Bodily Injury

Xray of a knee in blue with red highlighting the injury
Image courtesy of [Peter Dazeley] / Getty Images.

Many commercial liability policies use the word bodily injury. This article will explain what the term means.

Definition of Bodily Injury

The word bodily injury appears in most commercial auto, general liability and commercial umbrella policies. Many of these policies contain the same definition of this term as the standard ISO Commercial General Liability (CGL) policy. The CGL states that bodily injury means:

bodily injury, sickness or disease sustained by a person, including death resulting from any of these at any time

Note that bodily injury includes illness and disease as well as physical injury. It also includes death, if death results from bodily injury, sickness or disease. Death that results from unexplained causes may not qualify as bodily injury.

Mental Injuries

Some general liability policies contain a broader definition of bodily injury than the one found in the ISO CGL. In these policies, bodily injury may include one or more of the following: shock, fright, mental injury, mental anguish, or humiliation. When psychological injuries are included, they are generally covered only if they result from a physical injury.

For example, suppose that Bob is shopping in a home improvement store. A store employee is using a forklift to move some heavy boxes when he accidentally crashes into Bob.

Bob's leg is badly injured in the accident and must be amputated. Bob suffers mental anguish at the loss of his leg. He sues the home store for physical injury and mental anguish. The store is insured under a general liability policy that includes mental anguish in the definition of bodily injury. Because Bob's mental anguish stemmed from his physical injury, he may receive compensation for both the physical injury and his mental anguish.

The standard ISO definition of bodily injury makes no mention of psychological injuries like mental anguish and shock. Could they be considered bodily injury anyway? The answer depends on two factors: state law and the existence of a physical injury. In some states, mental injuries that result from physical injuries may be considered bodily injury. In most states, however, mental injuries that occur in the absence of physical injury don't qualify as bodily injury.

For example, Bob (in the previous scenario) is shopping at the store when he sees a forklift approaching. The store employee who is driving the vehicle doesn't see Bob. Bob watches in horror as the forklift comes straight toward him. The vehicle is about to slam into Bob's leg when the employee sees Bob. He swerves at the last second, missing Bob my a hair. Bob suffers anxiety attacks as a result of the near-miss. He sues the store for mental anguish.

Even if the store's liability policy includes mental anguish in its definition of bodily injury, Bob's claim isn't likely to be covered. Bob didn't suffer any physical injuries. Mental injuries that occur in the absence of a physical injury don't generally qualify as bodily injury.

The rule regarding mental-only injuries has some exceptions. In a few states, courts have determined that purely psychological injuries may constitute bodily injury. In these states, mental stress, anxiety or other mental injuries may qualify as bodily injury even if the mental injury didn't result from a physical injury.

Umbrella Policies

Many commercial umbrella policies contain a broader definition of bodily injury than the ISO CGL. In these policies, bodily injury is likely to include some type of psychological injury such as mental anguish. Most umbrellas limit coverage to mental injuries that result from physical injuries.

Note that many umbrellas include a self-insured retention (SIR). The SIR applies to claims covered by the umbrella but not by underlying insurance. If your umbrella covers mental injuries but your general liability policy does not, the SIR will apply to a bodily injury claim that alleges mental injuries.

Bodily Injury Versus Personal Injury

Finally, lawyers often refer to bodily injury as "personal injury." In the legal professional a "personal injury attorney" represents individuals who have been physically or mentally injured in an accident caused by someone else's negligence.

Attorneys' use of the word "personal injury" can confuse policyholders and insurance professionals alike. In the insurance industry, the term "personal injury" has an entirely different meaning. In a general liability policy, personal injury is a defined term. The definition includes various intentional acts like libel, slander, ‚Äčand false arrest. Both personal injury and advertising injury are covered under Personal and Advertising Injury Liability.