Last-Minute Halloween Liability Issues


costumed kids trick or treating

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.

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


fyrniture items in 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:

 

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.

What’s an insurance deductible?


couple revieiwing insurance policy

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.

 

Thinking of a side hustle? Check with your insurance agent


man working at home to illustrate a side hustle

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.