Ensure You’re Sufficiently Insured to Cover Potential Hazards at Your Home

Posted August 25, 2009 in Insurance Law by

Do you own a dog or cat? Do you have a pool or a trampoline? Do you ever offer house guests an alcoholic drink?

This is National Safe at Home Week. If you’re like me, you probably haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about how visitors to your home could hurt themselves.

In part, we fail to notice the hidden dangers that lurk in our homes, because we know the risks and have taught ourselves to avoid them. Perhaps your porch railing is wobbly, but you know not to lean against it. Or maybe your dog is aggressive around food, so you’ve learned to give him a wide berth while he’s eating. Your house guests, on the other hand, might not know to take these precautions.

Then there are the potential dangers we recognize, but choose to live with in hopes that visitors will also use good judgment. When you invite people to swim in your pool, you assume they know their own swimming ability, and won’t go in unless they’re comfortable around water. If you hold a dinner party, you try to be a good host, but hope that people know when they’ve had too much to drink.

The unfortunate truth is that accidents do happen, and we live in a world where it’s not unheard of for relative to sue relative, friend to sue friend, neighbor to sue neighbor. We need to prepare for the possibility that someone may be injured at our home, and we should all have sufficient insurance coverage to protect us in case that happens.

Whether you own or rent your home, your property insurance should include liability coverage. Liability insurance covers you if someone is injured on your property, and may also cover you for certain injuries that occur away from your home. For example, if someone slips and hurts themselves at your house, your insurance company will cover that person’s medical expenses and the cost to defend you in court if they sue you. If you were walking your dog in the park and he bit someone, your insurance would probably cover that, too. Understand, however, that liability insurance only covers other people who are injured at your home. It doesn’t cover you or your family if you’re injured.

It’s important to discuss your needs with your insurance agent. If you have potential hazards on your property, such as a swimming pool, a dog or a house is in poor repair, find out exactly what you need to do to protect yourself. You may need to buy a separate liability policy to ensure that you’re sufficiently covered.

Dogs

Almost every state has a law that deals with dog bites. These laws can vary a lot from state to state, so you need to check the laws in your area to see how dog bites are treated. Talk to your insurance company about whether your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy covers not only dog bites in general, but if it covers your breed of dog.

Dog bites cost insurance companies millions of dollars each year, and it’s not uncommon for an insurance company to refuse to cover certain breeds of dogs, especially those considered by experts to be the "most dangerous." These breeds include pit bulls, rottweilers and chow chows, just to name a few.

It’s also common for many insurance companies to increase the insurance premiums or cancel the policy altogether after an owner’s dog bites a victim and costs the company money.

Serving Alcohol

If you serve alcohol to guests at your home, you need to be prepared for the fact that they could be involved in a traffic accident after leaving your home.

A drunk person cannot collect for injury to himself, but a third party injured by the actions of a drunk person can collect from the party’s host under certain circumstances. This is especially important when the drunk person has little or no insurance to cover a serious or fatal injury.

Laws vary widely by state, with some states not imposing any liability at all on social hosts. Other states limit responsibility of hosts to injury that occurs on the premises where the party is being held. Other states extend hosts’ liability to injuries from traffic accidents involving the person to whom they served alcohol.

Most states impose liability on social hosts where alcohol is served to a minor, if the host was reckless in serving alcohol, or if the host should have recognized the extent of the guest’s intoxication and not served him or her more alcohol.

Swimming Pools

Swimming pools can be fun, but drowning is one of the leading causes of death among young children. If you have a pool, you have an obligation to take all of the necessary steps to ensure the safety of your family, your neighbors and your guests–even uninvited guests. But you should also be prepared for the worst-case scenario: Accidents can happen, even if you have taken all of the necessary precautions. As a pool owner, you need to protect yourself if an accident occurs.

Purchase swimming-pool insurance coverage. Your homeowners insurance, renter’s insurance or condo insurance usually will not cover you for pool-related accidents and lawsuits. You may also want to purchase a separate liability policy.

Check with your insurance agent to find out what safety and protective equipment is required by your policy. Also ask whether discounts are available if you install additional types of equipment, such as pool alarms.

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