Delectable holiday dangers: deep-fried turkeys

Tasty regional dishes have a way of migrating throughout the nation and that’s been the story of deep-fried turkeys. What used to be largely a southern dish, much-beloved in Louisiana, has become a popular new way for adventurous chefs to prepare turkey – and no wonder, it’s totally delicious.
But this Thanksgiving, L.A. firefighters have a question for the would-be turkey fryers: Your turkey or your life? They’ve produced some dramatic footage of exactly what can go wrong to highlight these dangers.

You can see that it is a dangerous endeavor. Dangerous enough that Underwriters Laboratories has decided not to certify any turkey fryers with their trusted UL Mark. If you decide to fry that bird regardless, please read the linked article to get some safety tips from the fire experts of the LAPD

Thanksgiving fires are common
You don’t have to be frying a turkey to run into trouble on Thanksgiving – cooking fires nearly double on the holiday, occurring more than twice as often as any other day. According to the United States Fire Administration, Thanksgiving sees an average of 4,300 residential fires resulting in 15 deaths, 50 injuries and over $27 million in property damage each year. Protect yourself, your loved ones, and your home this year – to prepare for a safe holiday, take a minute to review some best practices for cooking safely issued by the U.S. Fire Administration.

What happens if your insurance company goes bankrupt?

In these trying economic times, we’ve had a few people ask us what would happen if their insurer should go belly up. Because insurance laws vary state by state, there are no specific answers but we’ll give you a generalized overview.

First of all, state insurance bureaus regulate insurance matters for their state. As part of that function, they require various reports to monitor the financial health and well being of insurance companies licensed in their state. But because many large insurers don’t operate in just one state, or as in the recent case of AIG, in one line of business, insolvencies can and still do occur.

So what happens if you have a policy or an open claim and your insurance company gets in financial trouble? First, the state will work with the insurer to help solve the problem. And if that fails, the good news is that states operate Guaranty Funds to protect policyholders in the event of insurer insolvencies. These funds will pay claims, often giving priority to hardship cases. Some state bureaus also have a mechanism for short-term insurance coverage to allow insured parties to find alternate coverage. On the downside, however, claim payments may be delayed, settled, or capped.

There are also many excluded lines of insurance. Guaranty Funds usually cover auto and home and similar types of insurance, but generally have exclusions. Common exclusions include life, accident and health, annuities, disability, and mortgage. Many states also draw the line at protections for high net worth insureds ($25+ million). For specifics, you would need to check with your state law.

Should worse come to worst, your local agent should be your first and best source of information. You can also learn more about the topic at the Insurance Information Institute’s excellent overview of insurer insolvencies and Guaranty Funds. And you can find links to state insurance department websites on this map.

Lingo watch: deductibles

A deductible is the amount of money that an insured person or business must pay for loss, damage, or services before payments will be triggered by an insurer. The terms of the deductible are stated in an insurance policy. If you have a deductible, it means that you, the insured, will be responsible for any losses or payment of services up to the stated dollar amount. You will commonly see deductibles in auto insurance and health insurance policies. Usually, deductibles are defined as a dollar amount, but can also be defined as a percentage – this is increasingly common for homeowners insurance in places that are at high risk for hurricanes and weather-related damage.

Deductibles are a way for insurers to avoid the cost of processing and paying a high volume of small claims. The more risk for loss that you, the insured, agree to assume before the insurance kicks in, the lower your premium.

Example: You are in an auto accident and your car’s damages are assessed at $950 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 $450. Generally, once the deductible is met, any future losses that you might have during the term of that policy will be covered in full.

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

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.

Learn more
Hurricane and windstorm deductibles – from the Insurance Information Institute
Deductible definitions – various definitions compiled by
How deductibles and co-pays work – a discussion of health insurance from How Stuff Works

Home fire safety: new advice from the experts

Did you replace your smoke alarm batteries last week during daylight savings? Traditionally, fire prevention authorities suggest that daylight savings is a good time to check your smoke alarms … it’s suggested that when you change your clocks, you also get in the habit of replacing your smoke alarm batteries, a simple bit of housekeeping that might just save your life. So if you remembered, you should be protected, right? Maybe not!

This year, you may want to go one step further because firefighters have some important new advice on smoke detectors. The nation’s largest firefighter union is suggesting that you do more than just change your batteries – they are suggesting you change the type of smoke alarm that you use. Deputy Chief Jay Fleming of the Boston Fire Department states that around 50% of everyone who dies in a Massachusetts fire dies when the smoke detector operates, and in the vast majority of those cases, they are killed by smoldering fires.

Most homes are equipped with ionization smoke alarms, which are good at detecting flames but photoelectric smoke alarms are more sensitive to smoldering, smoky fires. A smoldering fire can be very dangerous before a traditional fire alarm will sound. Case in point: a recent smoldering kitchen fire that killed a Cleveland resident without tripping the smoke detector.

No home should be without a smoke detector. Some fire authorities suggest the belt-and-suspenders method of having both types of fire alarms installed. You can get insurance to protect your property but no amount of insurance can replace a life.