May
11

Seven Surprising Things your Insurance Policies Cover

May 11, 2014

Accidents happen. That’s why you have insurance. You’re probably familiar with the common calamities that are covered by standard policies. House catches fire? File a homeowners insurance claim. Get into a fender bender? Call your auto insurer. Visit the emergency room? Flash your health plan card. But what if your dog bites the mailman? A meteorite crashes through your roof? Or rioters torch your car? Suddenly, the answers are less clear.

Here are seven things that you might not realize are covered by standard insurance policies. Just be aware that even though your insurer will pay the claim, you might not want to file a claim if the expense doesn’t greatly exceed your deductible. A series of small claims can cost you a claims-free discount or even prompt your insurer to drop you at renewal time.

Volcanic eruptions. Most of us don’t have to worry about all of our earthly possessions being engulfed by lava and ash. But it’s a real threat for residents of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Fortunately, standard homeowners policies usually cover damage from volcanic eruptions. But not all natural disasters are treated equally. For example, while vehicle damage caused by earthquakes and floods is covered by auto insurance, damage to your home caused by earthquakes and floods isn’t covered by standard homeowners policies, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for CarInsurance.com. To get earthquake coverage for your home, you’ll need to add an endorsement to your existing policy or buy a separate policy, which is available from a private insurer. You can buy a flood insurance policy for your home through the National Flood Insurance Program.

Rodent damage to your car. Ugh, those cursed mice chewed through your car’s wiring again. The good news is that your auto insurance may pay for the rodent damage. Most insurers provide coverage under comprehensive auto policies if animals such as mice or squirrels damage your vehicle’s electrical system, says Penny Gusner of CarInsurance.com. It’s considered an “other than collision” auto claim, and you would not be held at fault for it, she says. Check the language of your policy, though, to make sure it provides this sort of coverage. Some policies don’t. On the other hand, says Allstate spokeswoman Kate Hollcraft, homeowners insurance does not cover damage caused by rodents or domestic animals such as dogs and cats. But it will provide protection if a wild animal other than a rodent gets into your house and causes damage.

Meteorites. OK, we admit the chances are slim that a meteorite, satellite or other falling object will strike you, your home or your car. Rest assured, though, your insurance should provide protection in such an unlikely event. According to the Insurance Information Institute, damage caused by falling objects usually is covered under standard life, auto and homeowners policies. Homeowners policies cover damage to the home and to belongings inside it. The optional comprehensive portion of an auto policy covers damage to a car, and the liability portion of a policy would kick in if a falling object caused an accident. And a life insurance policy would pay beneficiaries if the policyholder was struck and killed by a falling object. Heck, even health insurance would kick in if you escaped death but needed treatment for your injuries.

Riots. Let’s say a protest turns violent or a victory celebration gets out of hand and your car or home is damaged during the commotion. Are you covered? Yes. Damage caused by riots is covered under standard homeowners policies and comprehensive auto insurance. You and your property should also be protected in the event of a terrorist attack if the damage results from such things as explosions, fire and smoke. Homeowners insurance will protect your property and personal possessions, renters insurance will cover your possessions, and comprehensive auto insurance will fix or replace your car. But if a war erupts or there is a nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological attack, auto and homeowners insurance will not cover the damage, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Dog bites. If your dog bites someone, your homeowners policy should provide coverage to help settle the legal and medical bills. Good thing: One-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims are related to dog bites. A standard policy usually provides $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage. Homeowners insurance also provides medical coverage to pay doctor bills if someone is injured by your pet or on your property. Considering that some lawsuits can end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, the insurance coverage you have might not be enough to pay for all the bills if your dog, cat or other pet injures someone. To offset the risk of a costly court verdict, consider getting an umbrella liability policy.

Dorm room theft. If Junior’s flat-screen TV disappears from his dormitory, don’t panic. Most homeowners insurance policies provide protection for college students’ belongings while they’re away from home. The rules vary by insurer, but most require the student to be living on campus, enrolled in school full time and younger than 26, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Some insurers limit off-premises coverage to 10 percent of the personal possessions coverage in a policy, says Jeanne Salvatore of the Insurance Information Institute. Most homeowners policies provide coverage for possessions at 50 to 70 percent of the dwelling’s coverage. Students who live off-campus might not be covered. In that case, consider a renters insurance policy.

Defense lawyer. No matter how careful you are, all it takes is one accident at your home or in your car to thrust you into a costly legal entanglement. This is where the liability portion of your auto or homeowners insurance kicks in. Liability coverage should help foot the bill for a variety of legal costs, including hiring a lawyer to defend you in court. Language in your policies should outline the particulars about how your liability coverage works when it comes to paying attorney fees, court costs and the like. CarInsurance.com’s Penny Gusner says to look for wording in your policy to the effect of: “We will settle or defend, as we consider appropriate.” Once again, consider whether you need an umbrella liability policy to protect against a big adverse judgment.

This post originally appeared on ChicagoTribune.com on May 8, 2014.

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