You probably already know that your homeowner’s insurance covers you when wind or fire damages your house. Standard homeowner’s policies, however, also cover you and your family when you accidentally injure someone or damage someone else’s property while you are away from home, as well. In this article, we'll look at the kinds of cases that might be covered, and explain some of the benefits of getting your homeowner's insurance carrier involved in a claim made against you.
Accidentally injuring someone or damaging property can end up costing you a lot of money -- especially if the injured person gets an attorney and sues you. Attorneys look for money, and the equity in your home looks like a nice honey pot. To help protect against this, homeowner’s policies usually provide coverage both for accidents that happen on your property (like slip and fall claims) and those that occur away from your home.
Your homeowner’s insurance does not cover accidents that happen in your car. That is where your automobile insurance comes in. Not all accidents happen on the roadway, however. For example, if you accidentally dump your piping hot casserole on your pastor while at the church social, or you sideswipe someone’s head with your skis in the ski lodge, your homeowners’ policy may protect you -- as long as you did not do it on purpose, that is.
The law expects everyone to act reasonably at all times. If you do not do what a reasonable person would do in the same situation, and someone ends up getting injured as a result, the law says you are “negligent.” For example, a reasonable person looks ahead when walking down the street. If you accidentally knock someone down while looking up at birds, you may be negligent because you were not watching where you were going.
The good thing is your homeowner’s policy usually covers you and your family’s negligent behavior no matter where it happens. For example, if your son accidentally hits a baseball through your neighbor’s window and you have liability insurance, it is probably covered. If your toddler son darts in front of an elderly woman walking in the mall and causes her to fall, your policy should take care of her injuries too.
Learn more about Negligence, the Duty of Care, and Fault for an Accident.
Your homeowner's policy will not cover intentional acts in which you purposefully try to hurt someone or damage property. Examples include assault and battery, vandalism, and workplace or sexual harassment. Standard homeowner’s policies do not cover these types of actions. (Learn more about Intentional Torts.)
Getting documents with the words "Summons" and "Complaint" written across the top is a sure sign someone is suing you.
When this happens, you should contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Your carrier reviews the documents and lets you know whether the lawsuit will be covered under the terms of your policy. If it will not cover the lawsuit, you may want to consult with an attorney as soon as possible because you only have a short amount of time to respond to the complaint. If you do not respond during that time period -- which is usually 30 days or less -- you could end up having a judgment automatically entered against you.
If your homeowner’s insurance covers the action, you may be in luck, because there are a number of potential benefits.
The insurance company assigns an experienced attorney to your case. The attorney responds to the complaint and decides the best course of action for the lawsuit. You still need to help the attorney defend your case, however. This includes:
Having said all of that, keep in mind that most insurance cases settle with minimal participation from you.
Liability insurance pays for the things that the people suing you are asking for -- such as medical bills, property damage, and money for the pain and suffering caused by the injury. Your insurance coverage also pays for your litigation costs, such as expert witness and jury fees, as well as the other side’s attorneys’ fees.
While liability insurance is standard in most homeowners’ insurance policies, there is no law that requires you to have this kind of coverage. So, it makes sense to check with your agent and make sure that liability insurance is included in your policy. It could be invaluable if you find yourself in any of the situations we've discussed here.