Negligence is a legal way of saying you screwed up. You crashed your car while texting, say, or your neighbor broke his leg because you didn't mop up that kitchen spill. Depending on how negligent you were and what sort of insurance is involved, you may be safe from the consequences of your errors, but it's not a slam-dunk.
If you're in a car accident, your insurance coverage varies depending on where you live and how much of the accident was your fault. In some states, if you're more than half responsible, you can't recover anything from the other driver's insurer; in a few states, if you're even slightly negligent you can't get damages. Other states fall in-between: if a court decides you're 60 percent at fault, you can still recover 40 percent of your loss.
If your state has no-fault auto insurance, the rules change yet again. In no-fault states, your coverage takes care of your own medical bills, up to the limits of the policy. If you have bigger bills, you'll need to go after the other driver after all. No-fault doesn't protect cars, so you'll need to take action against the other driver or use your own collision insurance to pay for any repairs.
Homeowners insurance includes coverage for hazards -- fire, wind, hail, theft -- and liability. The latter kicks in if you're responsible for an accident, as when someone stumbles over a hose on the lawn or your dog bites the mail carrier. Even if you were negligent, your insurance coverage protects you unless there's an exemption in the policy. If the case goes to court and you're found seriously negligent, however, the damages could run higher than your coverage.
When you file a claim with your insurer, there's always a risk that your premiums will go up. If your insurer decides your negligence cost the company money, the risk increases. After a dog bite case, for instance, an insurer may hike your homeowners insurance premiums, or tell you any future dog bites are no longer covered. If the damage is something you can handle on your own, you may be better off paying the bills yourself.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.