Social Host Liability

Now is the time of year for social gatherings, whether it’s a family holiday party or New Year’s Eve bash, if you are planning to serve alcohol at any type of party it is important to take steps to limit your liquor liability and make sure you have the proper insurance.

Social host liability, the legal term for the criminal and civil responsibility of a person who furnishes liquor to a guest, can have a serious impact on party throwers. Most of these laws also offer an injured person, such as the victim of a drunk driver, a method to sue the person who served the alcohol. There are circumstances under these laws where criminal charges may also apply.

While a social host is not liable for injuries sustained by a drunken guest (as they are also negligent), the host can be held liable for third parties, and may even be liable for passengers of the guest who have been injured in their car.

Before planning a party in your home, it is important to your homeowners coverage and any exclusions, conditions or limitations your policy might have for this kind of risk. Homeowners insurance usually provides some liquor liability coverage, but it is typically limited to $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the policy, which might not be enough.

Most importantly, whether you are hanging out with a small group of friends for cocktails or throwing a big family bash, remember that a good host is a responsible host, and takes steps to ensure guests get home safely if they have been drinking.

If you have any questions on how your homeowners policy will respond, please feel free to give our office a call. 

How to Protect Yourself and Your Guests

  • Consider venues other than your home for the party. Hosting your party at a restaurant or bar with a liquor license, rather than at your home, will help minimize liquor liability risks. 
  • Encourage guests to pick a designated driver who will refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages so that he or she can drive other guests home.
  • Be a responsible host/hostess. Limit your own alcohol intake so that you will be better able to judge your guests’ sobriety.
  • Offer non-alcoholic beverages and always serve food. Eating and drinking plenty of water, or other non-alcoholic beverages, can help counter the effects of alcohol.
  • Do not pressure guests to drink or rush to refill their glasses when empty. And never serve alcohol to guests who are visibly intoxicated.
  • Stop serving liquor toward the end of the evening. Switch to coffee, tea and soft drinks.
  • If guests drink too much or seem too tired to drive home, call a cab, arrange a ride with a sober guest or have them sleep at your home.
  • Encourage all your guests to wear seatbelts as they drive home. Studies show that seatbelts save lives.

 

Winterizing Your Vehicle

Climate changes don’t affect just you―they also affect your car. In regions that don’t enjoy mild winters, you wouldn’t dream of heading outside without a heavy coat if the wind chill brought the temperature below freezing. Don’t expect your car to function properly without some attention to its winter needs, too.
Engine Oil in the Winter

The oil in your engine changes depending on how hot or cold the engine is running. Because the outside temperatures will influence the internal temperature of your engine, you need to make sure you’re using the proper oil for the conditions.

During the winter months, if you live where temperatures get below freezing, you’ll want to switch over to thinner―less viscous―oil. If you run a 10W-30 in the summer, for example, try moving to a 5W-30 when changing your oil in the fall or winter. If you are in doubt, refer to your manual or the manufacturer.

Engine Coolant
Your car’s coolant system is not only intended to keep your engine from overheating, it is also responsible for protecting your valuable engine against corrosion. Before the weather gets too cold, make sure you are using coolant with ethylene glycol to help protect your engine.

Every vehicle requires a certain ratio of coolant to water, and your owner’s manual or repair technician can explain what your engine needs. For most vehicles, a winter ratio is 60% coolant to 40% water. Adjusting this ratio is an important step in winterizing your car, so if you need help, ask someone who is experienced and knowledgeable.

Additionally, some engines can only take specific types of coolant. Be sure to check your vehicle manual to make sure you are putting the right type of coolant into your car.

Cold Weather and Battery Capacity

It isn’t only your engine that doesn’t like to start in the winter. Your battery capacity is reduced by the cold weather, too. A thorough inspection of your battery, cables, terminals, and fluid will help you make sure your car is ready for the winter.

Check over the battery cables for cracks and breaks. The terminals should fit snugly with no loose connections. You can check your battery fluid by uncovering the refill hole (or sometimes holes). If the level is below the bottom of the cap, refill with distilled water.

To read the level of charge in your battery, you will need to turn the engine off. Some batteries have a built-in hydrometer eye that tells you the amount of voltage remaining in the battery. If you prefer, a handheld hydrometer can be used to collect the same information.

While you’re inspecting your battery, look around for the manufacture date. Knowing how old your battery is can clue you in to when it will begin to lose charge. Shopping for a new battery? Never buy one with a six-month-old manufacture date.

Snow Tires

When it comes to really dealing with winter weather, your tires are out there mixing with the snow, sleet, and ice. Driving in snow can be very difficult and sometimes dangerous; still, the reality is you need to get to work.

Mounting the right tires on your car or truck can give you a huge advantage when trekking through snow. Many car makers and tire manufacturers recommend changing all four tires to snow tires in the winter. If you don’t swap all four, the difference between snow and summer tires can cause other problems for your vehicle.

If you live off the beaten path, you can even buy snow tires with studs to help you get where you’re going all winter long. When spring comes, though, you’ll be glad to get out of the heavy winter tires because your fuel efficiency and handling will improve with a less aggressive tire.

Another option is all-season tires that you drive year-round―winter and summer. The advantage of all-season tires is that you don’t change the tires before winter or need to keep two sets of rims. Of course, the disadvantage is that you don’t get all the great features of a specialized seasonal tire.

Windshield Treatment

An easily overlooked part of your winterizing program is your windshield. If you have ever driven behind another vehicle kicking up wet, dirty road snow, then you already have a true appreciation for windshield washer fluid.

For best results in clearing off cold, heavy grime, select a washer fluid with an antifreeze solution. But beware―some washer fluids can be harsh and damage your car’s paint.

Frozen Out

Door locks can freeze in cold weather and break your key if you try to force them open. The old fashion cure was warm water, but what if you’re not at home and don’t have any warm water nearby? Discount stores, auto parts stores, and even hardware stores sell glycerin you can use for de-icing. Think about where you keep it, however, because if the de-icer is in the glove box of your frozen-shut car, then it won’t help you any.

Stock a tube at home in the garage and also in your desk at work. That way whenever your locks freeze up, you’ll be able to solve the problem.

Emergency Kit

If you don’t already have an emergency kit in your car, consider putting together a few basics and stowing them in the trunk. Naturally, you’ll want to be sure your spare tire is in good shape with all the tools to change it out. But you might also want a few other emergency items in case you slide off the road and get stuck in a snow bank:

  • Flares
  • Gloves
  • Drinking Water
  • Phone Charger / Backup Battery Charger
  • Shovel
  • Radio
  • Engine oil
  • Washer fluid
  • Coolant
  • Flashlight

When you take the time to winterize your car, you become more comfortable driving in cold, snowy climates. A short commute quickly becomes difficult when your vehicle isn’t equipped to handle snow and ice. By planning ahead, you can make winterizing your vehicle an annual ritual in the name of safety and vehicle reliability.

Fun Halloween Facts and Safety Tips

Did you know that over $2 billion will be spent on Halloween candy this year? Or how about $330 million on just pet costumes?

We know that Halloween is one of children’s favorite holidays. The chance to dress up in a costume and fill bags with candy is a sure way to excite any youngster. (Plus, the fact that the average trick-or-treater consumes the equivalent of 220 packets of sugar on this holiday doesn’t hurt either.)

For parents, though, the night can be a little stressful as you worry about your kids’ safety. With that in mind, we have compiled an infographic with 31 interesting statistics and facts associated with Halloween along with a brief list of safety tips. We encourage you to take a look at it just in case there is a tip or two that will help you avoid any potential accidents or danger.

Safety Tips

Trick-or-treating
Make sure your children take flashlights so they can avoid tripping over obstacles on the sidewalk or in yards. Flashlights and glow sticks will also help your children be seen by motorists.

If you allow your older kids to go out without your supervision, make sure they go out in a group. Don’t ever allow your kids to go out alone or even in pairs; make sure they go out with at least 3-4 other kids.
Map out their route so you know where they will be and when they should be home.

Tell your kids to only stop at familiar homes where you know the residents and where the outside lights are on.
Instruct your kids to WALK from house to house and NEVER run.
Make sure your kids know to never enter anyone’s home, to never accept rides from strangers, and to never take shortcuts through yards or other dimly lit areas

Costumes

Costumes should be light enough to be clearly visible to motorists. You may even want to add reflective tape to both your child’s costume and bag.

Make sure your child’s costume is labeled flame-resistant.
Costumes should be short to prevent trips and falls.

Try cosmetic face paint rather than a mask. Masks, especially on children, may not fit properly and can obstruct vision.

Be sure to remove all face paint that night to prevent skin irritation.

Candy
Don’t allow your child to eat any candy before you have a chance to inspect it for choking hazards or tampering.

Only permit your child to eat candy that is unopened in its original wrapper. Any homemade or unwrapped candy should be discarded.

A good way to prevent your kids from eating any candy before they get home is to make sure you give them a meal or snack right before they go out.

Above all else, limit the amount of candy your child eats after they get home or you will be dealing with one big stomachache.

Adults
Use additional caution when driving a vehicle. Lookout for children who might run into traffic from behind parked cars or other obstacles.
Turn on your porch and any other exterior lights to welcome trick-or-treaters to your home.

Remove any obstacles from your lawns, steps or porches that could be a tripping hazard for children or adults.
Keep all jack-o’-lanterns from doorsteps or steps where a child could brush by the flame with their costume.
If you keep your jack-o’-lantern inside, place it on a sturdy table away from curtains or other ignitable decorations and out of reach from children and pets.

Preventing Water Damage Claims

Did you know that water damage is the number one cause of homeowners insurance claims?  In fact, 98% of all basements will experience some sort of water damage and approximately 37% of all homeowners will report a financial loss from water damage.
 
Even just a small leak can present major problems.  For example, just a 1/8 inch pipe crack can quickly add up to 250 gallons of water per day!  
 
Even though most homeowners insurance policies cover basic water damage claims up to the purchased limit, implementing some simple prevention techniques is much easier than submitting a claim.
 
Below we have included an infographic with additional information on water leaks along with some prevention tips. 
 
If you have any questions on how your policy will respond to water damage, please feel free to give our office a call.

Be Careful Where you Plant. Some plants and trees, like weeping willows, have pretty invasive roots. If you’re not careful, they’ll grow right into your sprinkler system, drainage field, pipes, foundation, and septic tanks. Plan before you plant to keep roots away from any water lines and well away from your home’s foundation.

Clean Out Your Gutters.  If you’re seeing lots of leaves, birds’ nests, sticks, and whatnot up there, your gutters may not be doing their job. And on a rainy day, a clogged gutter can send water spilling into your home’s foundation, through the roof, or down into your basement. That could cause some serious water damage! So next time you’re doing some seasonal cleaning, make sure those gutters are clean. And if your gutters are too high, be safe and get a professional to check them.

Keep an Eye on Your Water Bill. With so many water pipes hidden behind walls and in the floors in your house, you might not know there’s a leak until the damage is done. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on your monthly water bill. If you see it starting to creep up, or get one that’s uncommonly high, it’s a pretty good sign that you may have a leak somewhere.

Use a Drain Snake Instead of Unclogging Chemicals.  Chances are at some point in your life you’ve used one of those powerful chemical drain cleaners to get things moving again. But as convenient as they may be, most folks don’t realize those caustic chemicals are also eating away at their pipes. If you rely on them a lot, you could be setting yourself up for leaks. That’s why owning a drain snake is a good solution to clear away clogs. They’re pretty inexpensive, you can get them at your local hardware store, and they can cut through most any clog you’ll have without damaging pipes.  Drain snakes also have less impact on our environment and won’t leave your eyes red and teary. 

Never Pour Grease Down Your Sink.  It doesn’t matter if you flush it with hot or cold water. It can still congeal and cling to your pipes, and could still cause some serious damage and blockage.  The safest thing to do is just to pour your grease in an empty can, and either let it sit or put it in the refrigerator. Once it hardens you can toss it in the trash and get rid of it. Done and done.

Water Damage Infographic

Cell Phone Insurance

Top 5 Strangest Homeowners Claims

Home-Claims

When real disaster occurs, insurance provides a vital and necessary lifeline that helps policyholders regain their footing and start life over.

And thankfully most of the time, home insurance claims are fairly routine affairs involving some sort of property damage (typically storm related). Weird, off-the-wall home insurance claims simply don’t seem to happen that often.

When strange home insurance claims do happen, though, they are truly bizarre. Below we have included the stories from the top five strangest home insurance claims we’ve ever come across.

Also, please remember that you can always contact our office for any home insurance claim you encounter—no matter how strange it may be. Our office will be glad to assist.

Claim 1: But the floor was made of wood. A woman turned her hardwood floor into a bowling alley to practice her game. She quickly found that her grand idea couldn’t spare her floors from being damaged. The owner filed a loss report with her insurance company claiming that the floor’s damage was not the result of the heavy bowling ball, but due to the hardwood not being hard enough. Like a gutter ball, zero was the result of her claim.

Claim 2: New York man claimed that while cooking dinner, several pans on his wood stove ignited. While trying to extinguish the fire, he threw the first pan out the door, where it (conveniently) happened to land in the backseat of his convertible. While trying to throw out the second pan outside, he tripped and the pan landed on his sofa. His house and car burned to the ground. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire – suspicious of his story, law enforcement conducted an investigation and charged him with insurance fraud. He was left with no home, car, insurance money, and five years of probation.

Claim 3: The owner of a rental property visited the home to inspect it after renting it to some college kids for a few weeks. Not expecting much more than maybe some empty beer cans and some trash, the owner was stunned when he opened the door to his home and sand poured out. The renters decided to create an indoor beach and filled the house with sand and water. Insurance covered the claim but the moral of this story is: be careful who you rent to!

Claim 4: Dogs can do some amazing things, but painting is not one of them. One homeowner left a can of paint open on her floor while redoing her walls. Her dog stuck his tail in the can and then proceeded to drip, shake, and wag paint throughout the entire house. Her insurance company paid the claim, and her dog paid with a much-needed bath and well-deserved time out.

Claim 5: One “fishy” claim came from a man participating in a competitive billiards-type game of snooker. After taking a wild shot, the ball soared off the billiard table straight into an expensive fish tank. All fish were saved and his claim was paid.

Rental Car Damage Waiver

As agents we are often asked a number of difficult questions relating to auto insurance coverage and how the coverage will respond in various situations. One of the most frequent questions we receive is in regards to purchasing the collision damage waiver when renting a car.

You know the routine. You just got off of the plane for your vacation. You’re ready to go hit the beach, but first you have to go through the dreaded conversation at the rental car desk.

“Would you like to upgrade to a bigger car?”

“Don’t need it.”

“Would you like to rent a GPS system?”

“Brought my own, thanks.”

Now, the biggie: “Would you like to pay for the collision damage waiver?”

Before you quickly reject this one as well, we want to give you 5 reasons below on why you should strongly consider purchasing the collision damage waiver the next time you rent a car.

1. Loss Valuation and Settlement. Did you know most rental agreements allow the rental car company to determine the value of the vehicle solely at its discretion if you are involved in a claim?

So if you are in an accident that totals a vehicle that is a few years old, the rental car company can still charge for a brand new vehicle. A standard auto insurance policy only pays “Actual Cash Value” of the vehicle, which means you will be stuck with the difference in value.

2. Indirect Losses. If there is an accident you will most likely also be responsible for the loss of rental income incurred by the company while the damaged vehicle cannot be used. And, while many auto policies will provide some coverage for this, there have been many cases where individuals are still charged thousands of dollars above what their insurance company would pay for.

3. Administrative Fees. If you damage a vehicle, there is a good possibility the rental car company will add additional charges for expenses such as towing, storage, and claims adjustment calling them “administrative fees”. Your insurance policy will not provide coverage for these expenses, either.

4. Diminution of Value. This is another fee the rental car company can add on if the damage to the vehicle is over a certain amount. For example, if a rented vehicle sustains more than $1,000 damage, many companies will charge an additional percentage fee (typically 25%) because they figure the sustained damage has now decreased the value of the car and their ability to sell it. Your auto policy isn’t picking up this fee.

5. Loss Payment. If you happen to damage a vehicle, it is common for the rental car company to immediately charge your credit card for the damage to the vehicle. This can create a huge mess as could potentially max out your credit card. This can create some real headaches with your insurance company.

One of the provisions within your policy is that the insurance company needs to be able to inspect the vehicle so they can accurately calculate a damage amount. However, the rental car company may not wait for an adjuster, and it is common for them to charge your credit card and begin repairs immediately.

The problem is that the provision within your insurance policy mentioned above may actually give your auto insurance company the right to deny the claim as they were not allowed to properly inspect the vehicle.

Between just the fees associated with damaging a vehicle, the valuation process, and payment mess, you can see how you could easily be out thousands of dollars. By not signing the waiver, you may potentially be setting yourself up for some huge personal expenses.

Recommendation: We know you don’t want to pay more money for the waiver, but believe us, if you happen to damage a rented vehicle, you’re life will be a thousand times easier than if you hadn’t signed and paid for it.

Also, please double check to see how your own insurance policy will react to some of the claims scenarios above.

Disclaimer: The above information is to be used as guidance only, and it is not to be considered as definite in any particular case. Every policy is different and you need to read through your policy and consult with your agent to best determine how your coverage will respond. The information provided is based on the ISO standard Personal Auto Policy in force in most states. Policy provisions and laws vary from state to state and they can change at any time. Due to the brevity of this article, we cannot analyze every possible loss exposure and exception to the general guidelines above.

Dog Bite Liability

Did you know that dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out last year, costing more than $530 million?

Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year and about 885,000 require medical attention for these injuries; about half of these are children.

With 68 percent of U.S. households, or 83.3 million homes, owning a pet, we thought it would be a good idea to share some insight into how insurance companies view pets (specifically dogs) and what can be done to ensure you have proper liability insurance coverage.

If you have any specific questions related to your homeowners insurance policy and pets, please feel free to give our office a call.


 

Claims: According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average cost paid out for dog bite claims nationwide was $32,072 last year. The average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 67 percent from 2003, due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are still on the upswing.

The trend in higher costs per claim is attributable not only to dog bites but also to dogs knocking down children, cyclists, the elderly, etc., which can result in injuries that impact the potential severity of the losses.

State and Local Legislation: Dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause if the owner knew the dog had a tendency to bite. In some states, statutes make the owners liable whether or not they knew the dog had a tendency to bite; in others, owners can be held responsible only if they knew or should have known their dogs had a propensity to bite. Some states and municipalities have “breed specific” statutes that identify breeds such as pit bulls as dangerous; in others individual dogs can be designated as vicious.

Dog Owners’ Liability: There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:

1) A dog-bite statute: where the dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes without provocation.

2) The one-bite rule: where the dog owner is responsible for an injury caused by a dog if the owner knew the dog was likely to cause that type of injury—in this case, the victim must prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous.

3) Negligence laws: where the dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.

Insurers are Limiting their Exposure: Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability legal expenses, up to the liability limits (typically $100,000 to $300,000). If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount. 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.

Some insurers are taking steps to limit their exposure to such losses. Some companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge more for owners of breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers and others are not offering insurance to dog owners at all. Some will cover a pet if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior or if the dog is restrained with a muzzle, chain or cage.