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 well do you know your stuff? Create a home inventory!

Pop quiz – without looking, see how you do answering these questions:

  • What are the makes and years of your major kitchen appliances?
  • How many pairs of pants do you own? Jackets? Shoes? Boots?
  • What year did you buy your mattress and bed frame and what brand is it?
  • Name all the power tools you own. List the contents of your tool chest?
  • What brand of dinnerware and flatware do you own and when did you buy it?
  • List all your AV equipment, the make, the brand and the year you bought it.
  • Write down everything in your living room. Include what’s in the drawers and closets.

It’s not so easy remembering that stuff, is it?

It would be even harder if you were trying to recall all your stuff right after your house was destroyed in a fire or demolished in a hurricane. That’s why it’s important to keep a home inventory. If you find yourself under the terrible stress of recovering from a disaster or even a burglary, you don’t need the added burden of trying to remember all the possessions you lost so that you can be properly reimbursed by your insurer. A good home inventory will help you document your losses and make it easier to file a claim and get it processed.

You can record your “stuff” in a notebook (old-school style), but phones and computers have really simplified the process. A simple spreadsheet will do the trick, or use your phone to take  room-by-room videos and document with photos. Or download an inventory app. Just be sure that you have multiple copies, that you store your inventory in a safe and accessible place and you keep it updated. Even if you make a hand-written version, you can scan it and keep it online in cloud storage.

If you’ve never done a home inventory, it can be a daunting job, but there are tools to help. And going forward, things will be much easier if you get in the habit of taking photos of new purchases and saving receipts. Log serial numbers, when available.

Consumer Reports offers advice on How to Inventory Your Home for an Insurance Adjuster – including this short video:

Here’s more home inventory advice from people who should know: insurers.

If you are interested in an app to help you create a home inventory, here are some reviews of top picks:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Take the “What the Flood” quiz

How much do you know about flood insurance? Probably very little, unless you’ve had an experience with flooding or your insurance agent has discussed it with you. Check it out – take this quick What the Flood interactive quiz to see if you understand the insurance protection that would apply should common water damage scenarios occur. The quiz is promoted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), who offer great info on Understanding Flood Insurance.

Here are a few common flood insurance myths

  • Myth: I don’t need flood insurance because I already have homeowners insurance.

Reality. Homeowners insurance rarely covers flood damage – talk to your agent.

  • Myth: I don’t need flood insurance because I don’t live in a high-risk flood zone.

Reality: More than 20% of the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) claims come from outside high-risk flood areas.

  • Myth: It’s already hurricane season so I am too late to buy flood insurance this year.

Reality. You can purchase flood insurance any time, but it generally takes effect 30 days after purchase for coverage to take place.

Here’s a handy NAIC infographic that shows homeowners vs flood insurance coverage:

Why not have a chat with your insurance agent to find out if flood insurance makes sense for you? Here are some great questions that NAIC offers as discussion points when you talk to your insurance agent about flood insurance.

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.

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.

Your annual reminder: Any dog can bite

This week is Dog Bite Prevention Week and the US Postal Service would like to remind you that although there are about 78 million good doggies here in the U.S., “any dog can bite.” They should know. Their carriers suffer about 6,000 dog attacks a year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.5 million people are victims of dog attacks each year. The most susceptible to dog attacks are small children, the elderly and postal carriers, in that order.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says that most, if not all, the dog bites that occur are preventable. They tally some recent numbers: In 2017 there were nearly 350,000 people treated at hospital emergency rooms for non-fatal dog-related injuries. Of those people, there were nearly 10,600 children two years old or younger who visited emergency rooms as a result of dog bites​.

Liability Insurance and Dog Bites

Besides the human and canine trauma that can result, dog bites are also a costly problem. In 2018, dog bites and other dog-related injuries tallied $675 million in liability claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and studies by State Farm. In terms of states, California is #1, with 2166 claims at an average claim cost of $45,542. Florida is #2, with 1281 claims at an average claim cost of $43,893. Texas, Illinois and New York round out the top five states in terms of claims counts and expenses. You can check to see where your state falls on this III interactive state-by-state dog bite liability map.

Your homeowners insurance policy will typically cover and claims related to dog bites, up to the liability limits. If you have a dog, you should talk to your agent about liability limits and also the type of dog you have. I talking about dog bite liability, III says that

“Some insurance companies will not insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. Others decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog, regardless of its breed has been deemed vicious. Some insurers do not ask the breed of a dog owned when writing or renewing homeowners insurance and do not track the breed of dogs involved in dog bite incidents. However, once a dog has bitten someone, it poses an increased risk. In that instance, the insurance company may charge a higher premium, nonrenew the homeowner’s insurance policy or exclude the dog from coverage.”

See our prior post on dog breeds that are sometimes blacklisted by insurance companies.

Helpful dog bite prevention resources

Dogs attacks occur for a number of reasons. The dog may be protecting territory. They may feel threatened by strangers or startled. They may be annoyed if they are eating. American Humane offers these tips for dog owners:

  • Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog, even if it is a family pet.
  • Interactions between children and dogs should always be monitored to ensure the safety of both your child and your dog.
  • Teach your children to treat the dog with respect and not to engage in rough or aggressive play.
  • Make sure your pet is socialized as a young puppy so it feels at ease around people and other animals.
  • Never put your dog in a position where s/he feels threatened.
  • Walk and exercise your dog regularly to keep him/her healthy and to provide mental stimulation.
  • Use a leash in public to ensure you can control your dog.
  • Regular veterinary care is essential to maintain your dog’s health; a sick or injured dog is more likely to bite.
  • Be alert, if someone approaches you and your dog – caution them to wait before petting the dog, give your pet time to be comfortable with a stranger.

Find more dog bite prevention tips:

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Home burglars reveal the tricks of the trade

How do home burglars choose a home to rob? What makes it easier or harder for them to break into a home? What can homeowners do to ensure their home is not a target? To learn the answers to these questions, Portland Oregon KGW TV’s investigative team sent letters to inmates currently serving time for burglary in the Oregon Department of Corrections. Inmates were surveyed anonymously about how they broke in, when the crime occurred and what they were looking for. See: We asked 86 burglars how they broke into homes

Here’s an eye-opening video as a KGW reporter rides around a neighborhood with a former home burglar who talks about how he cased homes and commit robberies.

The linked article above is also worth reading. When asked “What is the one thing homeowners can do to avoid being burglarized?”: “Burglars suggest homeowners make their property visible with good lighting and trimmed bushes and trees. You should get to know your neighbors and alert police if you see anything suspicious.”

  • “In my opinion, I think homeowners should always leave a TV or radio on,” said one inmate.
  • “Get a camera and make it visible!” wrote another.
  • “Put bars on your windows and doors, get an alarm, keep an extra car in the driveway, keep lights, TVs and radios on when you leave your home,” read one questionnaire.
  • “Home alarm, know your neighbor so they can report suspicious people around the neighborhood,” said a burglar.

More secrets from robbers

For another brief video and tips from burglars see How do you prevent a burglary? Convicted thieves tell all – KSL in Salt Lake City.

We previously featured a post on Burglar Secrets: Expert advice on how to protect your home.. While links to the original article we cited are no longer operational, we excerpted several tips in the post. Among them,  mistakes that burglars said people often make:

  • Bragging about valuables, new purchases
  • Leaving doors and windows unlocked or garage doors open
  • Failing to enable security systems
  • Leaving valuables visible through windows
  • Leaving valuable things like bikes and riding mowers laying about in the yard
  • Having uncovered windows that allow views into the home

Talk to your insurance agent

Your home insurance company might also have good information about keeping your home safe. And if you have home security systems, you may earn a discount on your insurance policy – talk this over with your independent insurance agent.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

How to File a Homeowners Insurance Claim

In the event you need to file a Homeowners Insurance claim, we want to make sure you know what to do.

Homeowners Insurance offers financial protection from losses caused by things like fire, theft, and storm damage to your home. It can also protect you and your family members from potential liabilities arising from bodily harm or property damage to other people’s property. It’s important to know what is and what isn’t covered by your homeowners policy and review your insurance coverage with your insurance agent annually. At Cochrane & Porter, we’re here to help. If you have questions or concerns about your homeowners insurance, don’t hesitate to contact us.

The Insurance Information Institute has recently produced a very helpful video, and we encourage you to watch. It’s a great reminder of how the process works.

As the video covers, filing a claim is a multi-step process. Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Contact your insurer as soon as possible and let them know what happened. The insurance company that underwrites your coverage takes the lead on the claims process. As your insurance agent, we can help you through the process, but your insurer needs the information about what happened directly from you.

 

  1. Have your policy number ready. One great way to always have this info handy is to download your insurance company’s mobile app and create an account. Some companies’ mobile apps even allow you to file a claim through a simple, user-friendly process.

 

  1. Complete the paperwork you receive from your insurer and return it. In some cases, an insurance adjustor will need to visit your property to inspect the damage. If your home has been burglarized, you’ll also need to file a police report.

 

  1. Write down the information of the insurance company representatives you speak with during the process, including names, contact information, job titles and the date and times of your conversations.

 

  1. Document, document, document. If you’re safely able, take pictures for visual evidence of destruction and perform temporary repairs to prevent further property damage. Use your home inventory to help.

 

  1. Keep detailed records of expenses for temporary repairs and living arrangements.

Remember, as your insurance agent, we’re here to help. If you have any questions, or would like us to review your homeowners policy, give us a call today!

Super Bowl Party Safety Tips

Are you planning on throwing a Super Bowl party this Sunday? While it can be great to gather with family, friends, neighbors and coworkers to watch the big game, homeowners and renters who are hosting parties should be aware of some insurance concerns that can be associated with welcoming guests into your home.

This quick read is a good refresher on some things to keep in mind as you get ready to host your party. Along with prepping those party foods, protecting guests from potential accidents, injuries and excessive intoxication should be some of your main priorities.

Here are our best tips on how to reduce risk and ensure you’re hosting a fun and safe Super Bowl Party.

  1. Keep floors clean and clutter to a minimum.

A spilled drink or even a jacket casually tossed on the floor can suddenly become a recipe for one of your guests to slip, fall and possibly hurt themselves.

  1. Keep pets away from your guests.

All pets can get scared, it happens. Strangers + loud noises can quickly lead to a dangerous situation. The last thing you want is for your pet to bite one of your guests. Even the most docile dogs and cats can bite when feeling scared or threatened. It’s best to eliminate this risk completely.

  1. Keep the party from turning Into a booze fest

Yes – responsible alcohol consumption is possible – even on Super Bowl Sunday. First, make sure you’re offering plenty of nonalcoholic beverage options. Also be sure that you’re storing alcohol in a safe place away from minors. This should go without saying, but never serve alcohol to persons under 21 and never let someone drive home if they’ve had too much to drink. Consider “confiscating” car keys for safe storage when guests arrive and don’t forget the beauty of designated drivers and ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. Also consider having a guest room ready.

  1. Review your homeowners insurance or renters insurance policy and speak with your insurance agent during your party planning.

Not all policies are alike and you may have coverage for everything. You may also consider purchasing a Special Event policy, depending on the size and scope of what you’re planning. At Cochrane & Porter, we’re here to help. Give us a call!

GO PATRIOTS!

Insuring Your Home to Value

Although not required by law in Massachusetts, Homeowners Insurance is required by most mortgage lenders. Typical Homeowners policies in Massachusetts provide coverage for your home, other structures on your property, and the possessions in your home against losses such as from fire, storm damage and theft. These policies also generally protect you and your family members from liability arising from bodily harm to others or property damage to other people’s property.

Since a home is usually your single biggest financial investment, it’s important to make sure you not only have coverage, but you have the right coverage for you. At Cochrane & Porter, we help you avoid the most common home insurance mistake – under insuring the Replacement Cost of your home. The best way to do that is to insure your home to value, and here’s how:

Ask your agent to review.

  • Insurance to value is an insurance concept based on making sure you have enough coverage on your policy to rebuild the home if there is total loss. It differs from the market value of the home and does not include the value of the land. Independent agents like Cochrane & Porter can utilize cost estimators, check prior inspections, review information available through your town’s assessor’s office – and account for inflation and make sure your policy is sufficient. Other information from websites like Zillow or Trulia can also obtain information about your home that help make sure your Replacement Cost is accurate.

Consider requesting an inspection.

  • Some insurance companies will send an inspector if the home has been without inspection for a long time, but if you have made home improvements, built an addition, or made other changes that could affect the value of your home, it may be worth asking your insurance agent to talk to the insurance company about performing an inspection.

If your home is insured to less than 80% of value, then even in a partial loss you will only receive an equivalent percentage of the cost to repair the damages. For example, if the limit on your home is only 70% of the cost to rebuild it, in the event of a partial loss of $100,000 you would only receive $70,000. That’s $30,000 in out-of-pocket expenses. Ouch!

You want your Homeowners insurance to be there for you when you need it, and making sure your home is insured to value is the best way to get that peace of mind. Contact us today and we’ll be happy to help you get the best possible coverage for your home at the best possible price!

Rest Assured. We’ve got you covered!