The Definition of Bodily Injury

Xray of a knee in blue with red highlighting an injury

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Many commercial liability policies use the words "bodily injury". This term appears in most commercial auto, general liability, and commercial umbrella policies. Many policies contain the same definition 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." 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 does not usually qualify.

 Mental Anguish As the Result of Bodily Injury 

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

For example, suppose that Bob is shopping in a home improvement store and a store employee is using a forklift to move some heavy boxes. The employee accidentally crashes into Bob. Bob's leg is badly injured in the accident and must be amputated.

Bob suffers mental anguish over the loss of his leg. He sues the home store for both 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 will most likely receive compensation for both the physical injury and his mental anguish.

"Stand-Alone" Mental Anguish 

The standard ISO definition of bodily injury makes no mention of psychological injuries like shock. Could they be considered bodily injury anyway?

Suppose that Bob notices the forklift approaching as he's shopping in the store. The store employee 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 finally notices Bob. He swerves at the last second, missing Bob by 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 because Bob didn't suffer any physical injuries. 

The rule regarding mental-only injuries does have some exceptions. In a few states, courts have determined that purely psychological injuries can constitute bodily injury. Mental stress, anxiety, or other mental issues can qualify as bodily injury in these states 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. Nevertheless, most umbrellas limit coverage to mental injuries that result from physical injuries.

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

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

Attorneys' use of the words personal injury can confuse policyholders and insurance professionals alike. This is because personal injury has an entirely different meaning in the insurance industry than it does in the legal profession. In a general liability policy, personal injury is included in personal and advertising injury, a defined term that encompasses various intentional acts like libel, slander, and false arrest. Such acts are covered under personal and advertising injury liability.