What's personal liability coverage?

A homeowners insurance policy covers your home and your personal belongings, but it also covers you. Personal liability coverage protects you from the financial repercussions of your actions – or inaction.

Liability coverage protects you when something goes wrong, and you are being held responsible. A claim can be made against your homeowners liability coverage for the cost of medical bills after an injury or for someone else’s property that is damaged due to something you did or failed to do that could have prevented it. It will also cover you off the premises of your home.

"Most insurance carriers provide coverage with worldwide protection in case a claim or lawsuit is brought against you because of accidental bodily injury or property damage, " Scott Hammersand, a personal lines risk advisor with Overmeyer Hall Associates, an insurance broker in Ohio, says.

For liability insurance to apply, you have to be at fault for the injury or damage. It will also cover you if you’re at fault vicariously, such as when a dog bites someone or a child breaks something.

What does personal liability insurance cover?

Your sidewalk is icy, and a delivery person slips, breaking an arm. You know a tree in your yard is dead and needs to come down, but it falls on a neighbor’s car before you can get to it. Your dog gets loose and bites someone. You’re liable for damage and medical bills in any of these situations. These are all situations when the liability coverage on your homeowners insurance policy will kick in.

Whether you are at fault or not, if another person sues you for injuries or damage, your liability insurance will also provide for your defense.

Liability insurance covers:

  • Injuries to another person, either on your property or anywhere, if you or a family member living with you are at fault.
  • Injuries caused by a covered family pet.
  • Damage to the property of others, either on your property or anywhere, if you or a family member are at fault.
  • Costs to defend a lawsuit against you, regardless of whether or not you are at fault.

As mentioned above, liability covers not only you but also your family. If your child is playing baseball and breaks a neighbor’s window, it’s covered. Liability also covers injuries done by a pet, with some exceptions. Home insurance policies usually exclude many exotic pets and may also exclude some dog breeds.

What doesn’t personal liability insurance cover?

Liability insurance is primarily there to protect you from the cost of injuries or damages to someone else. It doesn’t cover everything, however. These are common exclusions on a liability policy:

  • Intentional injuries or damage.
  • Injuries to you or members of your household.
  • Damage to property belonging to you or members of your household.
  • Business pursuits either on or off the premises.

Liability coverage is only for other people. "Accidently damaging your own property or injuring yourself or family would not be covered," Hammersand says.

You're also not covered if you cause damage or injure someone on purpose, so if you get into an argument that turns into a fistfight, liability won't cover the bills for anyone you injure.

Remember that liability insurance doesn’t cover anything where you are not at fault. A person making a claim against you will need to show that you were negligent and caused the injury or damage.

How much personal liability coverage do I need?

The standard liability limit on a homeowners policy is $100,000. Some experts recommend bumping that coverage up to at least $300,000. You might need more coverage if you have a lot of assets to protect or out-of-the-ordinary risks, and Hammersand recommends a higher limit to everyone.

"The average person should have at least $500,000 of personal liability on their home, condo, or renters policy. It’s relatively inexpensive to raise this limit from the standard $100,000," Hammersand says.

If you need more coverage than a home insurance policy can provide, consider an umbrella insurance policy. This type of policy will cover you above and beyond the limits of your home insurance and starts at $1 million.

"Many lawsuit awards result in the garnishment of future earnings as punishment for prior negligence. That means you could be paying for an accident you are considered responsible for over years of income in the future. The only way to protect yourself is to buy enough insurance to ascertain such risk is minimal, if not almost impossible," Martin says.

How much is personal liability insurance?

Personal liability coverage is not priced separately from the rest of your home insurance. However, increasing your liability from $100,000 to $300,000 costs around $14-16 a year extra, on average, based on Insurance.com’s 2022 national average rate data.

Home insurance FAQs

How does homeowners insurance work if someone gets hurt on your property?

Two coverages on your policy can kick in if someone is hurt on your property. Regardless of fault, your medical payments coverage will cover medical bills for a minor injury. If the injury is more severe, and your negligence caused it, your liability insurance will cover medical bills and any resulting legal procedures.

Does liability home insurance cover medical expenses?

It covers medical expenses for those outside your household when you are at fault for the injuries. Your home insurance also has a separate medical payments coverage that provides no-fault payments for medical expenses.

When is liability coverage included in a homeowners policy?

All HO-3 standard home insurance policies include liability.