Don’t Spook Your Home Insurer This Halloween

from Gammons Insurance Agency Inc.
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Oct 10, 2014

As the air begins to chill and the leaves start to fall, pumpkins and skeletons populate shop windows and our thoughts turn to Halloween. Chances are you have at least one plan for Halloween this year – Americans spend nearly $7 billion a year on the holiday, according to NPR. While that includes costumes, candy, and home decorations, some of those dollars go to tricked-out haunted houses and killer parties.

Whatever your plans for Halloween, you should know about the real-life frights associated with the holiday, especially for hosts. Whether your Oct. 31gathering is family friendly or more adult, liability is a guest that you can’t refuse at the door. Following are two Halloween activities that could cause you trouble:

Haunted House
Some families spend thousands on props and decorations for home-grown haunted houses. If you plan to follow in their footsteps, ensure your house doesn’t stay haunted after Halloween. Any time you invite guests into your home, you expose yourself to risk, particularly if those guests include children. A haunted house might sound great in theory, but you need to be careful. Three scenarios to watch out for include:

Things that go bump
When you open your haunted up house to kids, you challenge their flight or fight instincts. Many likely will run from the frights in your house. If they trip and fall, you’re on the hook. Personal liability homeowners claims are the second most expensive at an average of $18,804 each, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). Ask yourself whether a homemade haunt is worth that much to you. If not, leave it to the professionals.

Desirable dangers
Do you have a pool, trampoline, or jungle gym on your property? These home features can present dangers even at non-spooky parties. They are called attractive nuisances and present considerable harm to children while drawing them in. When preparing for a party, lock up any dangerous features with a fence so that no one gets hurt while you’re too preoccupied to supervise properly.

Cruel and unusual punishment
If you open your homemade haunt to children, you might consider toning it down. Every child reacts differently to fear, and you don’t want to take it too far. Insurers typically deny coverage for any intentional mental or physical harm to a guest. Just keep the surprises family friendly and you should be fine.

Ghostly draughts
If you plan a more adult party this October, know that you still face risk, just in another form, especially if you serve alcohol. By providing alcohol in your home, you accept social host responsibility and can be held accountable for your guests and what they do while under the influence. Legally, this applies broadly. If your guests injure someone, or destroy property in their intoxicated state, you could share blame. In practice, it mostly applies to driving under the influence. If your guests drink and drive, you could be haunted by some serious legal responsibility.

Vigilance against drunk driving is particularly important on Halloween, when parties fill homes with alcohol, and pedestrians, mostly children, scurry around on the streets and sidewalks. Parties present problems, especially if Halloween falls on a weekend night. In 2008, for example, Halloween fell on a Saturday and 58% of all highway fatalities that night involved a blood-alcohol content of .08 or above, according to the III.

Here are some tips for keeping your fright fest under control:

Take responsibility: If you don’t feel comfortable limiting guests’ alcohol intake, hire a professional. Even with a professional bartender, however, play the responsible host and limit your intake. You can judge your friends’ state better than a stranger can.
More than pumpkin juice: Serve other types of beverages and food at your party and encourage others to alternate non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks throughout the night.
Shut the door: Never serve alcohol to minors. In addition, turn away potential guests who have already had too much. They could harm your home and other guests.
Don’t play games: Drinking games can limit your guests’ ability to determine how much they drink, as can quick and automatic refills.
See them off: Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the end of the party, and speak to everyone before they leave to make sure no one slips away. It’s a good idea to collect keys as the “price” of admission to make certain that you get a look at every guest before he or she leaves.
This Halloween, look out for more than just ghosts and goblins. Take steps to limit your risk so that you can get through the night smoothly. Your home insurance coverage is one place you don’t want to see mischief on Oct. 31. Trust us on that.

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