Bodily Injury v. Personal Injury: How Do Claims Against Me Work?

When navigating the legal realm, it becomes essential to understand how injured drivers obtain different means of compensation. Especially as a defendant, this knowledge becomes invaluable because it helps you understand for what you, or your insurance company, are responsible. Bodily injury liability and personal injury claims are two ways that a plaintiff receives compensation following an accident.

What Is Bodily Injury Liability?

Fault-based states assign fault ratings to both parties following an accident. In many states, only the driver with a fault rating of less than 50% can claim damages from the other driver.

Bodily injury liability is an extension of the defendant’s insurance that pays for the plaintiff’s damages. The plaintiff initiates this process by filing a claim with their insurance company, which then reaches out to your insurance carrier. If you are at-fault, your liability insurance covers the medical bills and property damages associated with the accident.

When you choose liability coverage within your insurance plan, you must meet the basic requirements in reference to three different factors, represented in a three-figure format (x/y/z), according to your state. The first two factors include basic coverage for bodily injury when an accident injures one or more passengers. For example, a driver might possess 25/50/25 coverage. This means they possess $25,000 in bodily injury per passenger and $50,000 in total claims for the accident. The last figure represents property damage caused by the incident.

What Is a Personal Injury Claim?

The plaintiff’s insurance company does not initiate a personal injury claim, or lawsuit. The plaintiff and his or her attorney, if they have one, pursue this lawsuit by filing a suit in the local small claims court. A personal injury claim still involves your insurance company but it is a third-party in the claim. An insurance company would be a first-party in a normal insurance claim, because the plaintiff would go through their own insurance.

In this process, the lawsuit has the potential to go to court. However, most insurance companies do not like this. Instead, they assign claims adjustors to negotiate the plaintiff’s settlement. This takes place through mediation with the other driver, and potentially their lawyer. The outcome of a personal injury claim is a lump sum of money called a settlement that the plaintiff uses to recover for their damages.

What Damages Do Both Options Cover?

Both types of claims cover the different basic damages:

  • Medical bills (ex. examination, surgery, treatment)
  • Recurring medical fees (ex. medical equipment, therapy, medication)
  • Lost wages caused by mandatory recovery time
  • Diminished ability to work due to accident-related injury
  • Property damage

Personal injury lawsuits also cover damages like pain and suffering and/or emotional distress.

Can a Plaintiff File for Both?

A plaintiff can file for both, but probably won’t double their earnings this way. If one method of recovering damages satisfactorily acknowledges the plaintiff’s accident-related claims, they cannot receive additional compensation. The only exception to this is if one claims covers a damage that the other claim does not. In which case, one claims process can only fill in the gaps left by the other.

One example of this would be if the plaintiff claimed damages like mental anguish, emotional distress, or pain and suffering. Though an insurance claim does not account for the emotional hardship associated with car accidents, personal injury lawsuits do. If a plaintiff’s first-party claim covers all physical damages, their third-party lawsuit could provide additional compensation to account emotion-related damages.

When at-fault in an accident, it is best to understand the different ways an injured driver can seek compensation. By maintaining adequate insurance, you ensure that the plaintiff’s compensation does not come directly out of your own pocket.