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Insurance Tips


Choose from these topics to link to the full tip below:

 

 


Higher Deductibles - Are They Worth It?

In these cost-conscious days, everyone is trying to save money wherever and whenever they can. It seems that people may especially look to their insurance policies as a place to realize some savings.

More customers are now requesting a reduction in the dwelling limits on their homeowners policy or a reduction in the policy's liability limits.

Some customers are even requesting a reduction in the limits of liability on their auto insurance policies. In most cases, these types of requests are not wise ones. We cannot stress enough how much you have to lose if a liability judgment goes against you -- for example, in an auto accident or if someone gets hurt at your home.

A wiser and certainly more consumer-friendly way to save money on your insurance premiums is to increase your property deductibles. On a homeowners policy, going from a $250 to a $500 deductible may result in a savings of between 10 and 15 percent on the premium. We understand; we've heard customers tell us previously: "But if I have a claim, I can't come up with $500 at one time." The important thing for you to remember is this: you only have to come up with $250 more than you would right now (the difference between your current deductible and $500) -- not a big amount. And remember, with the savings you will experience in the premium, you will probably save that $250 in less than 2 years.

Higher deductibles on the physical damage section of your auto insurance are also a good way save some money on the premium. A $500 deductible on both comprehensive and collision can save you to 30 percent on these coverage lines. A $1,000 deductible may result in savings of up to 40 percent.

If you cannot take the big leap from a $250 deductible to $1,000, consider a graduated approach. We'd like to suggest going to a $500 deductible now and putting the premium you save into a "deductible fund." Then in a couple of years, you will have enough in that fund to increase the deductible to $1,000.

The point to remember is this: don't risk a lot in order to save a little.

Copyright © 2008 International Risk Management Institute, Inc.

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Are the Limits of Insurance on Your Home Accurate?

Is the amount of property insurance on your home correct? What is the appropriate amount of coverage for your home? To begin with, it should be insured for at least 80 percent of its replacement cost when covered under a standard homeowners policy. Replacement cost refers to the amount necessary to repair or replace damaged building parts with items of like kind and quality. Some insurance companies even require 90 percent or 100% when the guaranteed replacement cost option is offered.

With this option, the policy pays the full cost of replacing your home, without any depreciation and often without a maximum reconstruction payment. (This gives you added protection if there is a sudden jump in construction costs due to a major shortage of certain building materials.

Construction costs often "surge" following large catastrophes, such as hurricanes.) Note that guaranteed replacement cost coverage approaches can vary by state and are not even available in every state.

Many homes are either underinsured or overinsured. For example, some homes insured for long periods of time with one insurance company may have inadequate limits of insurance due to increased building costs. In many cases, homes have been remodeled and improved, and this information has not been conveyed to the insurance agent or company, resulting in severe underinsured home values. If your home is underinsured, you not only have inadequate protection for total losses, but you may also lack full protection for smaller losses.

Sometimes homes are mistakenly insured for their market value. However, market value is normally not indicative of the home's replacement cost.

For example, market value also reflects the cost of the foundation and the land value, both of which normally survive intact if the house burns to the ground and has to be rebuilt.

In addition, some homes may be insured improperly to meet mortgage company requirements. Some mortgage companies require the amount of insurance be at least equal to the mortgage balance on the house. The mortgage balance is also not reflective of the home's replacement cost, which is often considerably more but can also be less. Insurance companies and agents often struggle in properly educating mortgage companies about these distinctions, but there is nothing to prevent you from insuring to actual replacement cost if that is indeed greater than the mortgage balance. The problem occurs when the mortgage balance is greater than the replacement cost, which will result in the purchase of a higher limit than needed.

The bottom line is that you should work with your insurance agent to determine the correct replacement cost and resulting insurance limit for your home. Most agents use sophisticated replacement cost estimating packages that are fairly accurate in determining the replacement cost value of your home. Factors that these programs use to determine this figure include the following.

  • Square footage of the home, including its configuration
  • Construction costs for your community
  • Exterior wall construction type, including frame, stucco, brick, or brick veneer
  • Style of home
  • Number of bathrooms and bedrooms
  • Roof type
  • Attached garages, fireplaces, built-in cabinets, and other special features, such as hardwood floors

The more advanced replacement cost estimating programs require detailed information to improve the valuation estimate. For example, a rectangular-shaped home with 1,800 square feet will have a much lower replacement cost than a similar-sized home with an "L" shape. In other words, the better cost estimating programs require information about the number of corners in the home. The more detailed information your agent asks about your home, the more confidence you can place in his or her recommended limit of insurance.

As a final note, you should request an annual review of your homeowners policy to keep up with increasing building supply and labor costs. Also ask your agent about the advisability of adding an "inflation guard" endorsement to your policy or about the availability of guaranteed replacement cost coverage to help assure that your home is properly protected.

Copyright © 2008 International Risk Management Institute, Inc.

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Purchase Special Insurance for Your Home-Based Business

The United States has experienced a rapid growth in home-based businesses in the last decade. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that there are now more than 11 million home-based businesses in the country, a figure that is expected to rise in the coming years.

But if you run a home business, losses associated with that business may not be covered under your homeowners policy unless special coverage endorsements are added. Some insurers sell an endorsement that covers losses associated with a home-based business. We can quickly find out if such an option is available.

What if you are operating a home-based business without your insurer's knowledge? Suppose you had a small fire that damaged your home office and computer and resulted in some lost income. Once your insurer sends an adjuster who, while investigating your claim, discovers your business, your insurer may deny some or all of the claim because of business-related exclusions and restrictions found in many homeowners policies.

Conversely, if you paid the additional premium to add a home-based business endorsement to your homeowners policy or you bought a businessowners policy (BOP), your loss would likely be covered—even the loss of income. (A BOP is a separate policy form designed to insure the property and liability exposures of small businesses.)

And do not forget about liability. If you have business visitors in your home and they get hurt, many insurers' homeowners policies will not cover those injuries because of the business-related loss exclusion found in the personal liability section of the policy. Again, it is necessary to purchase a special endorsement to the homeowners policy or a separate BOP. Also, if your activities give rise to any type of errors and omissions or professional liability exposures, they are not likely to be covered under either your homeowners policy or a BOP. A separate errors and omissions (E&O) policy will need to be arranged for this loss exposure.

Different insurance companies have different criteria for excluding business-related losses from their policies. If your current insurer cannot respond to your coverage needs, we can present several options to you.

But the important thing to remember is this: if you are running a business out of your home, call us. We will work hard to assure you are properly protected.

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Evaluate Your Home's Need for a Lightning Protection System

A lightning protection system is designed to control or redirect a lightning strike to a specified path. The system does not prevent a strike, but provides a path on which the electrical current can safely be redirected to the ground. Its objective is to prevent destruction or injury as the lightning travels that route. According to the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI), the system is composed of several key components, including the following.

  • Lightning rods -- inconspicuous slender rods installed on the roof at industry-specified intervals.
  • Conductors -- aluminum or copper cables that interconnect the lightning rods and the other parts of the system.
  • Ground terminations -- metal rods driven into the earth to redirect the lightning current harmlessly to the ground.
  • Surge arrestors and suppressors -- devices installed in conjunction with a lightning protection system to safeguard electrical wiring and electronic systems and equipment.

So is a lightning protection system a wise purchase for your home? Most lightning experts recommend that individuals owning homes with several of the following characteristics or features should purchase a lightning protection system.

  • Previously has been struck by lightning
  • Located in a neighborhood which has experienced lightning damage
  • Located in a community or city that has experienced over 25 thunderstorm days a year
  • Located in an isolated and open area, or on a hill
  • Has aluminum siding
  • Has a brick, stone, or metal chimney
  • Has a high or large satellite dish
  • Has a metal or wood roof
  • Has tall trees overhanging the roof
  • Lacks surge protection on the electrical panel or on incoming phone lines

Lightning protection systems should meet the code established by Underwriters Laboratories and the LPI. Note that some insurers provide premium credits for homes with these types of certified systems.

For an average size home, the cost for this system ranges from $2,000 to $3,000.

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Water Back-Up Coverage - Add It to Your Policy Today

Imagine this: It is a bright sunny morning, but the day starts off poorly when your house is flooded due to a horrific sewer back-up incident. It turns out that a blockage in a city sanitary main is the culprit. The waste has overtaken your entire house, resulting in a huge loss -- and it may not be covered under an unendorsed homeowners policy. Not only is this damage difficult and expensive to repair, but it can also create significant health hazards.

What can make the matter worse is that a water back-up loss to a home caused by a municipal-owned and maintained sewage system may not even be recoverable from the municipality. There may be a law granting the municipality immunity from reimbursing homeowners for municipality-caused sewer back-up damage into residents' homes.

(Note that in some cases, state law may grant this immunity.) The homeowner has to rely on his or her homeowners policy with a specific endorsement for water back-up coverage for proper protection.

Other municipalities may not be so strict on this but many have other laws that limit their responsibility. For example, one city will reimburse homeowners for losses caused by city-owned sewer lines only if the city was aware of a problem and failed to take proper steps to resolve it in a reasonable period of time. In other words, if the municipality were unaware of the problem, they could legally deny liability. If it is determined that a combination of municipality-owned and homeowner-owned tree roots caused the sewer back-up, the municipality may only be willing to pay part of the loss. Also, some municipalities limit the maximum amount payable to a set figure, such as $5,000, a figure that may be woefully inadequate to properly repair the damage.

Most homeowners do not realize that they are typically responsible for maintaining their house or sewer lateral, which is the main pipeline between the municipality sanitary sewer main (located under the street) and the affected home. In effect, the property owner may own the sewer lateral, including any part that may extend into the street or alleyway.

For all these reasons, we recommend that you purchase a water back-up or overflow endorsement to your homeowners policy.

This coverage is typically available for under $70. Unfortunately, this endorsement often contains a fairly low limit, such as $5,000. However, some insurers may provide higher limits for a higher premium.

In addition, you should adopt several loss control techniques:

First, grease should be properly disposed of because grease buildup in the lines is a common cause of water and sewage back-up losses. Second, homeowners should not connect any type of French drain or similar devices to the sewer system since resulting debris and silt can clog the line. Third, the installation of a backwater prevention valve by a licensed plumber is highly recommended. This valve allows sewage to go out, but not to come back in.

Please contact us to discuss this important optional coverage.

Copyright © 2008 International Risk Management Institute, Inc.

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Defuse Those Electrical Fires

Defective electrical wiring systems cause approximately 40,000 residential fires annually, according to a United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) study. In addition, electric cords and plugs are involved in about 7,000 fires annually. The National Electrical Safety Foundation offers numerous tips to safeguard the home against electrical fire and related losses, including the following.

  • Verify that outlets and extension cords are not overloaded.
     
  • Examine electrical cords to ensure they are not frayed, damaged, or placed under rugs or carpets.
     
  • Verify that the proper wattage bulbs are being used in light fixtures and lamps.
     
  • Consider installing ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) in bathrooms, utility rooms, and kitchens. This device protects people against electrocution by shutting down the electrical system if it detects any imbalance in the electricity.
     
  • Take steps to safeguard electrical appliances from power surges. A power surge is a sudden rise of current or voltage in an electrical circuit that can last up to several seconds and can ruin electrical appliances and equipment, such as computers. You can purchase surge protection devices to safeguard against the problem.
     
  • Consider updating the entire electrical system if the home is over 40 years old. Older homes are more susceptible to electrical fire. For example, many older homes contain aluminum wiring, which is much more likely to start fires than the copper wire required by modern building codes.
     
  • Install child tamper-resistant electrical outlets to prevent a child from inserting something into the outlet holes.
     
  • Install arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCI) to avoid fires caused by arc faults. An arc fault is a discharge of electric current across a gap. This can be caused by improper electrical connections, pinched wire insulation, and overheated wires.

Note that many insurers offer discounts for some of these electrical safety improvements. Please call for details.

Copyright © 2008 International Risk Management Institute, Inc.

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Manage the "Four C's" of Winter Fire Risks:  Chimneys, Candles, Christmas Trees, and Children

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve—these holidays mean celebrations, many of them in decorated homes filled with merry-making family members and friends.

Trusted Choice® insurance professionals also know that the winter holidays bring greater-than-usual risks of fire in homes.  The National Fire Protection Association reports that, over the course of a calendar year, the 10 worst days for fires in homes are between December 24 and January 6.

Fortunately, these risks can be reduced with safe practices that address the “Four C's” of winter fires: Chimneys, Candles, Christmas Trees and Children.


Chimneys:  Buildup or blockage within a chimney can catch fire. Chimney fires are unpredictable: they can be noisy and fierce, or can smolder undetected.

Common-sense tips:
  • If you haven’t checked or cleaned the chimney in the past two years, don’t use it.
  • Have a pro inspect the chimney for creosote (which is what builds up in a chimney and fuels a chimney fire)
  • Use dry wood. This minimizes creosote buildup.
  • Don’t burn wrapping paper, boxes, trash or Christmas trees.
  • Don’t use liquid to start a chimney fire. Use kindling.
  • Remember fireplace basics, too: use a screen to contain sparks; and let ashes cool before disposing of them in a metal container.

Candles:  Home-candle fires happen on Christmas Day more often than any other day, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Next worst: New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve. How do they start? Half of home-candle fires begin because an item is left near a lit candle. Forty percent of home candle fires start in bedrooms, with bedding, furniture, and curtains igniting.

Common-sense tips:
  • Make sure all candles are out before you leave a room or go to bed.
  • Keep clothing, curtains, furniture, and other flammable items away from candles and flame.
  • Use candle holders that don’t tip over.

Christmas Trees:  The National Fire Protection Association notes that 300 home fires start each year with Christmas trees. It’s not just live trees; artificial trees also burn. Three major reasons Christmas tree fires start: electric malfunctions, heat too close to the tree, and children playing with matches, candles, or fireplaces.

Common-sense tips:
  • Buy a cut tree that has green, fresh needles.
  • Buy a fake tree that is fire resistant.
  • Use a secure stand.
  • Locate trees a minimum of three feet from heat sources such as fireplaces and radiators.
  • Water live-cut trees every day.
  • Use lights listed by an industrial laboratory. Link together, at most, only three strands of bulbs.
  • Throw out lights that have frayed or broken cords.
  • Pull the plug on lights before going to bed or leaving home.
  • When a tree starts dropping needles, it’s time to dispose of it (outside, not in the house, garage, or basement).

Children:  Perhaps the most unpredictable risks for winter fire are those young people who are, naturally, exploring and experiencing the wonders of the winter world for the first time. Remember that lights and flames are fascinating to children.

Common-sense tips:
  • Watch the wires. Keep kids away from light strands and power cords.
  • Matches, candles, stoves and ovens often get extra use during the holidays, at a time when adults are occupied with cooking, cleaning, and entertaining. Stop and ask: “What might draw a child’s curiosity in this house?” Then shield children from those items, physically and through discipline and direction.
  • Put matches/lighters out of children’s reach. Use lighters that have a child-resistant safety feature.
  • Train children to tell an adult if they see matches or lighters.

Trusted Choice® independent insurance agents and brokers stand ready to assist consumers with a homeowners insurance claim. The best claim is no claim, though. Use these common-sense practices to prevent home fires.

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Winterize Your Home

As winter approaches each year, be sure to properly safeguard your home from the harsh elements of the season. These steps can lessen your chances of a loss to your home due to inclement weather.

  1. Verify that your furnace is in proper working order by contacting a heating specialist for an inspection. Heating device malfunctions, including supplemental heating devices such as space heaters, are the second leading cause of fire deaths in this country. The heating ducts may also need to be cleaned. Most experts recommend vacuuming these ducts every 5 years. In addition, oil furnaces should be periodically inspected because poorly-maintained furnaces can cause severe smoke damage.
     
  2. Check your plumbing system closely since burst water pipes can spew hundreds of gallons of water into your home. Heat tape should be used on any pipes that are exposed to extremely cold weather. By all means, learn how to shut your water off and know where your pipes are located. The quicker you can turn off the water supply, the more likely you can minimize damage from burst pipes. If you have a summer home exposed to cold weather in your absence, be sure to have the water system properly drained to keep pipes from freezing or bursting.
     
  3. Replace any cracked or missing roof shingles and verify that flashing around the vent pipes or chimney is watertight. If you have a steep roof or any physical limitations that would make it dangerous to do the repair yourself, a reputable roofing contractor should be used to avoid the risk of injury. The cost of these repairs would certainly be less than the deductible under your homeowners policy should a loss occur.

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Small Businesses:  Don't Let Business Risk Share Your Home

The diversification of the U.S. economy over the past generation has meant that millions of Americans have started their own businesses. Americans still chase the dream of being their own boss by starting their own business—and the trend may pick up during economic slumps because of hiring slowdowns and spikes in corporate layoffs.

Small businesses are the biggest driver of job growth, generating 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs annually over the last decade (1998-2008), according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Small firms employ half of U.S. workers. And the sole proprietor is alive and well: In 2005, there were six million firms with employees but a whopping 20.4 million firms who had no employees other than the owner, according to the Small Business Administration.

Of all small businesses, 52 percent are home-based. That means millions of Americans are earning their business income where they live. But business owner beware: Don’t expect homeowners insurance to cover business risks.  Business insurance offers protection from liability and property risks. Often these coverages are combined into a package policy called a BOP or business owner’s policy. Millions of small and mid-sized business owners purchase or renew their BOP every year.

Typically, a BOP includes the following coverages:

Property insurance for buildings and contents of the business. Home-based business might not need coverage for their home, since it’s already insured against risks of fire, lightning and windstorm. But if there are additional risks to the structure because of the presence of business operations, those won’t necessarily be covered by homeowners insurance. Your Trusted Choice® insurance agent can help determine if a special endorsement or a separate policy are most appropriate.

Home-based businesses might not have adequate coverage through homeowners insurance because homeowners policies often have “sublimits” restricting coverage for business property. For instance, the homeowners policy may cover business personal property, but typically only up to $2,500 while it is “on premises” and up to $500 while the property is “off premises.”

One example of inadequate coverage is a home-based retail cosmetics/personal care business that kept $20,000 of inventory, which was damaged by fire. The business inventory was covered only up to the sublimits of the homeowners policy. Another instance: Coverage would be limited to the “off premises” limit of $500 if a laptop computer valued at $1,500 is stolen while the business owner has it away from home.

If there are additional structures on a residential property where the homeowner operates a business, those won’t necessarily be covered by homeowners insurance. For example, a detached garage that contains business-related contents would not be covered by homeowners insurance; that business owner would need a policy endorsement to gain coverage for the building.

Business interruption insurance. This protects against loss of income resulting from a fire or other covered event that disrupts the business. This coverage can also include the extra costs a business shoulders while it works from a temporary location. A fire in a home can be double trouble for a home-based business.

Liability insurance. This protects the small business for legal responsibility for the damage it causes to other people or entities. Liability insurance is usually priced according to the risk of the industry in which the business operates. A business that manufactures toys, for example, faces different risks than a consulting firm. Liability insurance shields a business and its employees if they cause bodily injury or property damage.

Not included in a BOP are professional liability coverage, automobile insurance, workers compensation, medical insurance and disability insurance. All can be covered with separate policies.

Check with your Trusted Choice®  insurance agent about what type of insurance protection a small business—especially a home-based business—warrants. You can find an insurance professional at www.TrustedChoice.com.

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Condominium Coverage Checkup

Arranging the proper insurance for your condominium is more difficult than a standard one-family dwelling since your condo coverage has to be properly coordinated with your condominium association's master policy.  For this reason, it is a good idea to periodically have a quick condominium coverage checkup with your agent. The following are some ways for us to improve the insurance protection for your condominium unit to avoid any large coverage gaps.

  • Request a copy of the association's "declaration" document and provide it to your agent. This document will indicate what coverages you as the unit-owner are responsible for individually insuring.
     
  • Work with your agent to evaluate the property insurance limit appropriate for your condo. For example, if you have performed any remodeling work, damage to these updates may not be covered under your master policy, and the dwelling limits under your unit-owners policy may be inadequate as a result.
     
  • It is very important to consider the possibility of assessments from the association to individual unit-owners to reimburse the association for deductibles it incurs following a loss covered by the association's master policy. This situation is particularly problematic for unit-owners when the assessment is due to high property deductibles increasingly found under associations' master policies. A review of the association's declaration document will indicate the amount of the deductible. Your policy probably provides a limited amount of coverage for your assessment, and it may be possible to increase the amount if there is a possibility you will be assessed more than the assessment coverage limit.
     
  • Another area in which coverage gaps often appear concerns the perils covered under your unit-owners policy. Depending on the form you currently have in place, it may be beneficial to expand the covered perils.
     
  • Also be sure to review the personal property (i.e., contents) limit under your unit-owners policy. This limit may need to be adjusted based on any major purchases you have made since the last review.

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The Dangers of Going Bare on Watercraft Coverage

Boatowners typically face large property and liability loss exposures from their boating activities while often going without proper insurance. The following loss scenarios point to the need for specialized boatowners coverage. Remember that many of these loss examples are not covered (or have tough restrictions) under the standard personal auto or homeowners policies.

  • Your cruiser collides with a speed boat whose operator fails to yield the right of way, causing extensive damage to your boat. The owner of the speed boat does not have any insurance coverage.
     
  • An expensive bass boat you just purchased is stolen from your home.
     
  • Your 27-foot-long sailboat is damaged by a major hailstorm while docked at the marina.
     
  • Your sport fishing boat is struck by lightning, incapacitating its electrical system.
     
  • Your son's friend is water skiing behind your boat and he falls into the lake, injuring himself, due to the excessive speed of the boat.
     
  • You negligently cause another boat to overturn to avoid a collision.
     
  • Your outboard motor explodes, seriously injuring your next door neighbor.
     

If you have any watercraft exposures, please call our office for a review of your loss exposures and insurance solutions.

Copyright © 2008 International Risk Management Institute, Inc.

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Risk Management Strategies for Hiring Domestic Workers

More and more homeowners in the United States now employ domestic workers, either on a full-time or part-time basis. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are at least 1.5 million domestic workers across the country. The services these domestics render are great, but so are the risks for the employer. The following are some ways for you to mitigate the risks of employing domestic workers and for ensuring that these workers have the proper protection as well.

  • If hiring a domestic worker directly, run a background check on potential domestics to see if they  (a) are U.S. citizens,  (b) have a history of filing lawsuits,  (c) have credit problems, or  (d) have a criminal record. If using an employment agency, verify the above steps are performed. Prospective domestics with major concerns of these types should not be hired.
     
  • Check with your insurance agent to see if you need to procure workers compensation coverage. Your agent will be familiar with your state laws concerning this issue. Of course, you may choose to voluntarily provide workers compensation coverage, which may be a good idea. As discussed below, even if your homeowners policy covers injuries to your domestic employee, the policy limit could be grossly inadequate in the event of serious injury, permanent disability, or death.

The advantage of workers compensation coverage is that it provides broader protection (e.g., disability payments) than your homeowners policy, including unlimited medical expenses in most states. So, even if not required by law, it is a good idea to consider voluntarily providing this important coverage.

  • If an outside firm or agency is used to hire your domestic, verify the worker has workers compensation coverage. Obtain a certificate of insurance from the employment agency on an annual basis showing this coverage.
     
  • Prepare a well-organized and documented human resource file for every domestic employee. In addition, you should have an employment application as well as an employment manual or handbook. This manual will reduce the chances of an employment-related lawsuit because it can include protective provisions detailing your opposition to any employee mistreatment. An employee manual written or revised by an experienced attorney is an even more effective risk control recommendation.
     
  • If there are multiple domestic workers, an employment practices liability (EPL) policy may be needed. This coverage can protect you from a wide variety of lawsuits, including allegations of discrimination, wrongful termination, harassment, and slander. A personal injury endorsement under your homeowners policy is also recommended.
     
  • Discuss with your insurance agent the possibility of increasing the personal liability and medical payments limits under your homeowners policy to the highest available limits, particularly if workers compensation benefits are not required or purchased. A personal umbrella policy is also recommended.

Consider some type of fidelity bond for these employees, particularly for new employees. This bond will protect you if the domestic worker commits a dishonest act in your employment (e.g., theft of jewelry). If an employment agency or service provides these employees, verify that the employment agency has purchased fidelity bonds on them and ask for a copy of the bond certification form.

  • Make sure that your employment practices comply with federal requirements, such as the withholding of payroll taxes and proof of citizenship.

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Identity Theft Protection and Advice

Identity theft occurs when someone appropriates another person's personal information without his or her knowledge in order to commit fraud or theft. These identity thieves may open charge accounts in the victim's name and thus borrow money and even perpetrate felonies.

The Federal Trade Commission found that complaints of identity theft have increased rapidly during the last several years, making it one of the country's fastest growing crimes. The United States Secret Service estimates that consumers nationwide lose over $800 million to identity theft each year. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the normal victim spends over 500 hours clearing his or her credit record. What can you do to reduce your chances of becoming a victim?

  • Credit records should be checked each year to verify all the information is accurate. In addition, creditors should be contacted if various bills do not arrive in time. A missing credit  card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over the credit car account and changed the billing address to cover his tracks.
     
  • All old financial documents, including bank statements and credit card bills, should be shredded to reduce the exposure to what is called "dumpster diving."
     
  • Persons should not carry their social security card with them; rather it should be secured in a safety deposit box.
     
  • Unlocked residential mailboxes should not be used to drop off outgoing mail, since mail can be easily stolen.
     
  • Social security numbers or driver's license number should not be printed on personal checks.
     
  • Persons should ask their insurance agent about identity theft endorsement providing protection if an identity is stolen.

Copyright © 2008 International Risk Management Institute, Inc.

For Social Media Users:  Do not answer the surveys or comment on posts asking for your dog's name, where you were born, your favorite color, etc. Think about what you are posting online. Are you giving away the answers to your financial account password reset questions? Don't post a photo of a document unless you have made sure it doesn't include your private information.

Don't click a link in an email if you aren't sure where it came from, and only access your important financial accounts directly, not using an emailed link. Be careful!

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Keep Your Home in Tip-Top Condition

Many consumers have faced rapidly escalating insurance premiums on their homeowners insurance during the past few years. In some cases, consumers have experienced difficulty in procuring homeowners insurance, particularly people with several claims. However, consumers can take numerous measures to lessen the possibility of future losses, resulting in more readily available insurance down the road and more affordable premiums.

The following tips offer ways of saving premium dollars and reducing losses on your homeowners policy.

  • Replace washing machine hoses when they show signs of deterioration. Consider replacing them with stainless steel hoses, for which your insurer may provide you a discount. The hoses should also not rub against the wall. In addition turn off the washing machine water faucet when the appliance is not in use to prevent leaks.
     
  • If you experience a water leak, make sure it is properly repaired and promptly remediated, which can include the removal and replacement of building materials such as sheetrock. For larger water leaks, a professional who specializes in remediation should be called in. These measures will reduce the possibility of hazardous and expensive mold losses down the road.
     
  • Consider an automatic water shut-off system for your home. This type of system has sensors that detect water leaks. These sensors then send a wireless signal that interacts with the shut-off valve to turn off the water to the home.
     
  • Maintain your roof in optimal condition. A quality roof inspection on a periodic basis can identify sections that need repair and thus prevent water losses. Roofing materials containing high wind resistance features should be considered in windstorm-prone areas.

Copyright © 2008 International Risk Management Institute, Inc.

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Does Your Insurance Work as Hard as You Do?
Insurance for Contractors

The Burns Agency represents companies that can offer a number of insurance options for contractors.  Do you want a “basic” policy that actually covers the basics?  Or do you need some of the extra coverages that are available?

Our base policy does not need to exclude explosion, collapse, underground, and roofing as some companies do. You have the option to include these important coverages.

The better policy is for contractors who have more equipment, or more employees, or wish to have coverage that is more broad. You can add coverage for faulty workmanship, pollution coverage regarding pollutants at the job site, tool coverage at replacement cost, ID theft & security breach, or limited coverage for employee tools.

So, whether you want a stripped down, inexpensive policy, or a broadened policy with many bells & whistles, The Burns Agency can help find a policy that works for you.

Some coverage tips for contractors:

  • Tools are usually covered at their current value, if so, you can reduce the limits as they age, in order to save premium.
  • Tools are often under a co-insurance clause, meaning that you should include all of your tools when determining a value, so the claim payment won’t be limited to the percentage of coverage.
  • “Your work” done incorrectly is not covered unless by a specific additional endorsement.
  • Auto insurance is usually more expensive on commercial vehicles – possibly offsetting the tax benefits. There are also some coverage reductions on commercial insurance versus personal insurance.
  • You can insure commercial vehicles on personal auto policies sometimes.  The exceptions are: corporate or LLC-owned vehicles, when employees drive, when multiple job site visits per day, or on a non-private-passenger type vehicle – for example: regular pickups and vans are ok but box vans and stake rack trucks are not.
  • Be sure to itemize vehicle accessories for coverage to apply. (truck caps, bedliners, plows, etc)
  • Outbuildings used (in any way, even a small amount of storage) for business purposes may be excluded from coverage on your homeowners policy – add them to your commercial policy if you care about damage to the building.
  • Materials on the job site are not automatically covered – but you can add coverage.
  • Explosion, Collapse, Underground, Snow Removal and Roofing coverages may be excluded from your policy, but you can buy the coverage back in some companies.
  • Business Personal Property coverage is for building contents on your listed premises only – you will need to add Inland Marine for tool and materials coverage at jobsites and in-transit.
  • Environmental and Pollution Liability coverage is not automatically included. Some coverage may be available by endorsement, or you may need to purchase a separate policy.
  • Lead paint tips for contractors at http://www.health.ny.gov/publications/2597/
  • Workers Compensation Board’s Employers’ Handbook – rules on who will be considered an employee, at http://www.wcb.ny.gov/content/main/Employers/EmployerHandbook.pdf
  • NY State Labor Law information at http://www.bcnys.org/inside/Legmemos/2011-12/a2835scaffoldlawreform.html  Take a moment to read this one. It is important and pertinent to the construction industry.

If you have any questions, or if you would like to review your policy or get a quote, please contact Wendy Lawlor or David Burns at The Burns Agency. We look forward to hearing from you. Contact us »

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Phishing Advice

Protect your workplace from phishing attacks by following this advice. Also known as "social engineering" attacks, these scams aim to trick unsuspecting email recipients into providing information or funds to someone they believe is an employer or co-worker. This is one of the fastest-growing types of cyber theft and can be stopped if you have proper controls in place to discover the scam before you act. Read this article from The Hartford.

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Pursue Risk Transfer Techniques for Recreational Activities

Nearly 150 million Americans engage in some type of outdoor recreational activity, according to a report by The Outdoor Foundation. These activities expose recreational enthusiasts to additional and often unique risks. Although recreational organizations (e.g., golf course, zip lining, stable, or hang gliding) have a better bargaining position when it comes to user agreements, individuals need not adopt an attitude of helplessness. By developing a proactive strategy for dealing with personal contractual risk transfers, outdoor enthusiasts can often reduce the amount of risk they assume.

Here are some ideas or tips to share with your clients who enjoy the great outdoors to ensure a greater likelihood of recourse in the event they are injured.

  • The sports participant should verify that the recreational organization maintains a commercial general liability (CGL) policy providing coverage for bodily injuries. He or she should ask for a certificate of insurance indicating such protection.
  • The sports enthusiast should reconsider signing release agreements in which the participant agrees not to sue the organization for any accident, even for situations involving the gross negligence or willful misconduct of the organization.

Below are additional tips to obtain protection for your clients from liability to third parties stemming from the activities.

  • Golf cart accidents do occur. Golfers who rent carts should verify that they are automatically included as an additional insured under the golf course's CGL policy. The additional insured—users of golfmobiles (CG 20 08) or a related endorsement is used for this purpose.
  • Horse enthusiasts who frequent stables should verify that they are automatically included as an additional insured under the stable's CGL policy. The additional insured—users of teams, draft, or saddle animals (CG 20 14) or a related endorsement provides valuable protection.
  • The activities of social, civic, and recreational clubs may expose individual club members to liability. Activities of club members themselves, on behalf of the club, may likewise create a liability exposure. Thus, such members should verify that they are automatically included as an additional insured under the club's CGL policy. The additional insured—club members (CG 20 02) or a related endorsement is used for this purpose.


Copyright © 2017 International Risk Management Institute, Inc.

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Going to Canada?

Ask us for a Canadian ID card. "A U.S. traveler in Canada is required to carry a motor vehicle liability card, plus vehicle ownership papers. A copy of the automobile policy is recommended to be carried. And a Canadian Non-Resident Inter-provincial Motor Vehicle Liability Card is strongly recommended. U.S. travelers who do not carry a Canadian Non-Resident Inter-provincial Motor Vehicle Liability Card and are stopped by Canadian police or are in an accident while driving in Canada risk being fined or having their vehicle impounded until proof of proper coverage is obtained."