Car insurance is all about financial protection. Liability coverage protects you financially if you cause an accident by paying for the other driver’s medical bills, up to your coverage limits. But what if you are injured in an accident?
In most states, the person who is at fault for the accident is responsible for the other driver’s injuries and property damage. There are laws in place that require drivers to carry minimum levels of liability coverage for exactly this reason, but minimum levels of coverage may not be enough to pay for your damage and not everyone follows the law, so what can you do? Or, worse, what if you are the one responsible for the accident — does car insurance cover your medical bills?
There are several ways for you to protect yourself in case you are injured in an accident with someone who doesn’t have enough insurance or if you’re the one responsible for the accident. There are also several ways for you to protect the other driver if the accident is your fault.
What if I am injured by a driver who doesn't have insurance or doesn't have enough insurance to cover my injuries?
There are several options available that can provide coverage if you are injured by a driver who doesn’t have enough (or any) car insurance, including:
Uninsured motorist coverage - Often referred to as UIM, uninsured motorist coverage is a policy add-on you can purchase as part of your auto insurance that helps you pay for damages caused by another driver. Insurance companies typically require you to carry the same level of UIM coverage as your liability, which means if you carry liability levels of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, that is how much you have available in uninsured motorist coverage
Medical payments coverage - Also known as MedPay, medical payments coverage can help pay for medical expenses for you or your passengers if you're injured in a car accident, no matter who is at fault. MedPay isn’t available in all states, so check with your insurance representative to see if it is available to you
Personal injury protection - Also known as PIP, personal injury protection is a type of coverage that pays for medical and related expenses for you and your passengers in the event of an accident, no matter who is at fault. Some states don’t offer PIP or sell it as an optional coverage while other states require you to carry it as a mandatory part of your car insurance, so check with your insurance representative to see if you should carry PIP coverage
These are all additional coverages you can purchase as part of your auto insurance policy, though some states require drivers to carry UIM or PIP. UIM can potentially offer significant levels of coverage, allowing you to purchase $100,000 or more towards medical expenses if you carry high levels of liability insurance.
MedPay and PIP are often much smaller amounts of coverage, sometimes as little as $2,000, so consider your needs carefully when choosing additional insurance coverage to protect you in case you are injured in an accident.
How do the victims' medical bills get paid when I am at-fault in an accident?
The law in almost every state requires drivers to carry bodily injury and property damage liability insurance to protect other people from damage you might cause in an accident. However, state minimum insurance requirements are often very low, which means you might not have enough coverage to pay for the damage you caused if you choose the minimum required levels of insurance.
For example, the minimum insurance levels in New Jersey are $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident for bodily injury liability and $5,000 per accident for property damage liability. If you choose these state minimum levels of coverage and cause a serious accident, you may find that you don’t have enough insurance to cover the damage.
You could be held responsible for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars if you don’t have enough insurance, which is why we recommend drivers carry a minimum of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident in bodily injury liability and $100,000 in property damage liability coverage.
Some states are considered no-fault states, which means drivers are required to carry PIP coverage to protect themselves in an accident. Drivers in these states file a claim with their own insurance company to pay for their medical expenses, but serious accidents often go beyond the level of PIP coverage available and drivers who are at fault in an accident still need to carry liability coverage to pay for anything that goes beyond the other person’s PIP coverage.
What happens if auto insurance won’t pay medical bills?
It doesn’t happen often, but there are some limited situations where an insurance company would deny a claim for injuries. For example, if your accident happened while you were driving illegally or breaking the law, your insurance company could potentially choose to deny that claim, because you violated your agreement with them.
So what do you do when the auto insurance company denies your claim?
Use your additional coverage - If someone else hit you and the claim with their insurance was denied, PIP or MedPay can help you pay your medical bills
Use your health insurance - If none of the auto insurance coverages are available to you, you can submit claims to your health insurance. In fact, in many instances, car accidents can take months or even years to be finalized, so you might need to file claims through your health insurance and let the insurance companies figure out who needs to be reimbursed after the dust has settled
Go to court - If you believe the insurance company has wrongly denied your claim or the other driver didn’t have insurance, you can take them to court. This isn’t a guarantee, however, and could take years, so this may not be the best option for everyone
Negotiate your bills - If you don’t have health insurance and the auto insurance company has denied the claim, you may be able to work with the hospital to negotiate your bills or work out a payment program
What does medical payments coverage actually cover?
What is medical payments coverage, exactly? We mentioned above that MedPay is an optional coverage that gives you extra funds towards medical bills for you and your passengers in an accident, but what does that mean?
MedPay can be used to pay for a number of things, including:
Health insurance costs, including deductibles and copays
Doctor or hospital visits
Surgery, X-rays, and prosthetic limbs/parts
Emergency room costs
Professional nursing services
MedPay tends to be a small amount of coverage, generally somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000, but this is often enough to cover deductibles and copays you might otherwise have paid out-of-pocket or provide coverage for things that are specifically excluded from your health insurance.
What is the difference between PIP, medical payments coverage, and bodily injury liability coverage?
PIP, MedPay, and bodily injury liability coverage are three different ways to pay for injuries caused by a car accident.
PIP may be required, optional, or unavailable in your state, depending on insurance laws and regulations. It could be available in amounts as low as $3,000 or as high as $250,000, depending on where you live. PIP can also be used to pay for medically-adjacent expenses, such as lost wages due to your injuries.
Medical payments coverage
MedPay is an optional coverage that can be used to pay for medical expenses for you and your passengers in an accident, no matter who is at fault. This can be helpful if you are the one at fault for an accident, which means liability coverage isn’t available to pay for your injuries.
Bodily injury liability coverage
Liability coverage doesn’t pay for your injuries.
Bodily injury liability coverage protects you financially if you are at fault in an accident by paying for the medical expenses, pain and suffering, funeral costs, and other expenses incurred by the driver and passengers in the other vehicle. The biggest difference between bodily injury coverage and the other coverages discussed above is that bodily injury coverage only applies to the other driver and their passengers.
It is important to remember that if you don’t have bodily injury liability insurance (or you carry low levels of coverage) you will still be responsible for damages you cause in an accident. You could have your paycheck garnished or lose your home in court to pay for your financial responsibilities, so it is important to have enough liability coverage.