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6 Ways to Avoid Holiday Hosting Accidents, Other Seasonal Perils

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Holiday festivities are expected to be back in full swing for many families this year, with about 80% of American consumers and 66% of Canadian consumers planning to spend the 2021 holiday season normally, according to a recent Numerator survey. Over 46% of American adults plan to eat Thanksgiving dinner at a friend or relative’s house, a new survey by The Vacationer found, and nearly 32% will attend a gathering with 10 or more individuals.

Although 52% of Americans in a Harris poll responded that they would be uncomfortable attending holiday gatherings with those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, only 12% said the issue would completely limit them to vaccinated-only events. In addition, the recent approval of coronavirus vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 has many parents booking holiday travel to visit with family.

“I definitely think there will be more families gathering and hosting holiday parties this year compared to last year,” said Kate Wright, Associate Vice President, Regional Practice Group Leader, Personal Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, Indianapolis, Indiana. “They may even be prompted to invite extended family or more friends to their gatherings to make up for lost time during the pandemic.”

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There is an increased risk for accidents pertaining to property damage or liability during the holidays as a result of these parties. … As property owners, we need to ensure we create a safe space to gather and are mindful about food, beverages, and entertainment that we provide our guests.

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- Kate Wright,

Associate Vice President
Regional Practice Group Leader, Personal Insurance

From front porch slip-and-falls to holiday shopping scams, though, there are a number of risks hosts and others should keep in mind this time of year. While insurance may not be at the top of anyone’s wish list, it is an aspect of holiday preparedness that should not be overlooked.

“There is an increased risk for accidents pertaining to property damage or liability during the holidays as a result of these parties,” Wright explained. “Anytime you are hosting anything on your property, your guests are in your care, custody and control. As property owners, we need to ensure we create a safe space to gather and are mindful about food, beverages, and entertainment that we provide our guests.”

With that in mind, consider these six tips to help holiday revelers enjoy the season with as little risk as possible.

1. Prepare your pets for holiday guests

Around 38% of American households have one or more dogs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dogs, cats and other pets are considered important members of the family for many households, but it may be best to exclude them from large holiday gatherings. This is especially true if they have not been exposed to many strangers in the past due to the pandemic.

“The risk of dog bites may be higher this year due to the fact that more individuals own animals and there may not have been the availability of proper training or acclimation to large crowds during the pandemic,” Wright pointed out. “Pet owners might not have been able to put their dogs in puppy training classes like they normally would, and in a large gathering, the pet could be unfamiliar with their surroundings and act impulsively.”

Even well-socialized, good-natured pets can become agitated by the presence of newcomers or unfamiliar noises and smells. In 2018, dog bites were the 13th leading cause of nonfatal ER visits in the U.S., according to a 2020 study published in Injury Epidemiology. To avoid situations that could result in injuries, homeowners should consider leaving dogs in their crates or in a comfortable, peaceful room away from the festivities.

Homeowners Insurance policies provide coverage for dog bite liability, although coverage may be limited depending on the carrier or the breed of the dog, Wright explained. Holiday hosts should consult with their insurance broker to ensure that they have adequate coverage in case any of their guests suffer an injury from a family pet. Some pet owners may also wish to inquire about a Personal Umbrella policy with additional liability coverage for dog bites.

“Medical costs for dog bites can be in the thousands, depending on the seriousness of the dog bite,” Wright noted.

2. Take steps to prevent household fires

Each year between 2014 to 2018, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 770 home structure fires that began with holiday decorations, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Cooking equipment was involved in 20% of these fires. In Canada, cooking mishaps are the cause of 30% of residential fires, according to the National Fire Information Database.

Whether a turkey is roasted in the oven or deep-fried in a backyard fryer, accidents related to meal preparation and serving pose threats to hosts, guests, pets and property. These accidents can also come at a serious expense to homeowners. According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), an average of five deaths, 25 injuries and $26 million in property loss related to home cooking fires occurred annually on Thanksgiving in the U.S. between 2017 to 2019.

Following basic manufacturers’ safety guidelines can help you avoid most fires, especially when using a deep fryer in your driveway or dazzling your neighbors with an elaborate Christmas display on your front lawn. Other important steps include checking fire alarm systems and fire extinguishers in the house to ensure they are functioning properly, installing a central station fire alarm, and keeping small children and pets away from deep fryers when in use.

“Fire risk can be even more serious during the holidays because many times, individuals are either hosting parties, putting potentially more guests at risk in the event of an accident on your property, or they are traveling away from home to see family or friends and they are unable to promptly notify emergency services in the event of a fire,” Wright explained. “For those who do not have a central station fire alarm, that could really determine whether or not the property damage from a fire is severe.”

Unattended candles, dry Christmas trees and electrical malfunctions are among other potential fire hazards. Homeowners should also be careful about decorating with high-hazard flammable materials, such as pine.

If an accidental fire does occur, a Homeowners Insurance policy can cover the cost of property damage and most third-party injury claims, Wright said. A Personal Umbrella policy can supplement a Homeowners Insurance policy, she added.

3. Be mindful about serving alcohol

Holiday gatherings often involve alcohol. In fact, one survey found that the average American consumes twice the number of alcoholic drinks during the holidays than they do at any other time of the year, the New York Post reported in December of 2018. Even those who do not usually consume alcohol may make an exception at holiday gatherings. In one ProdegeMR survey from July of 2019, over 19% of Canadians said they only drink on special occasions.

Homeowners who serve alcohol to guests should be cognizant of the responsibilities involved and the potential liability stemming from intoxicated guests and alcohol-related driving incidents. Many states have passed social host liability laws, under which homeowners can be held liable for property damage and third-party losses caused by intoxicated guests who get behind the wheel after leaving a party held in their home. In addition, Homeowners Insurance policies could contain exclusions, conditions, or limitations regarding this kind of risk, Wright said.

“In any event where a homeowner is going to be hosting a large enough party that they cannot responsibly oversee their guests, the best advice is they should consider hiring a third-party vendor who will therefore carry their own Commercial General Liability Insurance and Liquor Liability Insurance,” she suggested. “That can transfer the risk to the third-party vendor versus taking on the risk themselves.”

According to Wright, a Personal Umbrella policy can provide additional protection beyond the limits of your Homeowners Insurance policy for these types of exposures, with limits up to $5 million or more. Another option is hosting your holiday gathering at an outside venue, shifting the liquor liability to the venue and freeing hosts from the responsibility of monitoring and managing their guests’ alcohol consumption.

4. Make your home safe for guests, remove slip hazards

When welcoming guests to your home for the holidays, it is important to ensure that they can enter and get around safely, especially while carrying holiday gifts or traversing snow or icy conditions. In July of 2018, Global News reported that unintentional falls send about 1,800 Canadians to the hospital every year.

Older relatives may be especially at risk, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that more than 1 in 4 older Americans fall each year. These falls can be serious, with 1 in 5 falls causing a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury, according to the CDC.

Hosts should take precautions such as shoveling and salting walkways and clearing interior spaces of clutter and dangerous furniture, Wright recommended. When accidents do happen, Homeowners Insurance can provide coverage for medical costs associated with a guest’s injury.

5. Do not leave digital clues for thieves

Sharing photos of holiday festivities on social media is a common practice for many families, but it is important for homeowners to be vigilant. Posts that display your location, belongings, travel plans or where holiday gifts are hidden can inform your social media contacts — and potential criminals — about information that can be used to target you.

“That is a constant risk during the holidays and individuals need to remember to be mindful,” Wright said. “Just because your child is not posting on social media, it does not mean that their cousin or friend is not posting and sharing your information.”

Wright suggested that homeowners check to make sure that family members and other guests are all observing social media safety during the holidays. Another safeguard is informing a trusted neighbor or friend of your holiday plans and asking that person to check on your property while you are away, Wright added.

6. Be on the lookout for holiday shopping scams

On Oct. 19, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warned consumers in a news release that online purchase scams were on the rise heading into the holiday season. According to the organization, the median dollar loss for online scams has risen from $76 in 2019 to $102 in 2021. As consumers begin shopping online for holiday gifts, they should stick with trusted online retailers and be on the lookout for coupon scams that may appear as pop-ups and deals that seem too good to be true.

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Especially with the projected shipping delays that are expected due to overall supply and demand issues, shoppers may be shopping earlier and doing even more shopping online than they had done in the past. They need to be aware of these scams.

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- Kate Wright,

Associate Vice President
Regional Practice Group Leader, Personal Insurance

Personal Cybersecurity Insurance including Cyberman365, a program offered by Burns & Wilcox in partnership with Node International, can protect consumers in the event of identity theft but generally cannot protect against willful purchases to fraudulent websites.

Shipping delay alerts, which may arrive via email or text message, are another form of phishing scam that can attempt to take advantage of holiday shoppers, according to the BBB. If you get an unexpected message about a delivery, do not click the links and instead contact the delivery carrier or retailer directly to check the status.

“Especially with the projected shipping delays that are expected due to overall supply and demand issues, shoppers may be shopping earlier and doing even more shopping online than they had done in the past,” Wright said. “They need to be aware of these scams. The best thing they can do is be very cautious, keep track of the purchases they make online and be mindful not to click on every message they get if they are unsure of where it came from. If they have been scammed, resources like Cyberman365 can help them navigate through that process.”

Simple precautions can help spare holiday heartbreak, hassles

Whether hosting a dinner with family and friends or letting the family dog socialize with guests during a celebration, homeowners face a myriad of risks during the holiday season. Before your party begins or you get started on those holiday gifts, remember to get proper consultation in case misfortune arises.

“The holidays are a great time to celebrate with your family and friends, and the last thing you want to be thinking about is an unfortunate accident,” Wright added. “Working closely with an insurance broker to ensure they have the coverages they need can help them enjoy the holidays without being at higher risk.”

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The holidays are a great time to celebrate with your family and friends, and the last thing you want to be thinking about is an unfortunate accident. Working closely with an insurance broker to ensure they have the coverages they need can help them enjoy the holidays without being at higher risk.

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- Kate Wright,

Associate Vice President
Regional Practice Group Leader, Personal Insurance

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