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Home for the Holidays: Mitigating Outdoor Get-Together Risk

With festivities looking much different this year, clients may be hosting outdoor Thanksgiving gatherings. Agents should make sure their clients are aware of important steps to keep the holiday season jolly.
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Home for the Holidays: Mitigating Outdoor Get-Together Risk

Festivities this holiday season will likely look much different as families find creative ways to spend time together without contributing to the swelling coronavirus infection rate. 

One solution—still accompanied by masks, hand washing, safe social distancing, and any other measures recommended by health officials—is outdoor Thanksgiving get-togethers hosted in backyards. But hosting outdoor gatherings comes with risks that may not be top of mind for homeowners.

This holiday season, independent agents should make sure their clients are aware of these important steps to keep the holiday season jolly. 

Exploding Turkeys, Delivery Theft and Other Festive Dangers

As with any gathering, there's potential for mishaps and accidents. With gatherings happening outdoors, many risks are exacerbated with ice, snow, heaters and darkness.

“Before hosting any kind of party, homeowners should always be aware of the condition of their property," says Teresa Scharn, vice president of product development personal lines at Nationwide. “Agents can help by pointing out areas that may fly under the radar, such as having safe areas to walk that are clean with adequate lighting, and taking precautions to minimize the risks of guests tripping or falling and injuring themselves."

“Any sort of heat-producing items need to be carefully monitored and kept in good working order," she adds. 

The principle to keep in mind is the “reasonable person" standard, which means that “if you don't make the right preparations and if something happens, they will argue that the 'reasonable man' would have taken that precaution," says Bill Martin, president and chief executive of Plymouth Rock Home Assurance. “We see that often in particular with slip-and-falls. As winter comes, it's a reasonable step to sprinkle salt over your sidewalks. If you don't do that, and somebody slips on black ice on your sidewalk, you haven't done your duty as a homeowner to eliminate the ice."

Food is a star player in any holiday season—COVID-19 or otherwise—and precautions should be taken in the kitchen. “Forget about the fried turkey explosions," Martin says. “We see plenty of people grabbing onto a hot pot or leaving things on the stove as they're distracted by something else."

When welcoming furry friends to join the festivities, “it is always prudent for homeowners to be mindful of dogs or other pets on the property that may not do well around strangers or large groups," Scharn says. “They might present a bite risk or get underfoot and cause a fall."

One emerging risk to be mindful of this year is the increase in package deliveries. “When those boxes are left at the door and you have guests coming over, some of them might leave with those boxes," Martin says. “Hopefully that's not going to be common this holiday season, but it is a risk."

Too Much Holiday Spirit

Alcohol-related incidents are a large area of concern that agents should help clients find solutions for.

“If they are hiring a caterer or vendor to provide food or alcohol, ask them about their coverage that protects the customer if something goes wrong," Scharn says. “Never let guests drink and drive and keep all alcohol well-attended and away from minors."

“To reduce host liquor liability exposure, making the party BYOB (bring your own bottle) and monitoring consumption, particularly individuals that you know will be driving when they leave, can help keep everyone safe," she adds.

“You can mitigate risk by having transportation available," Martin says. “That could mean having Ubers at the ready. Or perhaps have your 16 to 20-year-old attendees drive people home."

Even when guests aren't driving, “there are risks that can arise from alcohol consumption," Martin points out. “You're more likely to fall, damage other property or get into a fight—if it's a result of over-consumption, the host can be held liable for that damage."

Alcohol ensures that risks get out of hand quickly. “It's important to have host liquor liability coverage in place," Martin says. “Most of your customers will appreciate it being offered to them, and you'll have it on record that you offered it should something happen later." 

Don't Let COVID-19 Crash Your Party

Whether clients have specific insurance-related COVID-19 risks is as up in the air as the virus itself.

“There is an exposure, but it hasn't emerged as a risk yet," Martin says. “Nobody has, as far as I know, successfully sued somebody else for contraction. That being said, you don't want to be the test case."

The most important steps hosts should take are “wear a mask and maintain proper social distances," Scharn says. “CDC instructions to safeguard against spreading COVID-19 are important for the host to be aware of and follow. Please be sure to follow your state's recommendation for limiting the number of guests for your gathering and do not exceed that amount."

It's not just about insurance risk—it's about doing the right thing. “If you are aware that someone has COVID-19, disinvite them," Martin says. “It's the right move. And if you discover afterward that one of your guests had COVID, then notify the other guests."

“I, of course, advise everyone to follow public health guidelines closely and limit the size of holiday gatherings—even if the gatherings are outside—or abandon them altogether to reduce COVID-19 exposure," Martin adds.

Cranberry Sauce with Extra Coverage

Home get-togethers are an opportunity for agents to go above and beyond in offering coverage—and once agents have clued clients into the risks associated with holding an event, clients may be more eager to value protection over saving a few bucks.

“When a customer inquires about coverage for hosting a party, agents should review their current coverage," Scharn says, “looking specifically at whether they have sufficient liability limits to protect their assets, and if they might need a personal umbrella for the long-term."

“Almost all the coverages in homeowners policies are optional, except maybe what your lender makes you buy," Martin says. “And yet the average cost of adding those additional coverages is very small. If you go from a $100,000 liability coverage to $300,000 or $500,000, you might be paying another $10. It's a bargain."

AnneMarie McPherson is IA news editor.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Homeowners