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Why doesn't anybody provide 3rd party liability insurance for the ordinary Joe?

A reader submitted the following question to us, and we think it's a GREAT question. So we'll do our best to answer it for him and anyone else out there with a similar question.

"Why doesn't ANYBODY provide 3rd party liability insurance for the ordinary Joe? I'm not a business but I like to work on cars, play golf, fly model planes, etc. If anyone got hurt by my activities and wanted to sue me, I'd need insurance but NOBODY wants to provide it. Every place I try wants to know what my business is. I'm NOT running a business!! I can't believe I'm the only person that wants this type of cover." Reader question

Why liability insurance for individuals is hard to get

First of all, what is liability insurance? 3rd party liability insurance covers situations where there's property damage or personal injury, and someone other than the injured party is at fault. For example, if someone is accidentally injured due to the action (or inaction) of somebody else, the insurance would cover a related claim.

This type of cover is pretty cheap and easy to buy for businesses (where it's called public liability insurance).

Can an individual buy this type of protection, too—and do they need it?

An individual might be interested in having liability insurance if they're engaged in activities that could potentially cause personal injury to someone else or damage to someone else's property—like our reader's activities of working on cars, playing golf, flying model planes, etc.

But as our reader found, the market is not set up for readily selling 3rd party liability insurance to individuals. In short, this is because the ordinary Joe can’t afford it. There are a few related reasons that individuals (unlike businesses) will have trouble buying liability insurance insurance:

  • Lack of information about risk that's needed to price policies
  • Lack of insurers willing to insure individuals against liability
  • Individual liability insurance policies are expensive

Let's dig into these factors...

Lack of risk information needed to price policies

When insurers price up policies, they look at historic risk and historic costs associated with those risks. In the case of businesses or common events (e.g. weddings, concerts, sports games, etc.), there is a long history of information available from similar businesses and/or historic events that gives insurers an idea of how likely a certain incident is to occur (e.g. a fire, a broken bone, etc.) and how much a claim will cost them.

Insurers can use this history to inform their prices. So, for example, if there is a slip and fall injury occurring at every 2nd concert that costs an insurer £1,000, then insurers know they need to charge at least £500 per concert to break even.

Businesses similarly are a wealth of data on risk and incidents, and they often have no choice but to buy insurance thanks to contractual obligations, regulatory requirements (e.g. professional indemnity insurance) and even the law (e.g. employer's liability insurance), so they add to the pool of risk knowledge all the time.

Add to this that employees of businesses are trained and experienced at what they do—as professionals, they are better able to minimise risk so insurers can bring the cost per policy down. Having said this, business liability insurance can still start from a couple of hundred pounds and climb into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds for certain businesses.

In your case, your insurer would need to either ask exhaustive questions, and then impose such restrictions on you that you wouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to do anything, and then still charge a high premium to account for the time taken to understand the nature of your risk, or they'd need to cover you for everything and that would cost even more!

(The one exception to this is motor insurance. The reason that this differs is that insurers have the long history and high number of incidents of traffic accidents and records to inform the price. Automotive policies can therefore be brought to an affordable level, but we all know they aren’t really cheap, they are seen more like a necessary evil by most purchasers.)

Lack of insurers willing to insure individuals against liability

Based on the above, it's not hard to understand why it's hard to find a liability policy for an individual.

That said, they may be hard to find but there are are underwriters who might be willing to take you on as a risk, e.g. a Lloyds broker. Lloyds have covered all sorts of odd things, so one of the underwriters there might be willing to give you a price for a policy. We suspect it'd be hard to find cover elsewhere, but if anyone reading this has had luck, please let us know in the comments section below.

Individual liability insurance policies are expensive

The examples you give—working on cars, flying model planes, playing golf—are all quite different activities with different levels of risk. The types of injuries or property damage you might accidentally cause will vary considerably depending on the activity and also the skill level of the participant, making assessment and prediction of the risk you present extremely difficult.

And then what if you take up a new hobby? Boomerang throwing, medieval re-enactment, or garage door installation? Your policy would need to cover you for almost every imaginable accident, incident or damage you could cause to others or their property. Building that risk into a policy takes time and costs money.

To get an insurance policy that covers an individual against liability, you would need an underwriter to craft a bespoke policy for you (costly), or give you a ‘catch all’ policy to cover any kind of risk (even more costly). The thing is, most ordinary Joes aren’t willing to pay the minimum £1,000+ for a liability policy that would factor in the time of the underwriters (who themselves pay thousands per day to retain a table inside the Lloyds building) and that would cover the risks (or even any eventuality).

As a result, most insurance companies and brokers simply won’t entertain a request for liability cover from private individuals, as they have learned from experience that after going through a complex process, they rarely end up selling a policy.

How to get liability cover for an individual

If you're involved in an activity that has the potential to cause personal injury to someone else or their property, liability insurance can help protect you. But if it's hard to buy individual liability insurance, what are you supposed to do?

There may be ways to get cover, but it'll depend on the activity and what kind of specialist cover exists for that activity, as well as the availability of clubs or organisations that can cover you.

Note, homeowners insurance typically includes homeowner's liability cover, but this only covers situations occurring on the property and will have exclusions (e.g. Admiral home insurance specifically excludes liability claims related to drone flying or sporting activity).

Do your activity at location that covers you

Hit someone on the head with a golf ball when you hit a long drive? If you're playing on a golf course, it's likely that you'll be covered for this via the venue's liability cover. That is, the responsibility might lie with a land owner or a club running an event.

If you're doing an activity, see if you can do it somewhere that will cover you—just in case.

Find a specialist activity insurer

You may be able to find specialist liability cover for certain activities—in particular, sports. For example, there are specialist cycling insurers that offer cover not only for things like theft, but also 3rd party liability. But the more niche your activity, the less likely it is that you'll find specialist insurance like this. Cycling is a very popular activity so it's no surprise that cover is available.

Join a club or organisation that will cover you

Depending on the activity, you might find a club or organisation that offers liability cover to its members.

For example, British Cycling and Cycling UK offer liability cover as standard to their members.

In summary

  • Insurers rely on historical data and risk assessments to determine policy prices, and there's generally a lack of this type of data for individuals.
  • Crafting specialized liability policies for private individuals can be costly and complex.
  • Engage in activities in controlled environments (like a golf course), find specialist insurance or join a club or organisation that offers liability cover. Or else you're taking personal responsibility.

I hope this answers your question but please let me know if I can elaborate or help with anything else


The guidance on this site is based on our own analysis and is meant to help you identify options and narrow down your choices. We do not advise or tell you which product to buy; undertake your own due diligence before entering into any agreement. Read our full disclosure here.