What is Liability and Negligence?

When does negligence affect liability? You ask. We explain.

Understanding when you are liable for something also involves being able to determine whether you are negligent. We've answered some of the most common questions about liability and negligence to help you understand both.

What is liability?

Being liable (having a liability) means you have a legal obligation to do something. In the case of an accident, you may have a liability to pay another person for damages you cause.

Does my insurance protect me from liability?

If your insurance policy includes liability coverage, you may have some protection from the liability associated with owning and driving a vehicle or owning a home. Check your policy to learn more about your specific liability coverage.

What does my liability coverage do?

Also known as Personal Liability Coverage or Third Party Insurance, liability coverage may protect you (or a covered family member) if you unintentionally damage someone's property or injure someone and are legally responsible for the damage.

What are some examples of liability?

Owning a vehicle or home come with individual liability issues. For example, if you own a vehicle and you:

  • back into your neighbor's mailbox.
  • rear-end another vehicle while approaching a stoplight.
  • are at fault in an accident.

In each case, you unintentionally caused damage and are legally responsible for that damage. That means you are liable.

You could also face liability if you own a home. For example, if you:

  • invite a guest for dinner and he or she trips on your rug and injures her hand in the fall.
  • have a pool and someone breaks an ankle while jumping your fence to swim in it.

If you have home insurance liability coverage, you may also be protected if the damage happens away from home. For example, if you are on vacation and you accidentally break a hotel room window, your home insurance may pay for the damages.

What is negligence?

Negligence means that you didn't demonstrate the appropriate amount of care or responsibility for the situation. The failure to take appropriate precautions can cause you to be considered liable for the damage. For example, if you fail to:

  • shovel snow from your sidewalk causing someone to slip and fall, you may be liable.
  • trim dead branches from a tree and allow them to fall on your neighbor's car, you may be liable.
  • warn the cable repairman that your dog dug holes in your backyard and he twists his ankle, you may be liable.

So, you may not have done anything to intentionally cause damage or harm – but because you didn't take the precautions that a reasonable person would in a similar situation, you may be considered negligent.

Will my insurance policy's liability coverage protect me if I am negligent?

This is where things vary by policy. It's important to know what your policy includes. Review your insurance policy and be sure you understand how negligence affects your coverage.

If you have specific questions about your liability coverage or what happens if you are negligent, contact your insurance company.