Personal accident cover

Personal accident cover could offer compensation if you're badly hurt in an accident. We outline its benefits and limitations.

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Nobody knows what’s around the corner but accidents do happen, sometimes with serious consequences for you or your loved ones. If you sustain significant injuries or die as a result of a vehicle accident, you might assume that your car insurance policy would pay compensation. However, that’s not always the case. Here’s what you should know about personal accident cover.

What is car insurance personal accident cover?

Personal accident cover pays out compensation, usually as a fixed lump sum, if your vehicle is involved in a serious accident that results in you or (in some cases) your passengers being seriously injured, disabled or killed. It’s also known as personal injury cover.

It’s often sold alongside car insurance. Some policies include it as standard while others include it as an optional extra.

How does personal accident cover work?

If you’re involved in an accident and another driver is at fault, you will generally be able to claim against their car insurance.

However, in some cases, you may be at fault. Or, sometimes, no one may be held responsible for an accident. This is when personal accident cover can help. It offers you a way to seek financial compensation from your own insurer for medical costs incurred or lost income for you or your family if you die or are unable to work.

Do I need personal accident cover?

Danny Butler

Finder insurance expert Danny Butler answers

Having at least third party car insurance is mandatory. It covers the cost of harm to other people or property following an accident that’s your fault. However, there’s no such legal requirement to protect yourself against such risks by taking out personal accident cover.

But while you don’t legally need it, it’s worth considering the potential implications of not having it. For example, you might want to look for a car insurance policy that includes it, or pay extra for it, in the following situations:

  • You’d struggle to pay for medical or other costs following an accident. While, in the UK, most essential medical treatment is free on the NHS at the point of need, certain treatments (such as some rehab) may come with costs attached. And should you be disabled in an accident, you might need to pay for adaptations to your home or car, for example.
  • You or your family would find it difficult to live without your income if you were unable to work following a car accident.
  • You don’t want your family to have to cope with the loss of your income or expenses for your funeral if you died in an accident.

What does personal accident cover include?

Personal accident cover only protects against genuinely serious harm that has a significant impact on you or your family. You are unlikely to be covered for minor scrapes or breaks, for example.

Each insurer will have its own guidelines on precisely what is covered under personal accident cover. But in general, you’ll be insured against the following:

  • Death
  • Significant injuries resulting in disablement
  • Significant injuries resulting in loss of a limb or loss of the use of a limb
  • Permanent blindness.

Some might also include injury that results in significant burn damage or scarring, plus loss of hearing, loss of fingers or toes, or loss of speech.

The payment you receive, usually as a lump sum, is likely to depend on the nature of the harm and the impact on you and your loved ones. Almost all policies have a cap on the maximum amount they will pay.

What isn’t covered under a personal accident policy?

An insurer will set its own exclusions and restrictions for the personal accident cover it offers. As always, you need to read the small print carefully.

Given that it only pays out for serious injury or death, you won’t get cover for (relatively) minor injuries that don’t have a long-term impact. So sprains and broken arms probably won’t be covered. Psychological trauma may also be excluded. And you may struggle to find a personal accident policy that covers certain treatments, such as physiotherapy.

Some policies also have specified limits. For example, some may not cover people over the age of 80. Others may only cover the driver and their partner, rather than everyone in the car.

Other exclusions are fairly universal and are linked to your driving behaviour. You’re likely to see any personal accident claim declined in the following situations:

  • You were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • You were driving without a valid licence
  • You were driving without wearing a seatbelt
  • You were driving recklessly
  • You were participating in sporting or racing activities
  • The injuries were self-inflicted (for example, you crashed the car intentionally).

Finally, most policies need the accident to be the sole and direct cause of whatever injury followed. If factors other than the accident caused or were the most important factor in the death or injury – such as an underlying health condition or existing disability – this may not be covered. For example, if someone has a heart attack at the wheel, has an accident and later dies, it may be deemed that the heart attack, rather than the accident, was the major contributing factor.

In practice, such matters are rarely clear cut and could result in you receiving a partial payout. If you disagree with an insurer’s verdict, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

Is personal accident cover included as standard with all car insurance policies?

While many comprehensive car insurance policies include some level of personal accident cover as standard, it’s not universal. And lower-level policies, such as third party or third party, fire and theft insurance, rarely or never include personal accident cover.

If an insurer doesn’t include personal accident cover as standard, it may include it as an optional extra that can be purchased to enhance your policy.

Don’t automatically assume that personal accident cover is included in your policy. It’s best to check. If it is included, check the details carefully to see exactly what protection it offers in case you’d like to increase the level of cover.

How do I add personal accident cover to my car insurance policy?

When you get an insurance quote, it should state whether personal accident cover is included as standard and the cost of adding it as an optional extra. On price comparison sites, this will often be clearly laid out with a tick, cross or cost to add it for each provider on the results page.

If it’s not included as standard, and you want it, simply tick the box to add it when you buy your cover.

If you decide you want to add it to your policy part way through your insurance term, this should also be possible. Just get in touch with your insurer.

Can I take out personal accident cover separately from car insurance?

Yes. In the event that your car insurer doesn’t offer personal accident cover at all, or if you’re just not happy with the price or level of cover it offers, you can take out a standalone personal accident policy.

While the overall types of harm covered are likely to be similar (so serious injury, disability or death), standalone policies have the potential to offer the following:

  • Higher payout limits
  • Cover for a wider range of injuries and treatments
  • Cover for the whole family, rather than just you and your partner
  • More causes of accidents – such as accidents at work or in the home as well as car accidents.

As always, exactly what is and isn’t covered will vary by insurer. And you’re likely to pay more for standalone, more comprehensive cover than you would by adding personal accident cover to your car insurance.

    How much does personal accident cover cost?

    If it’s not already a standard part of a car insurance policy, you can typically expect to pay around £15-£30 to add it on.

    Standalone cover is likely to be a little pricier as it often offers better coverage – probably a few pounds a month.

    What should I look out for when taking out personal accident cover?

    Ask yourself the following questions about what you need, and look for a policy that ticks as many boxes as possible.

    • What level of payout do you ideally want? Some policies only give you a lump sum of a few thousand pounds, which might not go very far. If you think you need a bigger payout, you may need to pay a bit more for standalone cover. Or, if your main priority is financial protection for your loved ones if you die, consider life insurance.
    • What types of injury do you want cover for? Every insurer has its own list. Some will only cover the most serious harm – such as the loss of a limb. Others will also cover the loss of fingers or toes, for example.
    • Do you want cover for your whole family? Some policies will only cover named drivers. Others will cover your partner or entire family.
    • Do you want protection if you’re driving overseas? If you regularly take your car to Europe, for example, check if personal accident cover applies abroad.

    The other thing to check for is the situations you’ll be covered in. You’ll always be covered if you’re behind the wheel when an accident happens (subject to the exclusions we’ve outlined above). Some policies also cover you if you’re getting out of your car when an accident happens or if you’re waiting for help by the roadside.

    How can I save on personal accident cover?

    • Opt for a car insurance policy that includes it as standard. This effectively makes the personal accident cover itself free. That said, don’t rule out cheaper car insurance policies that don’t include it but that meet your other needs. It may prove more cost-effective overall to buy the cheaper car insurance and add on personal accident cover.
    • Shop around for standalone cover. As with any insurance, costs will vary. If you’ve decided to buy personal accident cover separately from your car insurance, always compare quotes.
    • Avoid false economising. This tip won’t save you money here and now, but don’t skimp too much on cover to save costs. A few extra pounds now on a higher-quality policy could increase your chances of a payout or increase the amount you get in the event of an accident.

    How do I make a claim on personal accident cover?

    If you or one of your passengers have been hurt in a car accident, the top priority is obviously to get medical attention.

    Keep hold of any medical documentation generated, as you (or, in the worst case, your loved ones) will need this to make a claim. You may also be asked to provide any other evidence of costs related to your injury (such as receipts).

    Contact your insurer as soon as possible to report the accident and start the claims process. If the accident was another driver’s fault, the claim should be paid by their insurer. Otherwise, you will need to follow your own insurer’s claims process. There’s a good chance that if you were involved in an accident in your car that you will be claiming for damage to your car as well as under your personal accident policy.

    There’s no fixed period for an insurance company to pay out, as personal accident cases can be complex.

    If you’re not happy with your provider’s initial response, follow its complaints process. If this is unsuccessful, after 8 weeks, you can escalate your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

    Pros and cons of personal accident cover

    Pros

    • Often included as standard in comprehensive car insurance policies
    • Offers peace of mind that you or your loved ones will get a lump sum if you’re badly injured or die in a car accident
    • Can compensate for loss of income

    Cons

    • You’ll need to pay extra for cover with some comprehensive and most lower level car insurance policies
    • Maximum payouts are usually capped, sometimes at a few thousand pounds
    • Definitions of “serious injury” can vary substantially between insurers

    Bottom line

    Personal accident cover can be a valuable element of car insurance. It can offer compensation for expenses incurred and loss of income if you’re seriously injured or die in an accident. Whether it’s included as standard in your cover or an optional extra, if it’s important to you, check the level and quality of cover carefully to make sure it delivers everything you need. If you’re not happy with your car insurer’s policy or it doesn’t offer personal accident cover, a standalone policy may have fewer restrictions.

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