CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: What We Are Doing to Protect Our Clients

What Liability Coverage Doesn’t Cover

wrecked carAutomobile liability coverage – both for property damage and for bodily injury – is intended to cover damage caused to another person by the negligence of the policyholder or someone who is covered under his/her policy, such as a friend to whom their vehicle was loaned.  Some of the things liability coverage does not cover are obvious – it does not cover injuries to ourselves or our own medical bills for auto accidents or damage to our own vehicles either from auto accidents, weather damage, or theft.  It also doesn't cover for those who need coverages like uninsured motorist coverage and medical payments coverage for our injuries and bills, and collision or comprehensive coverage for damage to our vehicles.

Exceptions for Intentional Acts

One major exception to liability coverage is for "intentional acts." Remember that liability coverage is intended for "accidents" -- incidents where a person covered by the policy has negligently, accidentally, unintentionally caused injury to another person or damage to another person's property.  All auto liability coverage policies are written with exceptions for "intentional acts" -- the purposeful causing of injury or damage.  If we find ourselves the victim in a "road rage" incident, for example, where another driver intentionally strikes ours with his/her vehicle causing damage to our automobile and perhaps even injury to us, that driver's insurance company is likely to invoke the exception of the intentional act and deny coverage under their policy.  Or if a homeowner intentionally assaults and injures another person while on the homeowner's property, the homeowner's liability insurance company is also likely to deny coverage due to an intentional act.

Injured Victims Can File a Claim for Damages

In these instances, a person who was injured and/or had their property damaged can still try to go after the person who caused their damage by demanding compensation from the person directly or by suing them in small claims court or superior court.  Unfortunately, collecting from someone directly can be much, much more difficult than collecting from their insurance company, especially if the person who caused the damage remains uncooperative or if they have little or no assets or income to go after.  This may seem terribly unfair to the person who was injured, but there is actually a good reason for our society to let an insurance company off the hook in these situations – it would be terribly bad "public policy" to allow people to buy insurance that would let them intentionally harm other people and escape the financial consequences of their behavior.

In addition to the option – often a difficult option – of going after the responsible person directly for compensation, we would still likely have other coverages still available under our own insurance policies to take care of bodily injuries or property damage that resulted from an intentional act in a motor vehicle situation.  For our injuries, for example, our own uninsured motorist coverage will usually be available to us for things like road rage intentional acts. Collision coverage or uninsured motorist property damage will usually cover damage caused to our vehicle.

Punitive Damages

Another category of damages that are not covered by automobile liability insurance policies is what's known as "punitive" or "exemplary" damages.  These are a special type of damages that may be awarded by a jury for the purpose of "punishing" the responsible party or "making an example" of them.  There are only certain narrow categories of behavior where these damages may be awarded.  With motor vehicle collision cases, this is most often seen in incidents caused by drunk drivers. It's well-known in our society that drinking alcohol and then driving a motor vehicle is a foolish and dangerous thing to do, and that doing so is likely to cause injuries or death to other people.  In almost every drunk driving case where the responsible driver was under the influence of alcohol, an experienced personal injury attorney will include an "exemplary damages" or "punitive damages" attachment to the complaint being filed in court as part of the lawsuit.  This attachment asks for additional punitive damages for the defendant who has done something so obviously dangerous and likely to cause injuries.  Punitive damages may also be requested in other types of cases where the defendant's behavior was similarly egregious and likely to cause injury to other people.

Punitive damages awards are not covered by automobile liability policies; however, they can provide a personal injury attorney with significant leverage in getting an insurance company to settle claims for injuries caused by drunk drivers.  Since the insurance company is obligated under their policy to defend their policyholder and try to settle all the claims the insurance company is responsible for covering -- all the ordinary bodily injury and property damages separate from the punitive damages – knowing that their insured may be exposed to a punitive damages award if the matter goes to trial can give the insurance company significantly more incentive to settle the claims fairly and promptly than they would otherwise have.

Additional Insurance Coverage Information

For information on other types of car insurance coverages, check out the links below:

For more on insurance companies' claim tactics, and how a personal injury lawyer should handle them, see the following links:

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