Bodily Injury Insurance – What Does it Cover?

Sixteen year old Sally is southbound on I-5 near Eugene, Oregon. She hears a ring and knows she has just received a text message. After rustling through her purse, she finds her phone and checks the message. Her best friend Jane, back in Washington, has just seen Steven, Sally’s latest crush, at the Vancouver Mall.”Should I talk to him?” Jane wants to know.Sally has to be in Ashland in three hours so stopping is out of the question. And besides, she has no problem texting and driving. She could do it blindfolded.Minutes later Farmer Tom, who is harvesting ryegrass seed, is blindsided by Sally’s red VW bug. Farmer Tom spends five weeks in the hospital and misses the high point of the seed harvesting season.Back home in Vancouver Sally peruses her auto insurance policy and wonders: “BI – Bodily Injury, what does this cover?”The policy says it will “pay damages which an insured becomes legally liable to pay because of bodily injury to others caused by accident resulting from the ownership or use of your car.”Hmm…thinks Sally…what are “damages?”DAMAGES DEFINEDBlack’s Law Dictionary defines damages as “a sum of money awarded to a person because of the [wrongful act] of another.”"OK, so “damages” just means money,” Sally rightfully concludes.”But how do the courts decide what money to award?”TYPES OF DAMAGESDamages, says the Blacks Law Dictionary, come in three broad classes: actual, nominal and punitiveNominal damages are those awarded where a right has been violated but there is no substantial injury. When Sally drove on to the farmer’s field that was a trespass. Had she done so with no loss to the land or equipment or farmer that would have entitled the farmer to nominal damages (usually one dollar) for trespass.Punitive damages also known as exemplary damages are intended to punish the defendant. They may be awarded where the conduct of the defendant was particularly wicked. Had Sally intentionally drove off the road to run over the farmer a jury in Lane County, Oregon might award punitive damages against her.Actual damages also known as compensatory damages are those awarded for actual or real loss or injury. This is what bodily injury insurance most commonly covers. In most auto accident cases, actual damages break down into general damages and special damages.SPECIAL DAMAGESThese, says Blacks Law Dictionary, are the “actual result of the injury complained of, by reason of special circumstances or conditions.” Special damages are easily quantifiable. In a bodily injury case three important special damage components are medical, lost income, and household services.Medical ExpensesThis includes hospital visits, prescriptions, and neck braces. Medical expenses need to be reasonable and necessary. Juries may trim down the medical expenses they consider excessive. If Farmer Tom ran up a $10,000 chiropractic bill the jury might decide he overtreated and cut the bill down to $3,000.Farmer Tom might have a hard time sleeping after the crash and insist on a new mattress prescribed by his family doctor. This would be a hard sell to convince a jury that this was a necessary medical expense relating to the accident.Lost IncomeFarmer Tom hired family members and friends to complete the seed harvest so the crop was not lost. The additional expenses he incurred reduced his profits and so he would have a claim against Sally for lost income. This would be covered by her bodily injury policy.Household ServicesFarmer Tom and his wife are very progressive and so divide up the household tasks. He is responsible for mowing the lawn and washing the cars on Saturday. To replace himself in these tasks Tom had to hire a neighbor boy. The money paid for these services would be recoverable by Tom in a personal injury claim against Sally so this would be covered by her bodily injury policy.GENERAL DAMAGESThese are the difficult to quantify side of bodily injury damages. What is commonly known as “pain and suffering” comes under this category. Loss of enjoyment of life also falls under this category. General damages is often roughly calculated using a multiplier such as 1x, 2x, 3x times the reasonable and necessary medical expenses.ATTORNEY FEESIf you are sued by someone after an accident, your bodily injury coverage will also pay for an attorney to defend you. These lawyers, known as “insurance defense attorneys” will be hired by your insurance company for you.SUMMARYBodily injury coverage protects you if you are sued after causing physical injury to another. The coverage extends to anyone using your car with your permission. Your coverage also protects you if you are driving someone else’s car with permission.The basic elements covered include medical expenses, lost wages, household services, pain and suffering, and attorney fees to hire an attorney to defend you.

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