Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spooky Season For Under-Insured Homeowners

From the Deadline Newsroom's Haunted House Series

by Broderick Perkins
© 2007 DeadlineNews.Com

Deadline Newsroom – Kids cavorting carelessly across your property. Playful pranks that become acts of vandalism. Party guests over doing it.

Halloween can be scary.

Before you put out the Halloween treats and deck the walls with the specters of the season, the trick is to make sure your home is safe and that your homeowners insurance policy will cover any claims that might arise from the season's spirited activities.

Legal experts say your primary concern should be trick-or-treating kids and their safety.

Despite the holiday urge to create a darkened atmosphere for the fun of playful fear, your property really should be well lighted.

Not only will that help keep kids safe, but it will also remove the cover of darkness vandals seek in any season.

Make sure your walks, driveways and pathways are clear of debris, leaves, garden equipment and decorations that could inhibit safe passage.

If, during trick-or-treating, a pumpkin or other gourd gets smashed, quickly clean up the slippery, slimy goo.

Swimming pool owners should secure the pool cover, lock access gates and turn on the pool lights.

Your efforts to maintain a safe property helps shelter you from claims of negligence, should someone get injured anyway.


Most homeowners policies have medical payments coverage, which pays up to a specified amount for emergency medical treatment. The medial payment portion may also cover you if someone gets sick, say from a candy-coated apple or other treat you made at home.

Ask your agent if you have enough coverage.

You policy also has greater liability coverage, but in order for that coverage to be triggered, you must be found negligent. If the case involves a child, the burden of proof will be on you to prove you weren't negligent because, by law, kids are not considered competent.

The Insurance Information Institute says most homeowners policies come with a standard level of liability coverage. Discuss the amount with your insurance agent to determine if your coverage is sufficient. You should have enough to cover the value of your assets.

If a single insurer writes both your home and auto policy, the least expensive way to increase liability coverage is to purchase an umbrella policy. For a few hundred dollars a year, up to $1 million of coverage applies to both your auto and homeowners coverage.

You could face other liabilities if you throw a party, a guest drinks too much and, on his or her way home, crashes the car.

In some areas, laws or legal precedent can hold a party host responsible for injuries or property damage caused by an inebriated guest leaving a party. You could be legally responsible for medical bills, vehicle repairs, lost work time and wrongful death claims.

Check with your insurer and your local law enforcement authorities to determine your liability and insurance coverage.


Halloween pranks that become vandalism and cause permanent damage to your home, say broken windows and spray painted siding, is covered by the property protection portion of your policy. Remember, you'll have to pay a deductible and often such claims don't exceed that amount.

Report the crime to the police. Depending upon the laws where you life, if the bad boys or girls are caught, your insurer can seek damages from the culprits or their insurance company.

Your local laws will also tell you who is liable if your kids vandalize someone else's home. In many states, parents are considered liable for their minor kids' behavior and most homeowners policies do not cover crime or intentional acts of vandalism.

If a trick-or-treater gets rowdy, use care and only as much force as necessary to get the person to leave. If you use excessive force and inadvertently break a limb, your homeowner's policy may or may not protect you.

Ask your local police department how to handle Halloween hooligans.

Safety tips

The Insurance Information Institute also offers the following tips for a safe Halloween.

• Use face paints instead of masks.
• Require children to wear comfortable shoes and dress appropriately for weather conditions.
• Avoid costume accessories, such as knives, swords, broom handles, and wands that could cause harm and add reflective tape to costumes.
• Avoid loose-fitting costumes that could cause a child to trip and fall.
• Small children should have their names and addresses attached to their costumes.
• An adult should accompany young trick-or-treaters and older trick-or-treaters should travel with a buddy or in groups.
• Go over safety rules with kids before allowing them to go trick-or-treating. Set a trick-or-treating route and stick with it.
• Remind kids to visit homes familiar to them or you and don't approach darkened homes.
• Provide kids with small battery-powered flashlights.
• Stay on sidewalks, and avoid crossing yards.
• Cross streets at the corner, use crosswalks (where they exist), and do not cross between parked cars.
• Inspect all Halloween treats before children start feasting.
• Discard any food that is not in its original and undamaged wrapper.
• Keep homemade food only if you know who prepared it.

Also see:
Ghosts Have To Live Somewhere

© 2007 DeadlineNews.Com

Broderick Perkins, an award-winning consumer journalist of 30 years, is publisher and executive editor of San Jose, CA-based DeadlineNews.Com, a real estate news and consulting service, and the new Deadline Newsroom, DeadlineNews.Com's new backshop. In both cases, it's where all the news really hits home.

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