What Is Property and Casualty Insurance?
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Property and casualty (P&C) insurance is an umbrella term for various insurance products that protect your home, car or another type of asset against loss or damage. P&C insurance can cover you for personal liability in case you’re held responsible for another person's injuries or damages and losses to their property.
Since P&C insurance applies to drivers, homeowners, renters, business owners and more, you're bound to purchase a policy at some point in your life. This beginner's guide will break down the property and casualty insurance basics and the different types of coverage.
How Does Property and Casualty Insurance Work?
When you take out an insurance policy, you pay premiums to the insurance company in exchange for coverage against specific losses, like fire damage, theft and liability. Logistically, the purpose of paying premiums is to divide the risk among all the policyholders, thereby reducing the risk for everybody. That way, when you experience a covered loss, you can file an insurance claim to help pay for your damages.
Consider this (super) simplified example:
You're one of 1,000 auto insurance policyholders and you each paid a $1 premium. The insurance company now has $1,000 in premiums total. Now, let's say you get into a car accident and it costs $100 in repairs so you file a claim, which is approved. You paid only $1 but benefited from $100 in coverage because the risk and financial burden were shared among the 999 other policyholders.
P&C insurance gives people the means to recoup some of their losses (on covered claims) — drivers can offset the costs of repairing their vehicle after a car accident and business owners can pay for expensive legal fees if sued. However, keep in mind that many property insurance policies require that you meet a deductible before coverage kicks in. That means if you have a $500 deductible, you must pay that first and then your insurance company will pay toward the rest.
Fun fact: P&C insurance underwriting as we know today may have started as early as 1735 when the first fire insurance firm was formed, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Beyond fire damage, today's insurance policies now protect against theft, natural disasters, vehicle collisions, injuries and more.
Types of Property and Casualty Insurance
Property and casualty coverage can vary by the type of insurance policy you carry. Below, we’ve summarized some common types of insurance.
Legally required in most states, auto insurance protects you and your vehicle against damages and liability after suffering an accident. Additional coverage can protect against theft, vandalism and more.
Protects your home and personal belongings against covered perils, including fire and theft. Liability coverages would pay for damages or medical bills when somebody is injured while on your property.
Provides personal property coverage (e.g., your electronics, furniture). Liability coverage is often included, which would pay for property damages or medical bills if somebody is injured while inside your unit.
Pays for damages to the interior of your unit and medical payments for those injured while on your property.
Can protect the company against various risks, including lawsuits, loss of income, business property damage, bodily injury, advertising injury, malpractice, negligence and more.
Pays for damages and liability costs related to owned income-generating property. Coverage includes specific perils, like fire, and the landlord benefits from liability protection when a tenant is injured while on the property.
Provides additional liability coverage when the limits in your other insurance policies are insufficient. For example, if you’re liable in a car accident but don’t have enough coverage, umbrella insurance would pay toward the difference.
What Does Property and Casualty Insurance Cover?
Property-type losses that are commonly covered in a homeowners, condo and commercial property insurance policy include:
- Fire and lightning
- Windstorm and hail
- Riot or civil commotion
- Damage by aircraft or vehicle
- Volcanic eruption
- Falling objects
Of course, the scope and type of coverage you get will largely depend on the type of policy you’ve purchased. For example, home insurance can uniquely cover damages resulting from a home appliance suddenly leaking, while auto can insure your car for damages resulting from a car accident. Machinery and inventory will be covered in a commercial property policy but not a home insurance policy.
In addition, certain policies will cover only certain types of liability losses. For example, auto insurance will cover you for liability for accidents that occur while you were driving your car, while commercial insurance covers third-party losses that can be traced back to your business activity.
What Isn’t Covered?
All insurance policies will carry exclusions, which are types of losses that are not covered by the insurance company. While these will vary by policy and carrier, the below types of losses will be excluded in many standard policies:
- Intentional damages
- Losses resulting from wear and tear or lack of maintenance
- Floods and earthquakes
- Fraudulent activity
- Nuclear hazards
- Pests and infestations
It should be noted that some of the losses listed above may be covered by purchasing a specific type of policy. For example, homeowners insurance excludes coverage for floods and earthquakes but it is possible to buy a standalone flood policy and standalone earthquake policy.
How Much Property and Casualty Insurance Do I Need?
The amount of P&C coverage you need to buy will largely depend on the value of the property you are insuring and your risk exposure. Using homeowners insurance as an example, you must buy enough dwelling coverage to rebuild your home if it is completely destroyed by a covered peril like a fire or windstorm. In addition, most policies come with a minimum of $100,000 in personal liability coverage but you may want to increase to around $300,000 to $500,000, especially if you have high-risk attractive nuisances on your property like a swimming pool or trampoline.
How Much Does Property and Casualty Insurance Cost?
The cost you can expect to pay will change based on the type of P&C policy you are buying. For example, in 2020, homeowners paid $1,311 per year on average for homeowners insurance and drivers paid $1,176.18 for an auto policy with full coverage. Meanwhile, renters insurance is relatively cheap, costing less than $15 per month on average.
Actual rates will vary based on several risk factors, which will vary by the type of policy you’re buying. The cost of homeowners insurance, for instance, will consider your home’s rebuild cost, the condition of your roof and when it was built. Meanwhile, auto insurance prices are based on your driving record, the type of car you drive and your age.
How To Get P&C Insurance
Regardless of whichever type of casualty and property insurance policy you’re buying, it’s always a good idea to shop around before choosing a carrier. Insurance companies use different underwriting methodologies and by comparing at least three to five quotes, you may find that one carrier offers a cheaper quote than another for the same level of coverage. That said, price is just one factor and you should also look at reviews, customer satisfaction scores and financial ratings in your considerations.