By Jessica Lowy
Stuttgart Law Center
Q: My German neighbor was surprised to learn I don’t have liability insurance. What is this and how does it work in Germany?
A: Most Germans have what is called Haftpflichtversicherung (third-party private liability insurance), usually unheard of by most Americans. This type of insurance provides coverage to you and any insured member of your family in the event one of you commits any act that a German court would consider negligent.
It is important to have this type of insurance because while German courts are usually reasonable when assessing damages, under German law, there is no cap on the amount of damages an individual can be assessed for the negligent acts he commits, even those committed innocently.
Say for example you go skiing in Garmisch and accidentally collide with another skier, who later claims you caused him bodily injury, or you are shopping with your children and one of them breaks something on display in the store. In these types of cases, Haftpflichtversicherung would provide you with a certain level of protection for damage you cause, including personal injury.
Haftpflichtversicherung does not cover damage you cause to yourself, your family members, or your own property, or anything for which a separate insurance plan is available, such as health insurance, auto insurance or personal property insurance. The good news is that even a high level of coverage is relatively inexpensive. Keep in mind that insurance policies here in Germany work just like other contracts, i.e., policies with terms longer than one year cannot be cancelled before the term of policy lapses. Therefore, it is best to obtain an annually renewable policy with as much coverage as you feel you can afford. That way, if you find a better policy later on, you’ll be able to switch.
Do not confuse Haftpflichtversicherung with Rechtsschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance). This type of insurance covers an attorney’s retainer, which has to be paid in advance and is based on the amount of money in dispute. Rechtsschutzversicherung most commonly covers costs and fees associated with landlord-tenant disputes, disputes over traffic accidents and violations, and claims for personal injury or property damage. Divorce and matters of inheritance are normally not covered. So if someone causes you injury or damages your property and refuses to compensate you through their Haftpflichtversicherung, you can pursue the claim through your Rechtsschutzversicherung.
To inquire about purchasing German insurance, speak to an insurance broker.
This column is not intended as individual or specific legal advice. If you have specific issues or concerns, you should consult a judge advocate at 421-4152/civ. 0711-729-4152.