Liability insurance is designed to offer specific protection against third-party insurance claims, i.e., payment is not typically made to the insured, but rather to someone suffering loss who is not a party to the insurance contract. In general, damage caused intentionally as well as contractual liability are not covered under liability insurance policies. When a claim is made, the insurance carrier has the duty (and right) to defend the insured. The legal costs of a defence normally do not affect policy limits unless the policy expressly states otherwise; this default rule is useful because defence costs tend to soar when cases go to trial. In many cases, the defense portion of the policy is actually more valuable than the insurance, as in complicated cases, the cost of defending the case might be more than the amount being claimed, especially in so-called "nuisance" cases where there is no liability but the case has to be defended anyway.
Commercial liability is an important segment for the insurance industry. With premium income of USD 160 billion in 2013, it accounted for 10% of global non-life premiums of USD 1 550 billion, or 23% of the global commercial lines premiums. Liability insurance is far more prevalent in the advanced than emerging markets. The advanced markets accounted for 93% of global liability premiums in 2013, while their share of global non-life premiums was 79%.
The US is by far the largest market, with 51% of the global liability premiums written in 2013. This is due to the size of the US economy and high penetration of liability insurance (0.5% of GDP). In 2013, US businesses spent USD 84 billion on commercial liability covers, of which USD 50 billion was on general liability, including USD 12 billion for Errors and Omissions (E&O) and USD 5.4 billion for Directors and Officers (D&O). US businesses spent another USD 13 billion on the liability portion of commercial multi-peril policies, USD 9.5 billion for medical malpractice and USD 3 billion for product liability covers.
The UK is the world’s second largest market for liability insurance, with USD 9.9 billion of liability premiums in 2013. The largest sub-line of business is public and product liability. This is followed by professional indemnity and employers’ liability (cover for employment-related accidents and illnesses). There has been a significant shift in the sub-segments of UK liability insurance. In the last decade, the share of professional indemnity has increased from about 14% to 32%, highlighting the shift towards a more services-driven economy. Manufacturing, meanwhile, comprises a lower share of liability claims as accidents related to injuries and property damages have declined.
In continental Europe, the largest liability insurance markets are Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Together they made up almost USD 22 billion of global liability premiums in 2013. Typically governed by civil law systems, these markets rely on local conditions and historical experience to determine which liability policies and covers are available. Penetration ranges from 0.16% to 0.25%, which is low compared to the common law countries such as the US, the UK and Australia.