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Liability car insurance pays for medical expenses and property damage you cause when you're at fault in an accident.

Because most people can’t afford to cover the cost of an accident out of pocket, drivers are required to carry liability car insurance coverage in almost every state.

Mandated auto liability coverage protects everyone on the road from the financial impact of a car accident. You want to know that you'll be compensated if someone hits your car; the same goes for a driver you might hit. Although each state has a legal minimum, those limits are often very low, and experts recommend higher liability limits. 

There are only two states where car insurance isn't required by law; even in those states, you're still financially responsible for an at-fault accident. Liability insurance is the best way to provide for that financial responsibility.

Below, we’ll explain what liability insurance covers, how it works and why you need it.

Key takeaways

  • Auto liability insurance pays for injuries or damage to others if you are at fault in an accident.
  • Liability insurance is required by law at a minimum coverage limit in most states.
  • Most state minimum limits are insufficient to cover even a moderate accident, so experts recommend carrying higher limits.

What is liability car insurance?

Liability insurance pays for injuries and damages to others if you are at fault in an accident. In other words, when you are liable for damages.

Auto liability insurance coverage is divided into two types: bodily injury and property damage liability. This coverage is separated into three different limits in two categories:

Bodily injury is paid per person and per incident, with two limits. The first limit is how much the insurance company will pay for any one person injured in an accident. The second limit is how much it will pay for everyone injured in an accident.

Property damage has only one limit, covering all vehicles and other property damage in an accident.

Limits are written as a set of numbers, for example, 100/300/100, where the coverage is:

  • $100,000 for bodily injury per person
  • $300,000 for bodily injury per incident
  • $100,000 for property damage per incident

Drivers are required to buy a minimum amount of liability coverage, which differs from state to state but is usually a low level of coverage.

How much is liability car insurance coverage?

The average minimum auto liability insurance coverage rate is $511 a year, or $43 a month nationwide. Bumping that up to liability limits of 50/100/50 costs $637 annually or $53 a month.

You'll get the cheapest insurance rate if you buy a minimum liability policy. However, minimum coverage levels are not recommended because they can expose you financially in an at-fault accident. Increasing your limits above state minimums provides more protection and costs less.

Below, you’ll see the average rates for minimum car liability insurance as well as a higher level of coverage in your state, and the difference in cost. Bear in mind that each state has different minimum limits, so the coverage increase differs along with the cost.

State State minimum liability only 50/100/50 liability only $ Increase % Increase
Washington D.C.$577$663$8615%
North Carolina$396$435$3910%
North Dakota$340$353$134%
New Hampshire$411$441$307%
New Jersey$989$1,120$13113%
New Mexico$376$546$17045%
New York$875$960$8510%
Rhode Island$648$782$13421%
South Carolina$628$793$16526%
South Dakota$267$289$228%
West Virginia$474$530$5612%

What does liability car insurance cover?

Auto liability insurance covers damage to vehicles and injuries of others that result from an accident you caused.

Bodily injury (BI) covers medical costs, funeral expenses, lost income and pain and suffering of people whom you injured.

Property damage (PD) reimburses accident victims for repairing or replacing property you damaged. It covers someone else’s car and their property; for instance, if you hit a sign or house.

Both types of liability insurance cover you only up to your limits, which is why it’s important to ensure you buy enough coverage.

Liability insurance also obligates your insurer to defend you if you're sued following a motor vehicle accident.

What doesn’t liability auto insurance cover?

It’s important to remember that liability insurance only covers injuries and damages to other people.

  • Liability insurance does not cover damage to your vehicle; you need collision and comprehensive coverage to pay for those damages.
  • Liability insurance doesn’t pay for your medical expenses. If you have personal injury protection (PIP) or MedPay, these coverages will pay your medical bills in conjunction with your health insurance
  • Liability also does not cover claims that exceed the limits of your coverage. Higher liability limits can help you avoid paying out-of-pocket when damages exceed minimum limits, and an umbrella policy can offer limits of $1 million or more once your auto insurance limits are reached.

Liability car insurance coverage limits

States set their own minimum liability coverage requirements for property damage and bodily injuries. These limits vary by state. For example, California's requirements are 15/30/5, some of the lowest limits of any state. On the other hand, Alaska has some of the highest required limits at 50/100/25.

You can always choose to buy higher limits of coverage than the state-mandated limits, and it’s recommended that you do, especially when state limits are very low.

What are the state minimum car insurance requirements?

The list below shows the liability insurance minimums for every state. Twelve no-fault states require all drivers to carry personal injury protection (PIP) to pay for their medical expenses if involved in an accident. A few states, such as Maine and New Hampshire, require medical payments (MedPay), which provides some medical coverage if you or your passengers are injured in an auto accident.

Many states require you to carry uninsured motorist bodily injury (UM)/underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. Some states require uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD).

Although two states don't require drivers to carry auto insurance, all states do have financial responsibility laws. New Hampshire and Virginia don’t require car insurance, but it’s the easiest way to show financial responsibility.

State Minimum liability coverage limits Other types of insurance required (if any)
District of Columbia25/50/10UM, UMPD
Kansas25/50/25UM/UIM, PIP
Maine50/100/25UM/UIM, MedPay
Maryland30/60/15UM/UIM, UMPD, PIP*****
Massachusetts20/40/5UM/UIM, PIP
Michigan50/100/10PIP, property protection
Minnesota30/60/10UM/UIM, PIP
New Hampshire**25/50/25UM/UIM, MedPay
New Jersey******25/50/25UM/UIM, UMPD, PIP
New Mexico25/50/10
New York25/50/10UM, PIP
North Carolina30/60/25UM, UMPD
North Dakota25/50/25UM/UIM, PIP
Oregon25/50/20UM, PIP
Pennsylvania15/30/5PIP - referred to as “First Party Benefits Coverage”
Rhode Island***25/50/25
South Carolina25/50/25UM, UMPD
South Dakota25/50/25UM/UIM
Vermont25/50/10UM/UIM, UMPD
Virginia****30/60/20*UM/UIM, UMPD
West Virginia25/50/25UM, UMPD
Wisconsin25/50/10UM, UIM

* Florida doesn't require bodily injury liability coverage, but many insurers only offer policies with at least minimum amounts of 10/20 of BI coverage.

** In New Hampshire, auto insurance isn't mandatory, but if you choose to buy insurance these are the minimum amounts.

*** Rhode Island doesn't require drivers to buy UM/UIM coverage if buying minimum liability coverage. If you buy higher liability limits, UM is required.

**** You can drive without insurance in Virginia, but you have to pay an uninsured motorist fee of $500.

*****Full PIP can be waived in Maryland for a limited PIP option.

******New Jersey offers a basic car insurance policy with lower liability limits than the legal requirement.

How much auto liability insurance do you need?

Most experts agree that the legally mandated minimum coverage is not enough for many drivers. The amount of car insurance coverage you should purchase depends on your assets and your tolerance for risk.

Use our auto insurance coverage calculator to find out what coverage limits best fit your needs.

If you cause an accident that seriously injures the other party, medical bills, income loss, and pain and suffering claims could come to hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you have assets above the limits of your policy, the victim's attorney or insurance company is likely to pursue them through subrogation. In addition, many insurance policies allow insurers to limit their legal defense expense to your coverage limit.

Penalties for driving without liability insurance

If you are caught driving without insurance, you may face:

  • Driver's license suspension
  • Registration suspension
  • Fines ranging from $600 to $5,000
  • DMV lapse fees
  • Vehicle impoundment
  • Jail time or community service
  • Points on your license
  • A requirement to carry SR-22 insurance

By driving without insurance, you're gambling with your future. In addition, you will be responsible for any financial damages if you cause an accident while uninsured.

Shopping for liability car insurance

You should review your policy once a year and ensure your assets and income are fully protected. Even if you don't need to make changes, it’s a good idea to compare auto insurance quotes to make sure that you're getting a good deal. Make sure the quotes you receive all include the same coverage so that you can make a valid comparison.

When you have a life-changing event during the year – such as adding a teen driver, marriage, divorce, moving, adding or removing a vehicle – it’s particularly important to comparison shop.


Insurance.com commissioned Quadrant Data Solutions in 2022 to field rates in every state for both a minimum coverage policy and for limits of 50/100/50. Rates are based on a 40-year-old male driver with a clean record driving a 2021 Honda Accord LX.

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