On Halloween, we all enjoy handing out treats to the little monsters that arrive at our door asking for candy. Unfortunately, some of us have to deal with damage created by larger monsters that arrive at our door asking for trouble.
Vandalism and property damage are just some scary Halloween insurance concerns. You also have to consider the possibility of trick-or-treaters getting hurt on your property or accidents caused by decorations or other holiday accoutrements. Are your insurance policies ready to handle any horrors that the holiday may bring?
Here are some of the most common Halloween events that might trigger an insurance claim.
· Slips and Falls It is easy for smaller children to trip or slip and hurt themselves, especially with elaborate or clunky costumes that make it hard for them to see clearly or walk normally. Add the anticipation of candy and a significant sugar buzz, and it's a wonder these accidents do not happen more often.
Generally, the liability portion of your homeowner's policy will cover these types of accidents. However, it is important that you leave your path clear of obvious hazards. If any of your decorations or the condition of your walkway presents a significant hazard to trick-or-treaters, your insurance may not cover the damages. If you are unsure about what constitutes a hazard, check with your insurance agent.
· Dog Bites Even the best-behaved dog can become overexcited and frightened by the sight of a horde of costumed youngsters charging their home, and bite one or more of the children. Dog bites are usually covered under the liability and medical expenses portions of your policy, but rules vary by insurer and by state. Check your policy, especially if you got your dog after the policy was signed.
· Vandalism Vandalism is clearly covered, but you have to assess the amount of damage and whether it is worth filing a claim given your deductible. The old classics such as egging your house or toilet-papering your trees are irritating, but do not usually cause significant damage.
Damage to your car is typically an auto insurance issue through a comprehensive policy. Your homeowner's insurance may cover auto damage, but it probably does not.
· Accidental Fires Candles used to set a spooky mood in the home or to light jack-o-lanterns cause accidental fires every year. Homeowner's policies cover repairs and living expenses during the repair period, unless the fire was a result of negligent or dangerous activities (for example, putting your candle-lit jack-o-lantern in a pile of dry leaves, or starting a bonfire on your porch).
· Gravestones Did you know that theft or damage of a tombstone is often covered under homeowner's policies? Even though the graves are not located in your backyard (we hope), Halloween vandalism of the resting places of your loved ones is frequently protected.
You can limit the possibility of mishaps and accidents through simple preventative measures. Use batteries instead of flames for illumination, keep your house well lit, remove any slip hazards (including ice and snow if you live in a colder climate), and do not set up any hazardous decorations.
With some foresight, you can enjoy the holiday with confidence. Check to make sure your policies cover these common Halloween-related concerns, understand any exclusions that may exist, and close any loopholes that you think are important enough to be closed. Then you will not have to worry about a damage claim or lawsuit rising from the night to consume your bank account and terrorize your financial plans.
Remember your insurance premium could also be affected by your credit rating.
If the worst happens, your homeowners insurance will cover leaks and burst pipes, or water that comes into your home through your roof and windows. But it doesn't cover flooding.
QWhat can I do to avoid water damage this winter? I know my policy doesn't cover flooding, but does it pay for other types of water damage claims?
AYes. Homeowners insurance covers water damage, such as from leaks and burst pipes, or water that comes into your home through your roof and windows. In fact, water damage accounts for almost half of all property damage claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Burst pipes or undetected leaks can cause damage to the floor, walls, ceilings, furniture, artwork and other valuables, can soak electrical systems, and can even cause dangerous mold if not cleaned up quickly. A Chubb study found that 57% of homeowners who have experienced a water leak claim in the past two years spent more than $5,000 on clean-up costs, and 15% spent $20,000 or more.
Here are six things you can do to protect your home from water damage, especially if you're leaving town during the winter.
1. Install a water leak detection device. A minor water leak can cause expensive damage if it remains undetected—if the leak is behind a wall, say, or if it happens while you're away from home. The lowest-cost leak detectors include sensors you can set up under sinks or near a water heater, dishwasher or refrigerator; they sound an alarm if they detect any moisture. Leak detectors that cost a bit more (typically $50 to $80) will send an alert to your smartphone if they detect moisture or a big change in the amount of water used in your home (signaling a possible leak). Some sensors even monitor the flow of water to your house and can shut down the water valve automatically if there's a noticeable change in the amount of water used, which is particularly helpful if you travel frequently. Your home insurance company may offer a discount for installing some kinds of leak detection devices.
2. Turn off the main water supply before leaving town for an extended period of time, says Annmarie Camp, executive vice president at Chubb Personal Risk Services. "That's the easiest and most cost-effective way to prevent water loss from happening," she says. As an alternative, you could have someone check your house every few days and walk around to make sure there aren't any leaks.
3. Check your water supply lines at least once a year. Give your house an annual leak checkup to inspect water supply lines and washing machine hoses for signs of wear, says Camp. Check for leaks from your hot water heater, washing machine, ice machine in your refrigerator, and any other appliances that can leak. Most water supply lines tend to last for about five years; you may want to replace rubber hoses with steel-braided hoses, which tend to last longer, says Camp.
4. Get sewage-backup coverage. Heavy rains and melting snow can overburden the storm water system, causing water or sewage to back up into your house. Sewage and drain backups usually aren't covered automatically under your homeowners insurance, but it may cost only $50, say, to add $10,000 in coverage. Also consider having a battery-powered back-up for your sump pump if the electricity goes out.
5. Clean your gutters and inspect your roof. Remove leaves and other debris, which can clog gutters and send water pouring down the side of your house or under your roof. Also inspect your roof and repair or replace missing or damaged shingles, which can cause water to come in through the roof.
6. Protect your pipes from freezing. Insulate accessible pipes with pipe insulation materials, especially in attics and crawl spaces. When it gets very cold, keep cabinet or closet doors open to help prevent pipes there from freezing. Consider low-temperature detectors, which can send an alert to your smartphone if the temperature in areas of your home near pipes dips below freezing. For more information, see the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety's Freezing and Bursting Pipes white paper.
For more information about protecting your home from water damage, see the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety's plumbing damage protection pages. Also see the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes' ways to protect your home. For more information about water damage and other homeowners insurance claims, see How to Get Your Insurer to Pay Your Claims.
Protect your business with advice from the experts at Builders Mutual.
Not long ago, general contractors (GCs) would have been hard-pressed to build a house if they required their subcontractors to use fall protection. Subs would simply work for a less stringent GC. Fall protection, although practical, was anything but popular. Nowadays, the unpopular has become the norm. If you stop by a job-site, you will find workers protecting themselves with harnesses, Safety Boot® Guardrail Systems, WallWalkers® and other types of safety equipment.
What is seemingly unpopular these days on the job-site? Requiring subs to have insurance, specifying minimums for limits, and requiring that they periodically provide proof of such coverage. Many GCs have concerns about losing subs if they mandate insurance requirements. Nevertheless, GCs who fail to require their subs to carry adequate insurance open their businesses to great financial risk.
The dangers of turning a blind eye.
What if water damage ruins the recently laid hardwood floors because of the plumber’s mistake? What if the electrician accidentally burns down the nearly completed house? Their limits of insurance will suggest whether the claim will be paid in full or in part, if covered at all. Who pays the difference? “Typically, the GC will be responsible for paying either the difference or covering the loss completely if the sub has no insurance coverage,” states claims expert Ken Bunn. These types of unnecessary risks can be avoided by GCs who clearly specify and enforce insurance requirements for their sub contractors.
At a minimum, subs should have policies for workers’ compensation, general liability, and auto (if they have owned, hired, or non-owned vehicles). More specifically, GCs should ensure that their subs are carrying appropriate minimum limits. Typically, limits of $1 million per occurrence and $2 million aggregate are adequate for general liability.
As a GC, you should work with your agent to determine if your requirements should be higher. Think about the price range of the homes you are building and ask yourself, “How much damage can my subs do?” If you build $2 million homes, then you definitely need your subs to carry higher limits. In your subcontractor agreement, you should require that your company is named as an additional insured on the subs’ general liability policies. For answers to all of your coverage questions, contact your insurance agent in addition to discussing with legal counsel as needed.
Proper certificate review.
How can general contractors be certain their subs carry the recommended insurance? Certificates of Insurance(COIs) offer this peace of mind. If you refuse to pay subs until they provide a COI, you leave your company at considerable risk. Do not let a sub start a job without a COI! Your superintendent should call you or your office to verify that you have a COI on file for all subs before any project begins.
For subs with whom you have long, established relationships, update your records once per year with a new COI 30 days prior to the policy expiration. Make sure you obtain a certificate of insurance for each “project.” This may protect you in case of cancellation of insurance during the project.
For new subs with whom you have just begun working, require a COI before the sub begins. It is best to ask for the COI directly from the agent. Then, every 30-45 days, call the agent of record to verify coverage and request a new COI. Pay close attention to any late notices and notices of policy cancellation you may receive. Follow up immediately to confirm the status of the policy.
When you have the COI in hand, look for a binder or policy number. If you see “TBD” in that field, call the agent (also listed on the COI) to request the actual policy number. Check for the policy expiration date, and be prepared to request another COI prior to expiration. Remember to check for coverage on auto, general liability, and workers’ compensation and be sure the proper limits of coverage are in force. While this might seem overwhelming, there are a variety of vendors available that specialize in helping you manage all of your subcontractor certificates.
Don’t gamble on insurance.
Before long, your subs will not think twice about carrying the insurance you require. Until then, you may be a bit unpopular for specifying insurance requirements, but you will sleep well knowing you have mitigated your company’s financial risks and confirmed coverage is being provided for all who are on the job-site.