Insurance: The Protections And Pitfalls Of Homeowners' Liability
BY John Case
You can never tell how much hard luck you may have.
An apartment dweller in Florida, for example, was entertaining a friend from the North, who one day stretched out on the couch for a nap. The visitor's sleep was interrupted when she felt something crawling on her scalp. The crawler, she reported later, was cool and scaly.
At the time, she didn't stop to think. Instead she leaped from the couch, jumped over a chair -- and dove headfirst into a coffee table.
The villain turned out to be a baby chameleon. The hero turned out to be Aetna Life & Casualty, the apartment dweller's insurer, which paid the medical bills.
Most accidents in and around the home have less panache. The baby-sitter slips and falls. The dog bites the meter reader. (This is considered an accident regardless of the dog's intentions.) And the good news is that ordinary homeowners' and renters' policies insure you against claims arising from such cases.
The bad news is that there are exceptions to this coverage.
For one thing, an ordinary homeowners' policy won't cover any liabilities arising from a business based in the home. Thus a secretary or an assistant working out of a home-based office needs additional coverage. So may a child with a paper route. (There is always a chance that the kid will wing the Evening Sun through Mrs. Lipson's stained-glass window.) And if you rent your property out regularly (as a second home, for example), that is considered to be a business.
The policy also won't cover anyone who is legally required to be insured under worker's compensation laws, whether or not he or she actually is covered. So be sure to check that any contractors you hire have the right policies. And if you engage regular domestic help, check with your agent to see if you need workers' comp coverage on them. The laws vary from state to state, but many states do require it.
Finally, check your liability limit. People with substantial assets are vulnerable to large claims, and it costs little to add extra protection.