With an estimated 30 million uninsured drivers on the road, a personal umbrella can expand the uninsured/underinsured limits and protect the policy owner. A business consultant was stopped a light when a speeding car struck and totaled his expensive new sports car. He sustained light injuries, but his passenger, a new client, suffered a debilitating back injury that left him in pain. The at-fault driver carried only a minimum amount of insurance and had few resources to attach, but the consultant’s umbrella policy came to the rescue.
Social media has leveled the playing field for getting information out, but it also has brought new liability for average people when they post items that offend someone. A student in Australia, whose father had left his teaching job citing health reasons, posted messages on Facebook and Twitter about his father’s replacement, with whom he had never studied, indicating she was responsible for his father leaving the job. A court in Australia awarded the teacher more than $85,000 for defamation.
While dog-bite claims typically settle for around $35,000, they can be much higher when the animal is known to be vicious. A Midwest teenager was awarded more than $1.1 million for injuries and ongoing trauma stemming from a severe bite from a 120-pound Bull Mastiff that had a history of attacks. The boy was standing with some friends when the 120-pound animal broke free from his chain-link-fence enclosure and grabbed onto the boy. It took 10 minutes to get the dog to release him, by which time the victim suffered severe damage to his scalp, shoulder, arm and thigh. The victim required extensive plastic surgery for scarring.
The inexperience and the sense of invincibility of young drivers contribute to the frequency and severity of the auto accidents in which they are involved, and sometimes those accidents trigger an umbrella. When his parents weren’t home, a young teenager found the keys to his mother’s car and took three friends for a ride. The teen quickly lost control of the car, hitting a tree head-on. There were serious injuries to contend with, but the family did not lose its home because of the higher limits of the umbrella.
Questions to Ask
Do you own a dog or any other pet?
A homeowner may see his dog as a tail-wagging member of the family, but more than 4.5 million Americans are bitten by a dog each year and 885,000 require medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2012, 27,000 people required reconstructive surgery after a dog bite. A severe dog bite can leave the victim with pain and scars, and the dog owner with a lot of liability. The stakes increase when the dog has a history of biting and when the victim is a child. Clients who own a dog should own a personal umbrella policy. And that also goes for those with any pet capable of inflicting severe damage.
Do you own a firearm?
Guns are more prevalent than many people imagine, so agents need to be sure to identify gun owners and to offer them enough coverage. Firearms are in almost 40 percent of homes in America, and about one in four gun owners is a women. Despite expectations and precautions, gun accidents happen and they can
be catastrophic. It’s a good practice to recommend these clients buy an umbrella, and, if they refuse, to ask them to sign a waiver acknowledging they turned it down.
Would you tell me about your lifestyle?
If a client owns a boat, a Jet Ski, snowmobile, swimming pool, trampoline or similar possession, she has assumed the level of risk that calls for a personal umbrella. Even if she doesn’t regularly use these types of recreational items, she might allow a friend to use them or have an uninvited guest sneak in for a midnight swim or an unauthorized boat trip. And when your client’s liability exceeds her coverage limits, a plaintiff’s attorney may go after the retirement savings she’s carefully nurtured. An umbrella protects a lot.
Do you own a vacation home? Do you ever rent it out?
Since your client rents out his vacation home for a few weeks, he has little control over what his tenant is actually doing on the property so the solid liability protection of a personal umbrella is called for. If the vacation property is in another state where the homeowners and auto carrier doesn’t write, or if the client’s policies are written by different carriers, an agent may have to find a stand-alone umbrella. Different carriers have different practices, but a client should have only one umbrella over all personal liability. It is not difficult to find a monoline umbrella when necessary.
Do you know why you should have an umbrella liability policy in addition to auto and homeowners coverage?
Clients routinely buy auto and homeowners insurance, but only about 20 percent of them purchase a personal umbrella because it is neither required nor actively pushed by many agents. A personal umbrella is arguably the best value in insurance, but some agents shy away from it because their clients don’t understand their need and might balk at the additional premium. This can be a costly mistake. When liability is asserted, the defense and settlement costs can quickly exhaust the limits of an underlying policy, requiring the client to raid his retirement account, sell property or even endure wage garnishment to pay the difference. In most cases, clients can avoid the problem simply by paying an additional $200 or so in premium for a $1 million or $2 million umbrella. And the agent is less likely to be drawn into a lawsuit as well.