What Does My Home Insurance Cover?
En español | If your house is damaged by fire, it’s a pretty sure bet that your homeowners insurance policy will cover the cost to repair it. But what if the damage results from something less common, such as mold or a meteor falling from the sky? Chances are you’re also covered. Homeowners insurance policies vary, as do state laws, but typical policies cover many atypical claims. Here’s a look at five of the more unusual things for which your homeowners insurance should foot the bill.
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More than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, resulting in around 800,000 injuries that require medical attention. More than 50 percent of the bites occur on a dog owner’s property.
Dog bites are probably the single most common cause of liability claims on a homeowner’s policy, says Bill Wilson of the Independent Insurance Agents Brokers of America. The Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates that dog bites account for one-third of all liability claims.
According to Wilson, most homeowners insurance policies will cover the medical bills for someone bit by a dog — or a cat or snake or other domestic animal, for that matter — and even pay lost wages if the person can’t work. On a typical homeowner’s policy, liability coverage maxes out between $100,000 and $300,000. If you get sued and a judgment exceeds that amount, you’re on the hook for the difference. The III says the average dog bite claim totals about $25,000.
Photo by St. Petersburg Times/ZUMA Press
Annie Gamble was watching TV in her bedroom in St. Petersburg, Fla. when a tree crashed through her roof.
For many homeowners, mold is a four-letter word that conjures up fears of illness and expensive cleanup. Indeed, the cost of mold remediation can run into the thousands of dollars. Whether your homeowners insurance policy will cover mold damage largely depends on the underlying cause of the mold.
In general, homeowners insurance will pay out for mold damage that’s a direct result of a peril that’s covered by your policy. Let’s say mold, which needs moisture to thrive, is caused by water from a burst pipe, a covered peril. In that case, any resulting mold damage should be covered because the source of the water is covered by your policy.
But if mold is due to long-term neglect or overdue maintenance, rather than a sudden and unexpected covered peril, then homeowners insurance is unlikely to cover the damage. Possible scenarios include excessive humidity in an attic, seepage into a basement or leaky pipes and appliances. You usually need separate flood insurance to cover damage from flooding.
Even if mold is covered, check to see if your policy caps damage at a certain amount. If so, it’s possible to buy additional coverage. Wilson says an extra $50,000 in mold coverage costs about $47 a year. The average annual premium for a homeowners insurance policy is $791, according to the III.
Homeowners insurance typically excludes acts of war. The same blanket exclusion doesn’t hold true for acts of terrorism, which are more akin to a criminal act than an armed conflict. Wilson says insurers should cover damage due to explosion, fire and smoke resulting from a terrorist attack, even if terrorism isn’t specifically referenced in your homeowners policy.
For example, take the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Residences near New York’s World Trade Center suffered blown windows and smoke damage. In that instance, those repairs were covered. Insured property losses from the 9/11 attacks totaled nearly $23 billion in 2009 dollars, estimates the III.
But coverage of a terrorist attack isn’t guaranteed since there’s little precedent in the United States save for 9/11. In the unlikely event that you ever need to file a terrorism-related claim, figure your home insurer will treat it on a case-by-case basis. Besides acts of war, typical homeowners policies don’t consider nuclear accidents a covered peril.
A limb breaking off a tree during a storm. Debris dropping from an airplane passing high overhead. Even a meteor falling from the sky. If any of those objects damage your home, rest assured your homeowners insurance should cover the repairs up to your policy limits.
Keep in mind that while the hole in your roof is covered, any ensuing damage might not be unless you make reasonable efforts to prevent further damage. If it’s raining, for example, you should cover the hole with a tarp as soon as it’s safe to do so to prevent more water infiltration. Wilson suggests holding off on making permanent repairs until your insurance adjuster can assess the extent of the damage.
Accidents outside the home
If someone gets hurt on your property, perhaps slipping on an icy stairwell, your homeowners policy should cover the medical bills. What you might not know is that your homeowners coverage can extend to injuries beyond the home, too.
Let’s say you’re at the grocery store, and you crash your shopping cart into another patron. Your homeowners insurance would cover the other person’s medical expenses. Same goes for the golf course and if you hit someone with a stray drive. As a bonus, coverage provided by a standard policy extends to anywhere in the world, not just to the United States.
Homeowners insurance excludes these types of claims related to use of a car, Wilson says. You need to rely on your auto insurance then. If you have a lot of assets to protect and you’re worried about getting sued, look into umbrella insurance. An umbrella policy kicks in when you exceed the liability limits of your home and auto policies.
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