are all covered by the home insurance policy, so they’re all considered part of the first party. If a family member is injured at home (or by another family member), there’s no third party involved, and so liability coverage doesn’t come into play.

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What’s the difference between bodily injury coverage and medical payments coverage?

Many home insurance policies include coverage for voluntary medical payments. When an insured person is responsible for an injury to a third party, they can pay for the injured person’s medical expenses. Even if the insured isn’t legally liable, Medical Payments Coverage will still reimburse these costs. The situation still has to meet the policy conditions: it can’t be an intentional injury.

The goal of this coverage is to avoid a costly lawsuit by voluntarily paying for the injured third party’s medical expenses.

How much bodily injury coverage do I need?

Bodily injury damages can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars—even millions in severe cases. You might think that the odds of you being responsible for such a catastrophic accident are practically zero. But there’s a big difference between zero and almost zero.

When someone doesn’t have enough insurance to cover damages that they’re liable for, the difference has to come from somewhere. That can mean garnished wages, or even being forced to sell their house.

Keep in mind that liability insurance isn’t just for bodily injury cases. The same coverage applies when the insured person is responsible for property damage.

Square One recommends $1-2 million for liability insurance coverage limits. Customers can always choose less (or more), but that’s taking on a lot of risk to save what is usually only a few dollars a month. Increasing liability coverage limits is usually cheap. It’s worth getting more than the bare minimum just for peace of mind.

The important points

  • Bodily injury is physical damage to a person’s body.
  • Home insurance policies include third-party liability coverage for bodily injury cases.
  • Increasing the limits of third-party liability coverage is usually pretty cheap.
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