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Insurance you didn’t know you had

If you took an ax to your kitchen floor, the damage typically wouldn’t be covered by your homeowners insurance. Insurers generally don’t cover intentional damage, and whacking a floor with an ax is considered pretty intentional.

Except when the blows are inflicted in the course of dispatching a rattlesnake that slithered into your kitchen, threatening your wife and 3-year-old child.

That’s what happened to a friend of Bill Sirola, a spokesman for the nation’s largest homeowners insurer, State Farm, and the insurer paid up without a murmur.

“It took him five or six good whacks to kill the thing,” Sirola said.

There are plenty of things that insurance won’t pay for. But in writing about insurance over the years, I’ve stumbled across some unexpected things that are covered. Some are pretty esoteric, like actresses insuring their legs or policies that pay out in case of alien abduction. But others are fairly common, and I’ve picked my 11 favorites among them, starting with my No. 1 of all time:

Waterbed liability

Cue the rotating disco ball and the 1970s funk music, because many renters and condo insurance policies provide coverage if your bodacious berth bursts.

The insurance applies regardless of what caused the leakage, as long as you didn’t intentionally break the bed.

Sometimes the coverage is built in; in other cases, you may need to pay a little extra for a waterbed-liability endorsement. But once you have it, you’re covered for damage to your own pad as well as whatever you inflict on your downstairs neighbor.

Tombstone damage

If a vandal destroys or carries off a loved one’s headstone, it might be covered under your homeowners insurance. The damage would be subject to the same restrictions that apply to other coverage, meaning the destruction:

  • Exceeds your deductible.
  • Is a covered loss.

Theft and vandalism damage are typically covered losses, but catastrophes often aren’t.

“If it gets swept away by a flood, it’s not covered” under the homeowners policy, Sirola said. “If it’s shaken apart by an earthquake, it’s not covered.”


It turns out that you can get your shiatsu subsidized, depending on your coverage and the circumstances. Your doctor can prescribe massage to help you recover from a car accident or an on-the-job injury, for example. If your insurance covers chiropractic care, it may also cover massage ordered by the chiropractor.

Check your policy for details or talk to your employer’s human-resources department.

Weight control

Run-of-the-mill weight-loss programs aren’t covered by most insurance policies, according to the National Institutes of Health, but your insurer may cover prescription weight-control medications and weight-loss surgery.

The latter typically costs $25,000 to $30,000, so coverage is a really big deal. To qualify, though, you have to be morbidly obese — usually defined as 20% or more above your ideal body weight or with a body mass index of 40 or higher. You may also qualify if you’re not quite that heavy but you have a serious weight-related condition, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or severe apnea.

Even if your weight-loss program isn’t covered by insurance, you may still be able to defray the cost if it’s prescribed by a doctor. In that case, you can use the pretax money you’ve put in your flexible-spending account at work to pay for it. Flexible-spending plans allow you to pay for a host of other medical expenses that may not be covered by insurance, including smoking-cessation programs, birth control, fertility treatments, orthodontia and (if prescribed by a doctor) over-the-counter medications, including aspirin.

Drunken guests

A friend leaves your Super Bowl party, hops into his car and promptly plows into another vehicle. Everybody in the other car winds up in a hospital, and you get sued for serving alcohol to your friend.

There’s plenty of variation in state laws, regional court cases and insurer policies, but in general the liability portion of your homeowners insurance can help pay your defense and any damages awarded, up to the limits of your policy.

And there’s the rub, because many homeowners policies limit liability protection to $300,000 or so. You’d be smart to investigate getting at least a $1 million personal liability or umbrella policy if you’re a homeowner.

Also, your coverage may depend on you not doing something egregiously stupid, like serving a minor or continuing to serve someone who is already drunk.

For details, talk to your insurance agent.

Stupid kids

Parents in most states can be held financially responsible for damage caused by their minor children. Fortunately, many homeowners insurance policies will help pay the bill — depending on the child’s age, the circumstances and the policy language.

A big exception: Insurance policies won’t pay for damage resulting from “intentional,” “malicious” or “illegal” acts.

If your little Sally accidentally knocks a baseball through the neighbor’s plate-glass window, your homeowners insurance may kick in. If she hurls a brick through the same window, though, you’re on your own for the costs of the replacement — and for the therapy she so desperately needs.

Stupid pets

You’re out on a walk with Dudley, your mild-mannered pooch. Suddenly, the mutt gets it into his head that a passing pedestrian poses a deadly threat. Without warning, he lunges to the end of his leash and sinks his fangs into her leg. A few days later, the pedestrian sends you her rather hefty emergency-room bill, and there’s talk of emotional distress and lost wages.

Once again, it’s your homeowners insurance policy to the rescue — maybe. Many insurers have gotten so sensitive to dog-bite claims that they won’t insure owners of certain breeds or dogs that have already bitten someone. To get insurance, these owners often have to agree to an exclusion that prevents them from making a claim related to the animal.

Even if you are covered, you’ll probably want to invest in a visit to the veterinarian (to see if there’s a physical cause for the aberrant behavior) and in a good trainer (to try to ensure it doesn’t happen again). A dog that bites even once is a huge liability to you and the people around you — and can be an outright danger.

The dorm thief

College dorms are packed with tempting goodies, including computers, televisions, music players and bicycles. The good news, according to the Insurance Information Institute: If you live in a dorm and you’re considered a dependent of your parents, their homeowners insurance policy covers your stuff from destruction and theft — with one big exception.

Few insurance policies cover the value of digital music collections or other computer files. So if the thief makes off with your iPad plus the computer that contains your music and video library, you wouldn’t get financial help replacing files potentially worth thousands of dollars. That’s yet another reason it’s essential to back up all your files regularly and store the backups off-site or online.

Also, the protection of your parents’ insurance disappears when you move off campus. When you’re ready to kiss dorm life goodbye, pony up the $200 or so necessary to buy a renters insurance policy.

A visit from the Grinch

This happened to a friend, and it’s a distressingly common tale at the end of the year. She needed to make a quick run into a store, so she parked her car loaded with Christmas presents in a crowded mall parking lot in the middle of the day. She returned five minutes later to find a broken window and all the gifts gone.

Auto insurance covers the damage to the car but not the theft of its contents, unless the stolen contents are supposed to be attached to the vehicle, such as a car stereo. However, holiday presents are considered personal possessions, so they’re typically covered under your homeowners or renters coverage.

You’ll have to fill out a police report, of course, and your claim is subject to your deductible. If you’ve got a high deductible, you may not be out of luck if you used a gold or platinum credit card to buy the gifts. These types of cards typically offer “purchase protection” that will reimburse you for the theft of recently bought items, up to a certain limit (often $1,000). See your card agreement for details.

Counterfeit cash

If you unknowingly accepted a bunch of bogus Benjamins, you may not be completely out of luck.

Homeowners and renters insurance typically provide a limited amount of coverage for losses due to counterfeit money, check forgery and credit card fraud. The limits are usually low, $500 to $1,000, and deductibles may apply. Talk to your insurer for details.

The locksmith

Some of us are more absent-minded than others. If you’ve ever slammed your car door and then realized — that all-important split second too late — that your keys are dangling from the ignition, you’re one of us.

Roadside assistance is an optional coverage through most auto insurers, although it’s one that can quickly pay for itself with one or two lockouts or tows. You also can get roadside-assistance coverage through a variety of other sources, including your cell-phone company, your car’s manufacturer or a full-service plan offered by an auto club or other provider.

Something to note: Exactly who or what is covered depends on the provider. Your auto insurer typically provides coverage only for the insured car, while an auto club service covers the driver, regardless of the vehicle being driven. Cell-phone plans typically cover whoever has the phone at the time, so you can lend it and your coverage to a friend or family member.

Also, your insurer may count roadside-assistance calls against you when determining your premiums, although it’s typically a fairly minor negative. If you’re concerned, though, opt for another roadside-service provider.



Written by lordsinsurancelog

July 21, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Posted in Insurance Tips