Personal (Home & Auto)

Properly Cover Your HO/Condo Association Loss Exposures

Posted on February 16, 2012. Filed under: Personal (Home & Auto) | Tags: , , , , , |

Many people are active in their condominium or home owners’ association, serving as directors, officers, and editors of association newsletters. If you are an active member of your association, consider the following risk management tips and recommendations.

Verify that the association has directors and officers (D&O) coverage in force with reasonably high limits. If the association refuses or chooses not to obtain D&O coverage, seriously reconsider your leadership activities within the group due to your unprotected liability exposure.

If D&O coverage is in place, verify that this policy provides errors and omissions coverage for the proper purchase of insurance. To do this, verify that the “failure to maintain insurance” exclusion is not attached to the D&O policy.

Ask your association to hire an independent insurance consultant to audit the association insurance program to uncover any potentially lethal coverage gaps. For example, home owners’ associations should have at least the following types of coverages: guaranteed replacement cost property coverage for common areas, commercial umbrella coverage, workers compensation insurance (even if there are no association employees) to cover claims brought by uninsured independent contractors, and D&O liability coverage.

If you don’t already have it, consider adding a personal injury (HO 24 82) or related endorsement to your homeowners policy.

Get more personal lines insurance and risk management tips and ideas from IRMI.

International Risk Management Institute, Inc. Copyright 2012

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Space Heater Safety (Part 2)

Posted on February 2, 2012. Filed under: Personal (Home & Auto) | Tags: , , , , , |

In Part 1, we discussed how to remain safe when using electric space heaters. In Part 2 of this series, we will look at gas-fired and kerosene heaters.

The same safety rules apply to all space heaters but, when using a gas or kerosene heater in your home or office, you also need to pay attention to proper venting. Leaving a door or window open during use will allow fresh air to enter the heated space and will prevent CO buildup. These types of heaters should NEVER be used in a confined space. If you have a heater built before 1983, it may not be equipped with an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS). The ODS will shut the heater off if the air quality becomes dangerous. You should also ensure that your heater has a pilot safety valve, which will prevent the risk of explosion if the pilot light goes out.

In the event the pilot light goes out:

  • Do NOT attempt to light the pilot if you smell gas. Turn off all controls, open a window or door, and leave the area.
  • Also, if you smell gas, do NOT touch any electrical switches, use a radio or telephone, or smoke in the area. Any spark can ignite gas.
If you are using a stationary device, always have it installed by a professional. And, you may want to consider investing in one of the newer ceramic space heaters, which pose less of a fire hazard than the older style heaters. Regardless of the heater you select, make sure it was tested by an independent laboratory, by looking for the UL label on the packaging.

Finally, ensure you follow the recommended maintenance and inspection guidelines for the heater you own. Even if your heater comes with air quality shut offs, it is a good idea to invest in a working smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector. Test the alarms once a month and replace the batteries twice a year (a great way to remember is to replace them when you change your clocks for daylight savings).

There is nothing wrong with wanting to save a little money on your heating bill. But, make sure you do it safely!

Adapted from Risk Management Articles provided by Travelers and Money.USNews.com.

Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Space Heater Safety (Part 1)

Posted on January 26, 2012. Filed under: Personal (Home & Auto) | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Electric space heaters are an inexpensive way to save on your heating bills during the cold, winter months. But, if not used correctly AND kept away from flammable objects, they have the potential to cause a fire and cause significant damage to your home or business.

Image: PANPOTE / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some tips for staying safe:

  • Keep the heater a minimum of 30″ from any flammable objects. Examples include: wood, paper, rags, and combustible liquids.
  • Set up the heater on the floor, unless it is specifically designed for other locations.
  • Don’t set the heater on combustible surfaces, such as rugs or carpets.

Electric space heaters may seem safer than their propane and kerosene counterparts. But, even they can cause fires, burns and explosions. Remaining aware of hot surfaces and staying on the look out for defective wiring can help you avoid these dangers.

In Part 2, we will look at the dangers of, and maintenance recommendations, for gas and kerosene space heaters.

Adapted from a Risk Management Article provided by Travelers.

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National Survey for Trusted Choice® Shows Many Unprepared to Deal with Holiday Theft

Posted on December 22, 2011. Filed under: Personal (Home & Auto) | Tags: , , , , , , |

Trusted Choice® urges families to take steps to protect their gifts, offers safety tips.

Turn the news on during the holiday season and unfortunately and inevitably, there are stories of how a “Grinch” stole someone’s gifts from a car or from under a Christmas tree. Trusted Choice® independent insurance agents and brokers recommend consumers have the proper insurance products in the event that prized possessions are stolen.

“People tend to let their guard down at home because that’s where they are most comfortable and feel safe,” says Rebecca Korach Woan, president and founder of Chartwell Insurance Services in Chicago. “But home is where you should be most vigilant. Thieves know that your most valuable possessions are there and will often prey on unprepared homeowners, especially during the busy holiday season.”

A new national survey by Trusted Choice and IIABA found that 44% of respondents, representing more than 100 million people in the United States, said they have been a victim of burglary, robbery or another form of theft. Of those who said they were victims, only 40% said their stolen property was insured.

“This research proves that no one is immune to theft and, sadly, shows that not enough people have adequate property insurance,” says Madelyn Flannagan, Big “I” vice president of agent development, education and research. “Especially during the holidays, it is very easy to be consumed by the hectic pace of the season, but everyone should take time and put family and home safety at the top of their holiday wish list.”

The survey also found that, of those whose stolen property was insured, about 58% believed they were fully compensated for their losses. This indicates that in most cases, people who are properly insured fare well in the event of a loss.

That figure could be significantly higher if more consumers elected to insure their personal property for replacement cost and not depreciated actual cash value. Doing so typically only adds 10% to 15% to their homeowners insurance premium.

“If you haven’t done it recently, at least make it your New Year’s resolution to meet with a Trusted Choice independent insurance agent to assess your risks and insure that your assets, including your new holiday gifts, are protected,” says Bob Rusbuldt, Big “I” president & CEO. “Independent insurance agents not only advise clients about insurance, but they’re risk and liability experts.”

Trusted Choice independent insurance agents urge consumers to consider these points to protect their assets and gifts during the holiday season in their homes, in their cars, while shopping or anywhere:

At Home

  • Break down boxes—especially for expensive electronics—into small pieces and discard them in non-clear trash bags.
  • Keep gifts hidden from view at outside windows.
  • Lock all doors and windows even when leaving the home for a short period of time.
  • Leave spare keys with a neighbor rather than hiding them outside, such as under doormats or in fake rocks. Burglars are not fooled by most hiding places.
  • Indoor and outdoor lights on an automatic timer should be used whenever possible.
  • When you’re away from your home for an extended period of time, have a neighbor or friend watch your house and pick up newspapers and mail.
  • Beware of strangers at your door. Criminals can pose as couriers delivering gifts or be soliciting donations for fake charitable causes. Ask for identification or information about a charity.
  • Many renters have no insurance to cover their personal belongings in case of fire or theft. Existing homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policies should be reviewed to ensure adequate and up-to-date coverage limits of your home or possessions.
  • Valuable gifts such as jewelry, antiques and collectibles may have limited or no coverage under a standard homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policy. It is often necessary to purchase an “endorsement” or separate coverage for these items.
  • Consider insuring your personal property on the same replacement cost basis as your home.

In the Car
  • Lock all doors and roll up all windows even when leaving the car for a short period of time.
  • Bring gifts into homes with you overnight rather than leaving them in your car.
  • When shopping, keep gifts in the trunk or hidden from view in the interior of the car.
  • Put all of your packages in the trunk before departing one parking lot and driving to another. Waiting until your next shopping destination allows others to see packages go into the trunk of your car and then you departing into the mall or store.
  • Avoid parking next to vans and large trucks that block your space from general vision of others.
  • Make a mental note or write down exactly where you park your car to avoid wandering around longer than necessary.
  • During the day, park away from buildings to reduce the chance of dings from car doors or shopping carts and the likelihood of vandalism.
  • At night, avoid secluded areas and park directly under lights whenever possible.
  • Look underneath your car before you reach it when returning from shopping; criminals have been known to lie underneath in wait.

While Shopping
  • Use a credit card in order to avoid thefts of large amounts of cash that cannot be replaced.
  • Shopping with a single credit card is preferable—it is easier to cancel one rather than several if your wallet or purse is stolen.
  • Keep purses zipped and in your possession close to your body rather than leaving them in your shopping cart where they are more susceptible to theft.
  • Be sure to keep a reference list of phone and account numbers for all of your credit cards in a safe place at home.
  • Try to carry keys, cash and credit cards separate from each other.
  • For freedom of motion and clear visibility, do not overload yourself with packages when leaving a store and returning to your car. You cannot defend yourself with your arms too full of bundles.
  • Use ATMs in well-populated, well-lighted locations. Do not throw ATM receipts away at the ATM location.
  • Remember there is increased safety in numbers. Avoid walking alone and leave malls and stores well before closing time to assure a more active parking lot.

Other Tips
  • The holiday season often includes images of cute puppies under a Christmas tree or a kitten with a sparkly ribbon around its neck. But before you do your holiday shopping at the pet shop, potential pet owners must understand that no matter what they paid for their pooch or any pet, most homeowners insurance policies exclude animals. So if your pet is stolen, it is not likely you will be able to claim it as a loss with your insurance company.
  • Conduct a home inventory after the holidays and make sure than any new items in the home are properly insured.

This survey was conducted for Trusted Choice® via telephone by International Communications Research (ICR), an independent research company in Media, Pa. Interviews of a nationally-representative sample of 1,018 households were conducted in November 2011. The survey has an overall margin of error of +/- 3.1%.

Margarita Tapia (margarita.tapia@iiaba.net) is Big “I” director of public affairs.

This article was reprinted with permission from Trusted Choice®.

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Make Sure Your Holiday Decorations are Safe to Use

Posted on December 20, 2011. Filed under: Personal (Home & Auto) | Tags: , , , , , |

Each year, holiday season fires in the United States claim the lives of more than 400 people, injure 2,600 more, and cause more than $990 million in damage. According to the United States Fire Administration, there are simple lifesaving steps you can take to ensure a safe and happy holiday. By following some of these precautionary tips, you can greatly reduce your chances of becoming a holiday fire casualty.

Christmas trees: When buying a live tree, make sure the needles are green. The needles should not break if the tree is freshly cut. If you bounce the tree on the ground and needles fall off, the tree is too dry and should not be used. When you put the tree up in your home, be sure to keep it away from heat sources. Don’t put it up too early, and don’t leave it up for more than 2 weeks. Always be sure that it has plenty of water. When you take the tree down, do not burn it in the fireplace. Recycle it or have it hauled away by a community pickup service.

Holiday lights: Before using your lights, inspect them for bare spots or frayed wires, and use only lights that a testing lab has approved. Be sure not to overload your circuits; the best way to do this is to avoid stringing together more than three strands of lights. And never leave your holiday lights unattended.

Holiday decorations: All such decorations should be flame resistant. Be sure to place them away from heat sources. You should not burn wrapping paper in your fireplace. Such a fire may throw off sparks or produce a chemical buildup that could cause an explosion.

Candles: Always place candles in steady holders where they can’t be easily knocked over, and do not go out of the house with candles burning. If you do use candles during the holidays, be sure to have a fire extinguisher nearby.

Smoke alarms: Each year at Christmas is an excellent time to change the batteries in your smoke alarm. If your smoke alarm is hardwired into the home’s electrical system, be sure that it is working.

Get more personal lines insurance and risk management tips and ideas from IRMI.

Copyright 2011

International Risk Management Institute, Inc.

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Insuring Childcare Centers . . . It Only Takes One

Posted on December 15, 2011. Filed under: Commercial, Personal (Home & Auto) | Tags: , , , , , |

That’s it. Just one. Just a single accident or negligent act can wipe out a small business in a heartbeat. If you are a small business owner, especially in a specialized industy such as childcare, it is critical for you to understand the risks and how to protect yourself.

For example’s sake, let’s stick with childcare. If you provide childcare in-home, your homeowner’s insurance may or may not cover some of your liability exposure. And while it may provide limited coverage for business property, it won’t address child abuse claims or professional liability risks related to your responsibility as a childcare provider. You may think a claim such as abuse is impossible. However, even a false claim can result in serious financial loss due to the cost of defense.

For a daycare center, focusing on liability coverage only is a mistake. Coverage for your property, in the event of fire or flood, is critical. And, Errors & Omissions, in addition to General Liability, will help minimize your vulnrability to claims such as child abuse and other services expected of you.

Obtaining the right insurance is critical, but so is understanding the coverage you have. Find an agent who takes the time to educate you, not only on the benefits of your policies, but also the claims process. You must understand what happens if a claim is made after a policy term ends. Policies can be Occurrence or Claims Made. Do you know what type your policies are?

And finally, there are companies that offer specialized insurance packages for specific industries. They do not always replace every policy mentioned above. But, they can simplify the number of policies needed to ensure adequate coverage and the efficient handling of your claim. It is important to work with an agency that understands you risks and works with multiple companies.

We provide free, no obligation, policy reviews. Contact us today!

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Tis the Season for Holiday Parties . . . and Food Poisoning

Posted on December 13, 2011. Filed under: Personal (Home & Auto) | Tags: , , , , , , |

The holidays are almost here, which means hauling out the holly, stringing up the lights, and dashing through the snow. The holidays also mean lots of fun, festive parties to celebrate the season. These celebrations usually feature an array of delectable foods and tasty drinks that are dangerous to your waistline, but if you’re hosting a party, you have more to worry about than added pounds or lumpy gravy.

According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated one in six people in the United States come down with food poisoning every year. And whether you’re preparing the food and drinks for your party yourself or purchasing them, you could be liable if your party guests get sick. Food poisoning doesn’t just happen to bad cooks either. Foods, such as bagged spinach — that’s supposedly pre-washed and ready to eat — can contain E. coli, which is undetectable to even the most well trained chef.

Fortunately, most homeowner’s insurance policies cover food poisoning situations in which your guests incur medical expenses or endure “pain and suffering” (i.e. missing work because they’re hovering over a toilet bowl). There are limits to both of these coverages and intentional poisoning is not covered (so don’t try slipping something into your pesky aunt’s pumpkin pie), but most policies provide protection from unintentional food-borne illness.

The best way to avoid a food-poisoning claim is to take the proper precautions when preparing your holiday fare. Here are some tips to ensure your guests leave with leftovers and fond memories, not food poisoning.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat or poultry.
  • Use an anti-bacterial cleaner to wipe down any surfaces, including counters and cutting boards, that come into contact with raw meat or poultry.
  • Check the expiration date on foods before using them to cook or offering them to guests.
  • Wash all produce, even the kind that’s “pre-washed,” before using it.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate utensils to stir raw and cooked food.
  • Make sure all foods are cooked to the appropriate temperature. This rule doesn’t apply to just meat and poultry either. Eggs, seafood, and even potatoes can cause illness if they are undercooked.
  • Don’t leave foods that require refrigeration or freezing out for more than two hours.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. If you’re unsure about any food – raw or cooked, prepared or homemade – don’t use it.

If you have questions about whether your homeowner’s policy covers food poisoning or any other party-related risk, your Trusted Choice® independent insurance agent is happy to answer any of your policy questions. You can even invite him or her to your party, just be sure the food is cooked!

Reprinted with permission from Trusted Choice®.

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Reduce Your Social Host Liquor Liability Exposure

Posted on November 30, 2011. Filed under: Personal (Home & Auto) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that nearly 13,000 people per year (about 35 per day) are killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes.

Many of these tragic accidents happen after an inebriated person leaves a party—an event in which the host of that party might be held liable for injuries and deaths to innocent parties. Although there might be coverage under your personal auto policy or homeowners policy if you (as the host) are held legally responsible for such a terrible accident, a wiser risk management strategy is to avoid or reduce the chance of loss altogether. With that in mind, here are some tips to consider if you (or a resident family member) occasionally host social events involving alcohol.


  • Surveys of youth indicate that the most common source of alcohol is the young person’s own home. Thus, closely monitor social events your youth hosts to make sure there is no drinking allowed—particularly any type of illegal underage drinking. It is wise to not allow your teenager to host a party when you are out of town.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol at your event.
  • If alcohol is served at your party, make sure that there is plenty of food. The consumption of food slows down the absorption of alcohol.
  • Encourage designated drivers and provide nonalcoholic drinks for these guests.
  • Look for signs of intoxication. An intoxicated person often has trouble walking, has slurred or loud speech, or is atypically uninhibited. There is not, however, a fool-proof method of determining whether someone is intoxicated because exceptionally tolerant individuals often do not show signs of tipsiness even though they are intoxicated.
  • Restrict alcohol to any near-intoxicated or intoxicated persons by offering instead some food or alternative nonalcoholic drinks.
  • Consider hiring trained bartenders. As they are trained to recognize and deal with intoxication, using professional bartenders can significantly reduce the risk and may help in defending a claim should there be one.
  • If you have a cash bar, use tickets and issue a limited number. Don’t price alcohol too low because this encourages excessive drinking.
  • Do not allow the intoxicated guest to drive away from the event even if you have to take away his or her car keys. Instead, offer to drive them home or provide a free cab service. Soliciting the help of the guest’s spouse or a close friend may help.

Contact us for a free review of your liability coverage or for a quote. Get more personal lines insurance and risk management tips and ideas from IRMI.

Copyright 2009
International Risk Management Institute, Inc.

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“Satellite, Headlines Read . . .”

Posted on September 28, 2011. Filed under: Personal (Home & Auto) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Science and technology are wonderful things! Just think of cell phones, light bulbs, and planes. Speaking of planes, did you hear about the Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite that fell in the pacific ocean this past Saturday? Luckily, no one got hurt. But if parts of it fell on a home or an auto, is there coverage? You might want to check your insurance policies. It may not be a satellite that falls on your home or auto. It may be a tree! If your home policy covers “Falling Objects” you are likely covered. If you rejected comprehensive coverage, then your car won’t be. If you’re not our client, and don’t have an expert to ask, you are welcome to give us a call (512.257.8000). We will be happy to help you ask your company the right questions.

Enjoy Dave Matthew’s “Satellite” video!

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Safeguarding Antiques: Properly Insuring Objet d’art

Posted on May 31, 2011. Filed under: Personal (Home & Auto) | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Many Americans own valuable antiques, which are often inadequately insured under a standard homeowners policy. Homeowners policies may contain restrictive limits and coverage for these valuable items, and the valuation may only be provided on an actual cash value basis. Even if the personal property replacement cost endorsement is added to a homeowners policy, the endorsement explicitly lists antiques, fine arts, paintings, and memorabilia as ineligible properties. Coverage is also restricted to a limited number of perils. For example, the homeowners policy does not provide any personal property coverage for breakage or accidental scratching. If you possess extensive and valuable antiques or fine arts, the following tips may prove helpful.

  • Properly inventory and document your antiques and other collectibles. Videotaping should also be utilized; be sure to videotape the item from every angle.
  • Arrange an appointment with your insurance agent to review your antique and fine arts coverage. Bring as much information about your portfolio as possible, including photos and any appraisals.
  • Consider utilizing the services of an experienced appraiser who specializes in antiques. Some antique and fine art dealers perform free general value assessments online for lesser-value pieces if acceptable photos and descriptions are provided. For extremely valuable items, most appraisers want to personally inspect the piece, which normally involves a fee. All appraisals should be prepared in accordance with the codes and requirements of the American Society of Appraisers and the American Appraisers Association. High-quality appraisals normally include a description and comment on the antique, an auction value of the item, and a replacement value.
  • For valuation assistance on less valuable or more common items, consider visiting eBay and other Internet auction sites to help establish various items’ market value. An examination of the item’s closing price, not its initial asking price, is more representative of its true value.
  • Ask your agent about procuring a personal inland marine policy or endorsement that can be added to your homeowners policy. This policy/endorsement allows you to schedule your items on an agreed valued basis established by the appraisal and gives you much broader coverage than the homeowners policy provides. Note that this special coverage may also have a breakage exclusion, which may be eliminated for an extra premium.
  • Take steps to safeguard your collection, with adequate security precautions and appropriate storage.

Get more personal lines insurance and risk management tips and ideas from IRMI.

Copyright 2011
International Risk Management Institute, Inc.
*****

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