Last-Minute Halloween Liability Issues

Halloween is scary enough, we don’t mean to add to your fright, but if you are a homeowner or an apartment dweller, there are some safety precautions you should take to greet the little ghosts and goblins who will be ringing your bell or roaming the streets.

A few years ago, Christopher Boggs wrote a great Guide to Homeowners Liability for Injury to Trick or Treaters. He notes:

When the porch light is on, trick-or-treaters are considered invitees; the homeowner is inviting them onto the property (though not for a mutual benefit). Because of this relationship, the homeowner owes the candy seekers the level of “reasonable” care that falls under Ordinary Negligence.

Now anytime you have anyone visit your home, they could suffer an injury or an accident – that’s why you have insurance. But on Halloween, a steady stream of small feet traipsing across your porch in the dark increases the risk. Plus, you are giving out food.

Here are some tips to minimize Halloween hazards and reduce your risk.

  • Keep porches and walkways well-lit and free of debris and clutter that might be tripping hazards
  • Put reflective tape on your steps and along your walkway
  • When decorating, avoid candles – use LED lights and battery-powered lights instead.
  • Keep pets away from kids to avoid bites, scares or allergic reactions. Even friendly pets can be overexcited or upset by the unusual activity and may be skittish or overly protective.
  • Avoid mystery treats. Distribute labeled treats and tell parents what they are and if they contain nuts.
  • Provide alternative allergy-free treats – consider small non-food trinkets.
  • Be cautious about any spooky pranks for kids or guests – make sure they are safe and not too scary to young children.
  • If you are hosting an adult party, you have particular responsibility to take care in the serving of alcoholic beverages. See our post on holiday parties and liability issues.
  • If you are driving any time on Halloween, be super cautious. Little monsters may be out at any hour and frequenting normally quiet neighborhoods. Be particularly cautious at dusk an early evening.

Protect your home and car too!

Halloween is a huge night for vandalism. Here are a few tips to protect your property from fire, theft and vandalism.

    • Don’t overload electrical circuits with lights.
    • Paper and dried plant decorations can easily ignite. Keep them away from flames, lights, and electrical cords.
    • Lock up bicycles, gas grills and other outdoor valuables.
    • Park your car in a garage, if possible. Mischief makers may egg your house or car.
    • If you don’t have shelter for your car, consider stopping at the car wash for a coat of wax that may offer some protection.
    • If you are out trick or treating with your kids or partying with your peers, make your home looks occupied. Leave lights and the TV on.
    • Doorbell cams and motion activated lights can offer added protection.
    • If your car or home is egged, deal with it right away that night or in the morning before damage can set in. See How to Remove Egg Stains From Your Car’s Paint Job and 4 Ways to Wash Egg off your home

    Call your agent

    If you should suffer any damage to your property or have any accidents during Halloween weekend, file a claim as soon as possible to get the claim process in motion. Be ready with the details of where and when the event occurred, along with the names and addresses of any injured parties or witnesses to the event. If there is damage to your property, report it to the police, take photos, and record the details so you won’t forget them later.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

How to avoid rogue tow truck scams

Bad enough if you are in an auto accident – that’s stressful enough. You might be injured or at the very least, shaken up. Suddenly a tow truck appears on the scene saying they are from your insurance company. While that might seem like lucky timing, it should actually raise your suspicions. High pressure tactics from rogue tow truck operators can lead to exorbitant towing and storage fees or your car being taken to a body shop that is in league with the tower. The National Insurance Crime Bureau recently released a public service announcement to raise awareness about rogue tow truck operators and how to avoid becoming a victim.

NCIB offers these tips:

  • Never give permission to a tow truck operator who arrives unsolicited to take your vehicle.
  • If you or law enforcement did not call a tow truck to the scene, do not deal with that operator.
  • Do not provide tow truck operators with your insurance information.
  • Do not provide tow truck operators with personal lien holder information.
  • Determine that the tow truck signage is identical to what appears on any documentation the tow truck operator provides (they may say they “work with” your insurance company).
  • If the tow truck does not display signage identifying the name of the tow company, ask for company identification.
  • If a tow operator’s legitimacy is in doubt, call the police.
  • Do not give a tow truck operator permission to tow your vehicle until they:
    –Provide a printed price list, to include daily storage fees and miscellaneous charges that will apply if they tow your car (if the prices seem too high, ask the police or your insurance company to call a towing service for you).
    –Provide printed documentation indicating where the vehicle is being towed if it is not a location of your choosing.

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud offers more information on tow truck cons and scams, as well as extensive tips to for what to expect and what your rights are.

Check out the full article but here are a few tips from their list:

Think ahead: Join an emergency road service club or organization such as AAA. Also know your auto insurer’s roadside assistance program, with the tollfree number printed on your insurance card. They’ll set you up with reputable towing firms and repair shops.

Photos. Take a photo of the scene, including the tow truck. Use your cell phone or a disposable camera stored in your glove compartment.

Complain. File complaints if you’re scammed. Contact your insurer, state insurance department, local Better Business Bureau and the police.

Know your rights. State laws protect you if your vehicle is towed while you were away, such as while shopping. Confirm and complain if you suspect violations of these rules in most states:

  • The property owner or manager of a business that had your vehicle towed must be at the scene and sign the towing authorization in most states;
  • The operator must leave a small sign at the scene. It should have the firm’s name, address, phone, reason for towing, and who requested the tow;
  • Towing firms must take a photo of your vehicle in the “illegal” spot and notify the local police department to ensure the car is not classified as stolen. Get the photos from the towing firm (though expect a fee); and
  • The towing operator must release your vehicle if you will not or cannot pay the requested towing free. This is true in most states, and then becomes a matter for civil courts.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

When will you be driving a robotic car? Take an interactive online trip

Whatever you call them – robot cars, driverless cars, autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars – they are definitely in your future. But the question is, how far in your future?

They’re being tested already – more than 1,400 self-driving vehicles are operating in 36 states right now. Most states, but not all, require a backup driver.

Take an interactive urban trip as the backup driver in the Washington Post’s autonomous (self-driving) car simulation. It offers an interesting perspective on  the strengths and weaknesses in the way these cars work and how they interact with the environment around them. The Post invites you to sit in the passenger seat and play the role as the backup driver. And that’s an important role because the cars may miss some hazards and they can’t operate in certain weather conditions that interfere with their sensors, causing them to pull over suddenly and shut down entirely.

This interactive  feature is a fun way to learn more about how the cars work and their limitations. You can learn more about some of the system’s weaknesses in article in Insurance Journal by Alan Levin and Ryan Beene: Automated Driver Assist Cars Still a Work in Progress:

The radars and cameras used to sense obstructions ahead each have their limitations and computer software that evaluates the data is still a work in progress, according to the experts and advocates. In many cases, they are better at tracking moving vehicles ahead than recognizing parked ones.

But there are definite pluses, too:

To be sure, automated driving systems have clear potential to improve traffic safety by supplementing the driver. Automatic emergency braking alone has been found by IIHS to reduce rates of rear-end crashes by half, and the insurer-funded group estimates that the system could reduce police-reported crashes of all types by 20%.

Many autonomous or self-driving features are already making their way into our new cars now. These are generally referred to as advanced driver assistance systems. See 7 Self-Driving Car Features You Can Buy Now (and Some You May Already Have) from Autotrader. And cars.com breaks down self-driving features by car make.

But event these new tech features have a ways to go before they are up to par and winning driver acceptance. A recent survey by JD Power showed that many driver-assist features are seen as annoyances;

J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Tech Experience Index Study, published today, surveyed more than 20,000 consumers earlier this year, most of whom purchased or leased a model-year 2019 vehicle during the previous 90 days. Nearly a quarter of the group found alerts “annoying or bothersome” from systems that mitigate lane departure or actively center the vehicle, the study said. Such alerts range from hands-on-the-wheel warnings to lane departure chimes. For those who find them annoying, more than half said they sometimes disable the systems; among those who weren’t annoyed, only one-fifth or so indicated the same.

Some of the complaints can be chalked up to drivers being unfamiliar with the technology and uncertain about how it operates, so presumably we’ll all get more comfortable with things as we grow familiar with them.

So it’s not likely you’ll be able to read the latest best sellers while lounging in the back seat of your robot car on your upcoming commutes. But on the other hand, sophisticated technologies are leading to safer cars and fewer accidents – a big win for us all!

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Buying a used car? Don’t get scammed by title washing

You see a nice used car at the local dealership that would be great for your college-bound son. You buy the car, and a few weeks later, you get a call that your son is being held by police on a charge of car theft. What!?! You spend considerable time to prove he is not a criminal and that you recently bought the car. You clear things up for your son but the issue of the car is not so simple. You are the victim of title washing. The car is indeed a stolen vehicle so you won’t get that back.

If that sounds like a far-fetched scenario, it’s not. It’s exactly what happened recently to a Chicago couple who suffered a $24,000 loss on a used car they’d recently bought. Both they and the car dealership where they bought it were victims of a title washing ring that is now under investigation.

A title washing scam might seem like a relatively obscure thing, but it’s not. It’s estimated that used car buyers are scammed up to $30 billion a year in what the National Association of Attorneys General calls the worst problem used car buyers face. Experts say that as many as 1 in 44 titles in some states have been washed.

In simple terms, title washing is a scam in which the paperwork for stolen vehicles is faked or forged. But it’s not just stolen cars – title washing is also a way to clear a troubled car’s history, a common way to re-market cars that have been totaled, salvaged or flood-damaged. This article offers a good overview of the practice: Title Washing in America – Lemons without the Lemonade  It includes a handy list of red flags to look for when buying a used car, which we’ve reprinted below.

One lesson to be learned from this is not to rely solely on the title when buying a used car. In buying a used car, be sure to check if it has been declared stolen or totaled by searching the car’s VIN:

Of course, there are other best practices beyond just checking the title when buying a used car. See these sources for more tips:

red flags for buying aused car

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

How to avoid hydroplaning – and what to do if it happens

We all think about tire safety in winter when the roads are snowy or slushy and we adjust our driving accordingly. But what about in the rain? Wet, slick roads with water buildup can be quite hazardous, too. Many drivers are rather cavalier about  adjusting their driving in the rain  and are caught short when something goes wrong, such as hydroplaning.

Hydroplaning – also sometimes called aquaplaning – is losing traction over water while driving, and actually skimming or sliding on the surface of that water. Losing contact with the road is a frightening experience because it results in loss of control of the car. The formula for hydroplaning is speed, tire tread depth and water depth. It’s important to maintain your tires and slow down when it rains. Even a light rain can be hazardous, particularly in the first few minutes as rainfall mixes with oils on the road surface.

Edmunds offers excellent Tips for Driving Safely in the Rain. Also, check out these two videos that talk more about what hydroplaning is and what to do should it occur.

 

Technology helps, but is not a substitute for caution
While driver-assist technologies such as traction control, anti-lock brakes and lane assist technologies can help keep us safer, don’t rely on them. Be cautious and be prepared:

  • Maintain your tires – make sure the tread is good and that they are properly inflated.
  • Slow down when it rains. Many experts suggest reducing speed by about one-third.
  • Avoid standing water.
  • Disable cruise control on wet roads and when raining.
  • Increase the following distance between you and the car ahead.
  • If you do hydroplane, stay calm, ease off the accelerator, and don’t make any sudden moves that may cause a spin out.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Cellphone driving laws: Florida and Massachusetts

Florida has a new law that prohibits texting while driving, which went into effect July 1. It’s called the Wireless Communications While Driving Law. From now until January 1, 2020, drivers who break the law will get a warning, but after that, a $30 fine will be imposed for a first offense, and a $60 fine for a second offense. But that’s actually just the tip of the iceberg – there are court costs, insurance surcharges and more that can make breaking the law quite costly. Florida Today explains why your $30 ticket becomes way more expensive, breaking down additional court costs and fees that bring your actual first-time penalty to $119 in Brevard County. (Each county’s fees may differ)  In addition to that, your auto insurance rates could cost you up to 25% more per year for three years. That means that a quick text could be very costly!

Local 10 offers a recap of what you need to know about Florida’s new texting while driving law. There are some exceptions, which they list as:

“Some exceptions apply. The law does not apply to vehicles that are stationary or to a driver who is:
– Performing official duties, such as operating an emergency vehicle (i.e., law enforcement, fire service professionals, and emergency medical service providers).
– Reporting an emergency, a crime or other suspicious activity to law enforcement.
– Receiving messages that are:
a. related to the operation and/or navigation of the motor vehicle; b. safety-related information (emergency, traffic, and weather alerts); c. data used primarily by the motor vehicle; or d. radio broadcasts.
– Using the device in a hands-free manner for navigation purposes.
– Using the device in a way that does not require manual entry of characters, except to initiate a function or feature.”

Massachusetts cell-phone ban law in the works

Massachusetts residents take note: In June, Boston.com reported that a driver hand-held cellphone ban moves closer to becoming law. The Senate and the House have both approved versions of the law and must now reach agreement on a compromise bill. But be aware that proposed fines are costly:

The bill calls for a fine of $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a subsequent offense. Those who commit a second or subsequent offense would be required to complete a program that “encourages a change in driver behavior and attitude about distracted driving.”

A third or subsequent violation would also be a considered a surchargeable incident under car insurance policies. The bill would allow an exception to using cellphones in the case of an emergency if no one else in the car is able to make the call.

Driving & cellphone use laws by state

Here’s a handy tool to bookmark: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) maintains a summary of cell-phone use laws with maps and a detailed chart listing of cellphone use laws by state.

They summarize three types of prohibitions for cellphone use laws:

  • Hand-held ban laws: Bans on hand-held phone conversations while driving are widespread in other countries and are becoming more common in the U.S. In 2001, New York became the first state to ban hand-held phone conversations by all drivers. Now 20 states and the District of Columbia have similar laws.
  • Texting ban laws: Texting is banned for all drivers in 48 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Young driver phone ban use laws: 38 states and the District of Columbia restrict cellphone use by young drivers.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

What’s an insurance deductible?

Like many other industries, insurance has its own unique jargon that can sometimes make shopping for coverage seem overly complicated. Your local independent insurance agent is always happy to break things down for you and explain any language or terms that you don’t understand. One term that is commonly used in auto, health and in other insurance policies is “deductible.”

In simple terms, a deductible is the amount of money that you, the insured, must pay for a claim before your insurance will kick in.

If you have a deductible, it means that you will be responsible for any losses or payment of services up to the stated dollar amount in your insurance policy. Usually, deductibles are defined as a dollar amount, but they can also be defined as a percentage.

Deductibles can be beneficial both for the insured and for the insurance company. For the insured, it can be a way to are a way to reduce the cost of insurance: The more risk for loss that you, the insured, agree to pay before the insurance kicks in, the lower your premium. For the insurance company, it is a way to avoid the cost of processing and paying a high volume of small claims. Talk to you insurance agent about what deductible options are available to you and how they will affect the cost of your coverage.

Let’s look at an example: You are in an auto accident and your car’s damages are assessed at $1250 in damages. If your insurance policy has a $500 deductible, you will have to pay the first $500 of the damages to your car out of your own pocket and the insurer will pay the remaining $750. Generally, once the deductible is met, any future losses that you might have during the term of that policy will be covered in full.

The Insurance Information Institute has a great article on understanding your insurance deductibles that explains how deductibles work to prevent surprise costs and save money. It’s a good introduction with clear examples. They also discuss homeowners disaster deductibles for hurricane, wind/hail, flood and earthquake coverage. (Reminder: your homeowners insurance does not automatically cover you should your home be damaged by flood, earthquake, and other natural catastrophes – talk to your insurance agent about what your homeowners does and doesn’t cover.)

Businesses can also opt for deductible plans for certain types of business coverage such as workers compensation programs.

Many people are familiar with deductibles through their health insurance coverage. Learn more about health insurance deductibles at HealthCare.gov.

As with all insurance matters, you need to check your own policy. Insurance can vary by state law, by type of coverage, and by individual policy. It’s a good idea to read your policy and to ask your insurance agent to explain any terms that you don’t understand.

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Motorcycle Mania: Your spring guide to insurance, safety, training, laws and more

Despite the good news that motorcycle fatalities are trending down in recent years, motorcycle riders still represent a disproportionate share of traffic fatalities. May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, a good time for riders and those who share the road with motorcyclists to double down on safety as we all get ready for the warmer weather and summer road trips. Here’s a guide to important information that you need to be prepared and to ride safely, as well as to comply with licensing, insurance and other legal requirements. .

Motorcycle Laws

If you operate your motorcycle on public roads, you must register it with your appropriate state authority and must be licensed to drive it.

AAA Digest of State Motor Laws – Motorcycles

State-by-State Guide to Motorcycle Laws – helmets, headlights, passengers, noise restrictions and more

III: State Motorcycle Helmet Use Laws (chart form)

State Highway Offices

Motorcycle insurance

Most states require that you carry at least a minimum insurance coverage – Florida, Montana and Washington are exceptions. Those states that do require insurance vary as to coverage requirements; most require a minimum of liability insurance to cover bodily injury and property damage.

Whether required or not, we think it’s pretty risky to go without coverage. Should an accident occur resulting in an injury or property damage, without insurance, you are on the hook. In fact, it is generally worth looking into expanding your coverage beyond the minimum. Options to consider are comprehensive and collision, which would cover other potential losses, such as replacement if your bike were stolen or damaged.. In some states, uninsured/under-insured motorist coverage is required; in others, you may be required to have specific coverage for passengers.

Motorcycle owners sometimes ask if they can cancel insurance in the winter when they aren’t riding but that can be risky and leave you exposed if the bike is stolen. Some insurers offer winter lay-up insurance options.

Talk to your independent insurance agent, who will be able to recommend the best coverage for your local requirements and your particular circumstances. Be sure to ask if there are any discounts that you may qualify for, such as for bundling multiple policies, for being a safe driver, for having participated in training, or any other circumstances.

For more, see the Insurance Information Institute (III): Find the right coverage for your bike

Motorcycle Safety

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation is a valuable resource. It is a not-for-profit resource, internationally recognized for comprehensive, research-based, Rider Education and Training System (RETS), which promotes lifelong-learning for motorcyclists and continuous professional development for certified coaches and trainers. MSF also actively participates in government relations, safety research and public awareness campaigns.

Check for available trainings and download their popular guide, You and Your Motorcycle: Riding Tips. Check out their other guides for three-wheelers, scooters, off-highway riding and more.

III: Background on: Motorcycle crashes

NHTSA: Motorcycle Safety

Choose the right helmet – how to find the right fit for safety

Helmet safety ratings – Make sure your helmet has the DOT symbol on the outside back; this means it meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218.

Motorcycle Industry Council Tire Guide

NHTSA: Safety Issues and Recalls – search by VIN

Additional Resources

How to Prepare your Motorcycle for Spring

Consumer Reports: Motorcycle Buying Guide & Ratings

Motorcycle Club Listings

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Car thieves are just driving away with our cars for the darndest reason!

We’ve all misplaced our car keys at one point or another, but are people getting more forgetful?

That would appear to be the case if we review the recent report that the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) issued on car thefts. Thieves are driving away with our cars because we are making it too easy for them by leaving our keys and fobs right in the vehicles!

While car thefts in general are on a downward trend, the numbers of cars stolen due to keys in the car are on the rise. And it’s not just a slight uptick – there’s been a 56% increase since 2015 and an 88% increase since 2013!  Every single day last year, an average of more than 200 cars were stolen due to keys in the car. You can learn more in the NICB press release on thefts of vehicles with keys, along with the short video and infographic, below.

Sometimes the keys or fobs left in the car are not due to forgetfulness – thefts spike in the winter when there are more cars being warmed up in cold weather. Beyond that, NICB doesn’t speculate as to why. It may be because they are quieter. We previously talked about how quieter, keyless cars are related to an increase in carbon monoxide deaths. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess: Too much trust in anti-theft and theft-recovery systems? An aging population of drivers? Distracted by our phones as we are powering off our cars? Hard to know.

To prevent this happening, NICB advises drivers to:

  • Lock the vehicle, set the alarm and take all keys or FOBS.
  • Do not leave the garage door opener in the vehicle.
  • Take a picture of your registration on your cell phone and do not leave the registration or other papers with personal information in the vehicle.
  • Never leave a car unlocked and running to warm it up or while stopping for a quick cup of coffee. It only takes a moment for the opportunistic thief to jump inside and drive off.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Thinking of a side hustle? Check with your insurance agent

Today, it seems like everybody’s got a side hustle, which is essentially just a fancy rebranding of what used to be called moonlighting. But today’s moonlighting often comes with a twist …. these gigs often involve using your personal car or home to generate extra income. Whether it’s driving for Lyft, dropping off packages for Amazon, delivering meals through DoorDash, renting your home through Airbnb or just taking advantage of a tourist influx during a big local event by renting out your home, five words of advice: check with your insurance agent.

If your goal is earning some extra cash, make sure you understand and are covered for potential risks. You might think you are covered by working for a third-party service, but if you injure yourself or someone else while working, if you damage or lose someone’s property or if you suffer a loss to your own property, you may be on your own. Here are just two examples:

Home rental – If you want to start renting out all or a portion of your home through a peer-to-peer rental service, what happens if a guest is injured on your property? Or if a guest burns the whole place down in a cooking fire, will your rental service cover your home replacement?

Some services, such as Airbnb and VRBO, offer programs such as host guarantees or host liability insurance. On first glance, these may look adequate – $1 million liability coverage should be enough, right? But like most things, you need to read the fine print because there are conditions, limitations and exclusions that could leave you exposed to serious loss. You also should not assume that your own homeowners policy will provide coverage in a home rental scenario. Insurance Information Institute says:

Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies are designed for personal risks, not commercial risks. Some insurers now offer a home-sharing liability insurance policy that can be purchased on a month-to-month basis, but there may be exclusions and limitations, so read the policy carefully. If you plan to rent out all or part of your home on a regular basis, many companies will consider this a business use and you may need to purchase a business policy—specifically either a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast policy.

Ridesharing – Check with the service you are contracting with about any coverage that they might offer – states are increasingly mandating that third-party services provide some coverage, but again – there could be conditions, limitations and exclusions that leave dangerous gaps in your coverage. And it’s a mistake to assume that your own personal auto insurance will cover you. Insurance Information Institute says:

Generally a standard personal auto policy will not provide coverage for ride-sharing. A standard personal auto insurance policy stops providing coverage from the moment a driver logs into a TNC ride-sharing app to the moment the customer has exited the car and the transaction is closed.

They also advise:

Prospective drivers should ask the TNC what level of coverage it provides. Drivers should also contact their own auto insurer to address gaps, if any, in their liability protection. It is also recommended that TNC drivers review a copy of their TNC’s insurance contracts so they know the exact terms and conditions of the coverage.

Learn more: Ride-sharing and insurance: Q&A

These are just two common examples of so-called side-hustles, but other income-generating activities might call for other types of coverage, such as product liability or home business coverage. Your agent can also help you assess the adequacy of coverage offered by a third-party.  If you are considering a side-hustle, give your independent insurance agent a call to talk things over.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.