California law requires you to maintain bodily injury liability insurance in case you injure someone in a car accident. Such insurance pays the other party’s medical bills, lost wages, and other damages from physical injuries, up to your policy limits.
Bodily injury liability insurance in California must be a minimum of so-called “15/30” insurance. This means that for any single accident the auto insurance will cover up to:
|$15,000||wrongful death or bodily injury of one person|
|$30,000||wrongful death or bodily liability of all people hurt or killed in the accident 1|
Policies with coverage limits greater than the 15/30 insurance requirement are sold by most California insurers.
You are personally liable for damages not covered by your liability insurance. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you purchase policies with higher limits than the state minimum limits if you can afford them.
To help you better understand bodily injury liability insurance, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following, below:
- 1. What does California bodily injury liability insurance cover?
- 2. What is NOT covered by bodily injury insurance?
- 3. Is liability insurance mandatory in California?
- 4. How much liability insurance do I need in California?
- 5. What is the process for defending a liability claim in California?
- 6. What if I was only partially at fault for an accident?
- 7. When do I need a lawyer?
You may also wish to review our article, 15 Steps to Take After a Car Accident in California.
If you are injured in an accident, the at-fault driver’s California bodily injury liability insurance pays your medical bills.
Losses included in bodily injury liability coverage can include (but are not limited to):
- Ambulance costs;
- Emergency room charges;
- Doctor’s bills and other medical expenses;
- Hospital bills and other medical payments;
- Chiropractor bills;
- Physical or occupational therapy;
- X-rays and MRIs;
- Short- or long-term care (such as home health aides);
- Dental expenses resulting from broken teeth; and
- Funeral expenses.
Bodily injury liability insurance also covers your past lost wages and future lost earning capacity if your injuries prevent you from working.2
Bodily injury liability insurance will pay damages up to the limits of the policy. If you are at fault for an accident, you are personally liable for any amounts in excess of this limit.3
Example: While checking a text on her phone, Jeanette accidentally runs a red light and hits a motorcycle driven by Hal. Hal suffers a fractured arm and a head injury.
Jeanette has the minimum 15/30/5 liability insurance required by California car insurance coverage law. But Hal’s medical bills total $50,000. Jeanette is personally liable for the excess $35,000 in medical bills ($50,000 less the $15,000 her insurance covers).
Bodily injury liability insurance does not cover car repair bills or damages to other property, such as fences or gates. You are required by law to carry
- property damage liability insurance (“collision coverage”) in addition to
- bodily liability insurance to cover such losses.
Bodily injury liability insurance and property damage liability coverage are often collectively referred to by three numbers, such as 15/30/5. These numbers mean that your liability coverage for any given accident is:
- $15,000 for bodily injuries to any one person;
- $30,000 collectively for bodily injury to more than one person; and
- $5,000 for property damage.4
Example: In the example above, Jeanette’s property damage policy could not be used to pay any of Hal’s medical bills that exceeded her 15/30 liability limits. The $5,000 in property damage coverage would cover only the costs of repairing or replacing Hal’s motorcycle.
Note that “comprehensive coverage” covers car damage resulting from things other than crashes, such as vandalism. You are always advised to get additional coverage on your auto insurance policy.
Liability insurance is a form of third-party insurance that covers damages sustained by
- pedestrians or
- people in other vehicles
that you hit. It applies when you are at fault for the accident. It does not cover
- your own injuries or
- property damage.
Several types of insurance may be available to pay for injuries sustained by you or your passengers:
- Your personal health insurance;
- The other driver’s bodily injury liability insurance (if the other driver was wholly or partially at fault);
- Optional California “Med Pay” insurance (which applies to you and your passengers regardless of fault); and
- Optional California uninsured motorist property damage coverage / uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage / underinsured motorist coverage (which pays if the other underinsured or uninsured driver is wholly or partially at fault).
Additionally, if the other driver was wholly or partially at fault, they may be personally liable for damages under California’s “shared fault” law.5
Yes. California law requires you to maintain bodily injury liability insurance with a minimum of 15/30/5 limits.
Such insurance also covers:
- Someone other than you who drives a covered vehicle with your permission; and
- You while driving another vehicle (for instance, a rental vehicle).6
Refer to your policy or check with your insurer to make sure you understand when and under what conditions your liability policy applies.
You should generally buy as much car insurance as you can afford. Insurance costs do not increase significantly as coverage levels go up.
Sometimes simply knowing that you can pay for injuries you inflict on another can bring you much peace of mind. Additionally, you will know that you will not lose your
- home or
- other property
due to a lawsuit for damages.
If you have few assets and a low income, you may be alright with California’s minimum liability insurance of 15/30/5.
Though if you have a home, stocks, jewelry, art, equipment or even a steady paycheck, you will often need more. Injuries from an accident can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.7
Recommended car insurance limits
CarInsurance.com recommends the following policy limits as a guide:
- 50/100/50: Best if you have few assets, do not drive much, and are on a tight budget — for instance college students and retirees.
- 100/300/100: Appropriate if you are a middle-income earner with a typical level of savings.
- 250/500/100: Best if you own a home or have significant assets or savings.
You may also wish to purchase a California personal umbrella insurance policy to extend your protection by $1 million or more.
An umbrella policy is relatively inexpensive and provides extra insurance for all policies of insurance (not just auto liability) which you maintain at the maximum available limit.
- Anyone was killed or injured (even if the injury was minor), or
- There was property damage of more than $1,000.8
Most policies of insurance also contain the obligation to notify them promptly if you are involved in an accident.
Once the insurance company receives notice, it will assign a claims adjuster.
The claims adjuster will investigate the accident to determine who was at fault. During the investigation the adjuster may:
- Take your statement;
- Speak to the other driver (or more likely the other driver’s insurance adjuster or lawyer);
- Review police reports (if any);
- Speak to witnesses;
- Inspect the damaged vehicles and accident scene or photos; and/or
- Review medical records of anyone claiming injuries.
Under California’s “shared fault” / “comparative negligence” law, blame for an accident can be apportioned to more than one party.9
Having an experienced California injury lawyer can help ensure that you are assigned the least blame possible.
You may even be able to recover some of your own damages, such as your
- medical bills or
- lost wages or
- the cost of repairing your car.
Insurance adjusters work for the automobile insurance company. In many cases, their interests will align with yours – at least initially. They, too, would prefer that another insurance company be liable for damages.
Though they are not interested in getting you the largest settlement, especially if they are the ones paying — either because
- the accident was the other party’s fault or
- you are making a claim under your uninsured / underinsured motorist policy.
The adjuster’s only job is to keep the insurance company’s costs down. This can mean denying or delaying your claim in the hope that you will simply go away.
Often they will not even take the time to
- properly investigate the claim and
- learn what really happened.
Or the adjuster will pressure you to accept less than your claim is worth.
Hiring your own lawyer is the best way to ensure that YOUR interests are protected.
An experienced California accident lawyer will
- independently investigate the accident and
- fight for your interests.
If you need medical care, your lawyer will help you find it.
Your lawyer will also make sure that your settlement agreement is not just boilerplate that protects the insurance company’s interests at the expense of your own.
If you need to take your case to a California jury trial, your California car accident lawyer will make sure the jury hears your side of the story in the most sympathetic way possible.
Need a California accident lawyer? Call us for help…
If you or someone in your family has been in a car accident, we invite you to call our California auto accident attorneys for a consultation to discuss your case.
Contact us to speak to an experienced lawyer about your car accident today.
- California Insurance Code §11580.1b. Auto Insurance Requirements, California DMV.
- What does Car Insurance Cover? Nerdwallet.com.
- See also 21st Century Ins. Co. v. Superior Court (. , 2015)
- See note 1.
- See, for example, Li v. Yellow Cab Co. (1975) 13 Cal.3rd 804.
- See note 1.
- See note 1.
- California Vehicle Code 16000 VC.
- See note 5.