“Bodily injury” is a commonly seen term in insurance documents and legal proceedings, but the definition is quite specific. A bodily injury refers to any physical illness or injury sustained by a person, including death if the death resulted from a physical illness or injury. Most commercial liability policies include verbiage referring to bodily injury, and everyone should know the legal implications of this phrase and how it can apply to a personal injury case.
Defining Bodily Injury in Insurance Policies in the United States
Every state in the U.S. requires drivers to purchase and maintain auto insurance policies. State laws vary greatly, and some use fault-based systems for determining liability for accidents while others operate under no-fault systems that compel drivers to use their own auto insurance after accidents unless their accidents meet specific criteria warranting legal action.
In fault-based states, drivers must meet their states’ minimum requirements for insurance coverage. A minimum policy typically demands a certain amount of bodily injury liability coverage, total accident coverage, and property damage coverage. For example, a 15/30/10 policy would require $15,000 or more bodily injury liability coverage, $30,000 or more total accident liability coverage, and $10,000 or more property damage liability coverage.
If a driver causes an accident in a fault-based state, any other driver injured in the accident can file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance policy and secure compensation up to the limits of the policy. If an injured party’s damages exceed available coverage, the injured party can pursue a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. In a no-fault state, drivers must carry a certain amount of personal injury protection to cover their losses after an accident, regardless of who was at fault. However, some states that follow no-fault laws for car accidents allow injured drivers to take legal action against negligent drivers if their damages exceed the scope of available coverage or meet the state’s requirements for legal action.
If an insurance policy covers bodily injury, a claimant must remember that the insurer only has an obligation to cover bodily injury damages up to the limits of the policy’s coverage. If a policy only allows for $15,000 in bodily injury coverage but the claimant’s damages exceed this amount, he or she will need to take additional legal action against the responsible party to secure the remainder.
Some plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits for emotional distress and mental anguish, intangible damages that are difficult to verify. Most of these plaintiffs must produce evidence they sought professional treatment for claimed emotional distress and similar damages or depend on expert witness testimony. Experts with backgrounds in psychology and medicine can help the court better understand a plaintiff’s position and experiences to help ensure the plaintiff receives an appropriate recovery. However, claims for purely emotional damages do not qualify for tax exemption. If the basis of a personal injury claim is emotional distress, the proceeds from winning the lawsuit would not be tax-exempt.
Legal Definition of Bodily Injury
The legal definition of a bodily injury is roughly the same as the definition used by insurance companies: any physical sickness or injury to the physical body is a bodily injury, including death if the victim died from a physical sickness or injury. This definition helps a plaintiff in a personal injury claim establish a basis for making the claim; if there is no damage, there is no claim.
Losses from bodily injury in a lawsuit may include many possible damages.
- Medical expenses, both immediate and future, for treating a physical injury or illness.
- Medical expenses for mental health counseling required after a physical injury or illness. This mostly applies to psychological damage from developing a disability or loss of bodily function from sickness or physical injury.
- Long-term medical expenses for rehabilitation, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and any other necessary ongoing treatment costs.
- Funeral and burial expenses in the event a victim dies from a physical injury or illness.
If you are unsure about elements of a personal injury lawsuit or insurance claim and need to determine which aspects of your case fall under the definition of bodily injury, consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.