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The Murphy Insurance Blog

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News, updates and useful tips about insurance products and the insurance industry. We also provide insights on community events, local news and information that affect your everyday life. Enjoy!

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Making sure your home is properly covered for a disaster

For many people, their home is their greatest asset, so it is crucial to avoid being underinsured. To properly insure your home, it is important to ask your insurance professional four key questions.


1. Do I have enough insurance to rebuild my home?

Your policy needs to cover the cost of rebuilding your home at current construction costs. Unfortunately, some homeowners simply purchase enough insurance protection to satisfy their mortgage lender. Others confuse the real estate value of their home with what it would cost to rebuild it. Quite simply, you should have enough insurance to rebuild your home in the event that it is completely destroyed. Be sure to consider the following: 
 
  • Replacement cost -  Most policies cover replacement cost for damage to the structure. A replacement cost policy pays for the repair or replacement of damaged property with materials of similar kind and quality.
  • Extended replacement cost -  This type of policy provides additional insurance coverage of 20 percent or more over the limits in your policy, which can be critical if there is a widespread disaster that pushes up the cost of building materials and labor.
  • Inflation guard -  This coverage automatically adjusts the rebuilding costs of your home to reflect changes in construction costs. Find out if your policy includes this coverage or if you have to purchase it separately.
  • Ordinance or law coverage -  If your home is badly damaged, you may be required to rebuild it to meet new (and often stricter) building codes. Ordinance or law coverage pays a specific amount toward these costs.
  • Water back-up -  This coverage insures your property for damage from sewer or drain back-up. Most insurers offer it as an add-on to a standard policy.
  • Flood insurance - Standard home insurance policies provide coverage for disasters such as fire, lightning and hurricanes. They do not include coverage for flood (including flooding from a hurricane). Flood insurance is available through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (www.floodsmart.gov), but can be purchased from the same agent or company representative who provides you with your home or renters insurance. Make sure to purchase flood insurance for the structure of your house, as well as for the contents. Excess Flood Protection, which provides higher limits of coverage than the NFIP in the event of catastrophic loss by flooding, is available from some insurers. Keep in mind that there is a 30-day waiting period before the insurance is valid. 


2. Do I have enough insurance to replace all of my possessions?

Most homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for your personal possessions for approximately 50 percent to 70 percent of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. So if you have $100,000 worth of coverage on the structure of your home, you would be covered for $50,000 to $70,000 worth of the contents of your home, depending on the policy.

The best way to determine if this is enough coverage is to conduct a home inventory, which details everything you own and the estimated cost to replace these items if they are stolen or destroyed by a disaster. Keep your home inventory in a safe place if you have physical copies; or store it in the Cloud if you are using a home inventory app.

You can insure your possessions in two ways: by their actual cash value or their replacement cost. Make sure you review with your insurance pofessional which type of coverage is best for your particular situation. 

  • Actual cash value policy  This coverage pays the cost of replacing your belongings minus depreciation.
  • Replacement cost policy  This coverage reimburses you for the full current cost of replacing your belongings.

To illustrate the difference between the two types of policies, suppose, for example, a fire destroys a 10-year-old television set in your living room. If you have a replacement cost policy for the contents of your home, the insurance company will pay to replace the TV with a comparable new one. If you have an actual cash value policy, it will pay only a small percentage of the cost of a new TV set because the old TV has been used for 10 years and is now worth a lot less than its original cost. Some replacement cost policies specify that the new item be purchased by the insurance company as they may be able to purchase at a bulk or special rate. The price of replacement cost coverage is about 10 percent more than that of actual cash value.


3. Do I have enough coverage for additional living expenses?

Coverage for additional living expenses pays the extra costs of temporarily living away from your home if you can't live in it due to an insured disaster such as a hurricane. It covers hotel bills, restaurant meals, transportation and other living expenses incurred while your home is inaccessible or being rebuilt. It is important to note that it covers only those expenses that are over and above your regular living expenses, so it would not cover your mortgage, or regular trips to the grocery store. If you rent out part of your house, this coverage also reimburses you for the rent that you would have collected from your tenant if your home had not been destroyed.

Coverage for additional living expenses differs from company to company. Many policies provide coverage for about 20 percent of the insurance on your house. Some companies will sell you a policy that provides you with an unlimited amount of loss of use coverage, for a limited amount of time.

Make sure you know exactly how much coverage you have for additional living expenses, and whether there is a time limit. If the standard coverage is not adequate, it can generally be increased for an additional premium.


4. Do I have enough insurance to protect my assets?

Although not a key element in disaster planning, it is also important to have adequate liability protection. This covers you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that you or your family members may cause to other people. It also pays for damage caused by pets. Liability insurance pays for both the cost of defending you in court and for any damages a court rules you must pay—up to the limits of your policy. Most homeowners insurance policies provide a minimum of $100,000 worth of liability insurance, but higher amounts are available.

It is important to purchase enough liability insurance to protect your assets. If the standard liability coverage in your homeowners policy is not sufficient, you may need an excess liability, or umbrella, policy, which provides additional coverage over and above what is covered in your home (and auto) insurance policy.
 

Source:  Insurance Information Institute

house puzzle get organized

No one likes to think about the loss of a loved one or their own death, but if you want to avoid having your family struggle with financial and legal issues, there are certain planning steps you need to take. Sometimes the reason people don't take action is because they don't have a trusted resource to turn to. Our Financial Insurance team is glad to answer questions and offer guidance. We can even refer you to other trusted advisors if needed. 

Even if you’ve already done estate and financial planning work, you should periodically ask yourself if your arrangements still fit your current situation. Changes may be needed.

Here are a few questions to think about...

Do you have a will and a trust? A will can help keep your family out of court. A trust may be needed depending on your circumstances to help in the transfer of assets upon your death.

Do you have an attorney? Does your family have your attorney's contact information?

Are all of your financial documents in order (including names of financial institutions & account #’s)? Do your family members know where to locate this information?

Do you have a financial durable power of attorney? If you are incapacitated, having a power of attorney in place can help ensure your legal affairs run smoothly by having someone to act on your behalf.

Do you have advance health care directives?

  • Health care proxy—appoints someone to make medical decisions for you, if you are unable to
  • Living will—specifies the type of medical treatments you would or would not want if you were unable to communicate.   

Have you discussed your thoughts about organ donation with your family? Don't leave your family guessing about your wishes.

Do you have enough life insurance on both you and your spouse/partner? Your need for life insurance can change over time as assets, debts, responsibilities and lifestyle change.

Is your beneficiary information up to date on life insurance policies?  Be sure this is current especially if you've had changes in your life that would warrant an update.

Kids protection plan, if you have minor children? Who would take care of your children if something happened to you.

These questions are a starting point. Your unique situation may require answers to other questions. Our team can help you start the process if you haven't done any planning yet. Making the commitment to get started is the first hurdle to overcome, and you can do that by picking up the phone and talking with a member of our team.

workers' compensation

Workers’ compensation insurance protects employees from financial hardship after they suffer injury or illness on the job. It pays for direct medical expenses and wage replacement while the employee is unable to work due to the injury. In Massachusetts, all organizations that have employees are required to purchase it, whether they have just one part-time employee or if they have employees working in other states. (If you do have employees in several states, you may need to purchase additional coverage as laws vary among states.)

workers compensationIn Massachusetts, the Division of Industrial Accidents manages the workers’ comp system. It establishes codes for every job type and sets a corresponding base rate. Your company’s base premium is calculated by multiplying your payroll in a given class code by the state-set rate. This amount is then multiplied by your company’s actual claims experience to establish your premium.

The two factors that determine claims experience for businesses are frequency of claims, measured by the Experience Modification Factor (Mod), and severity of claims, measured by the All Risk Adjustment Program (ARAP). The claims history used to calculate these metrics is the three oldest of the prior four years. For example, a 2019 policy looks at claims experience for 2015, 2016 and 2017.

When you’re looking for a provider of workers’ compensation insurance, take these three factors into consideration:

1. Claims Management 

Efficient claims handling keeps claim costs down and reduces any negative impact to your Mod and ARAP. Some providers offer guidance for developing a “return to work” program, which can help an injured employee return quicker. For instance, an employer may have or may create a position with less rigorous physical requirements to allow an employee to return earlier. This helps reduce claim costs. Choosing a provider that offers such assistance can be valuable.

2. Discounts

Some insurance companies offer a scheduled deviation from the state set workers’ comp rates, which provides a guaranteed discount for the policy period. Other companies may offer a dividend plan, through which the claims experience and discount amount are calculated when the policy year is over. Such dividends are not guaranteed and are generally based on the individual’s experience as well as the overall performance of all policyholders participating in the dividend plan.

3. Proper Classifications

Using proper job classifications for your workforce is essential. While overpaying due to wrong class codes is always a concern, underpaying can be equally problematic since an audit may result in a large premium adjustment. Working with a knowledgeable agent helps you avoid problems. Policies are audited at the end of each policy term, and a premium charge or credit is made if actual payrolls differ from the estimates used to calculate the original premium.

Workers’ comp and other insurance policies are only one component of a complete enterprise risk management program. The best advice is to seek a qualified agent you can trust, then work in conjunction with the agent, the insurance company and the insurance company’s loss control department to build a well rounded program. Accidents happen, but the best way to contain costs is to provide as safe a work environment as possible.

garaging location

 

The location where your vehicle is primarily parked overnight is termed the “garaging location”. If the garaging location changes, your auto insurance policy states that you are required to notify the insurance company immediately. There is no grace period for notification; therefore, it’s a good idea to let your agent know in advance when a garaging change will occur. Be sure to notify your agent if you (or a family member):

Moves to a new home or apartment 

Are a student taking vehicle to college

Loan your car to someone for an extended period – Be sure the driver is listed on your policy

Take your car on an extended stay at another location:

  • at second or vacation home
  • visiting friends at their home
  • military service
  • living away from home for work

Claims can be denied for failure to notify

Failing to notify the company of a garaging change can result in an auto insurance claim being denied. The reason that garaging is such a serious issue is that auto insurance premiums are determined in part based on the garaging location. 

Different geographic locations are rated differently and have different premiums based on the area’s accident and theft history. When your garaging changes, the new location may have an increased risk of accidents or theft…requiring an increase of premium to cover that additional risk. Conversely, you may find that the new garaging location has no increased risk, which leaves your premium the same. Or, it could decrease the risk profile resulting in a lower premium. It all depends on where you move.

Admittedly, no one wants to see their premium go up, but it’s not worth delaying notifying the company because having a claim denied based on a wrong garaging address could be an expensive situation.

Check with us before you move

If you’re looking to buy a home or rent an apartment in a new city or town, you may want to check with us regarding how the move will impact your auto insurance premium. If the move will result in a substantial increase, it may impact your decision and cause you to consider locating to a different nearby town that has a lower rate. This may seem extreme, but if you’re budget conscious, then it’s wise to consider all the facts before you finalize your plans.

frozen pipes

There are lots of things you can do to reduce the risk of winter related losses such as frozen pipes. However, if temperatures are extremely cold and you turn on your tap to find a trickle or nothing instead of a steady flow, you probably have frozen pipes somewhere in your home. Water expands when frozen, but pipes do not, which can cause a pipe to burst. If you discover you have frozen pipes, act quickly...don't wait for them to burst.

frozzen pipesfrozen pipes

  • Turn off the water supply. If pipes are frozen and in danger of bursting, you want to stop the flow of additional water into the pipes to reduce potential for additional damage.
  • Protect your possessions. Move any possessions near the frozen pipe to a safe area to prevent damage if it bursts.
  • Locate the frozen pipe. Check water flow at faucets to determine if the frozen pipe is isolated in one area, more extensive, or close to where water comes into the home. Feeling along pipes can help to locate the frozen area. Look for bulging.
  • Take action to thaw pipes immediately. Be attentive as you thaw pipes because sometimes pinholes or cracks can occur from freezing and then upon thawing leaks become evident. There are lots of do-it-yourself tips on the internet on how to thaw pipes...search "thawing frozen pipes". You may want to do some advance reading just in case. Be sure to open faucets near the frozen pipe to let steam escape and water flow out. We recommend calling a licensed plumber for assistance. 

burst pipes

  • Turn off the water supply to stop the flow of water. Immediate action can be key to reducing additional damage. If it's an emergency and you don't know what to do, call the fire department. After the water is off, you can clean up the spill and work to reduce further damage. If a burst pipe is near any electrical switches or fuses, turn the power off at the panel. Never touch anything electrical if it's wet.
  • Clean up, make temporary repairs and take steps to prevent further damage. An insurance adjuster doesn’t need to see the actual water spill before you start cleaning up. However, the adjuster will want to inspect any damaged items. Documenting damage with pictures and/or video can be helpful to the process. If the leak involves ceilings being saturated with water, be extra careful of weakened construction that could collapse and cause injury. 
  • Get professional help. Most of us aren't skilled enough to make proper repairs especially if the damage is major and/or within walls. A licensed plumber (and perhaps electrician if electrical is involved) can help you make repairs. A professional water damage restoration company will remove water from your home and ensure that walls are dry to prevent a mold problem. Remember, mold cannot survive without moisture. You want to be sure repairs are done properly to prevent additional damage in the future. 
  • Call your agent or insurance company as soon as possible. At Murphy Insurance, our claims team is ready to assist you in processing a claim and connecting you with your insurance company. We have an emergency help line for after hours claim assistance. You can contact your insurance company directly if you prefer, but be sure to call us, too. Document anything that is damaged and save receipts for what you spend. 
NOTE: Murphy Insurance is not a plumbing or construction expert and cannot guarantee that prevention or corrective measures will alleviate damage. Murphy Insurance is not responsible for the accuracy or completeness of informaiton provided through links to other websites. Consult an experienced plumber, contractor or expert to determine the best solution for your situation.

 

family life insurance

“Let’s talk about your death.” Now that’s a real conversation stopper.

Imagine how uncomfortable you might be saying this to someone. Yet, as an insurance agent this is  exactly what we must do to help people protect their loved ones’ future with life insurance.

Life Insurance FamilyWhile we’re being honest, it’s called life insurance, but truthfully, it’s death insurance.  Now that’s a real winning product name isn’t it?  And, to make it even more challenging, the purchaser knows he/she won’t benefit from it personally…who likes to buy things that they don’t get to enjoy themselves?

Ultimately, the appeal and benefit of life insurance is that you truly love your spouse/partner/children and would never want them to suffer because of something you did or didn’t do.  However, despite our love of family, 42% of Americans lack life insurance and about 50% of those who have it are covered for $100,000 or less according to a recent bankrate.com survey.

Most of us have tight budgets, yet still find ways to have a little fun.  Admittedly, fitting life insurance into your budget may require making some small sacrifices, but it’s worth it.  Are you willing to give up going out for dinner a few times a year or make that daily cup of coffee at home instead of buying it to have peace of mind knowing those you hold most dear have a financial safety net in the event of an unexpected tragedy?  

Maybe it’s the natural human aversion to thinking about our mortality combined with various myths about life insurance that results in procrastination and avoidance of this topic. If you’re among those who have avoided addressing your life insurance needs, we’d like to encourage you to take action by dispelling some life insurance myths.

  1. Life insurance is expense. Cost is often given as a reason for not purchasing life insurance; however, 80% those who give this reason overestimate the cost. There are a wide variety of policies to fit different needs, and term insurance policies are extremely affordable. A $200,000 20-year term policy for a healthy non-smoking male, age 35 costs about $150 a year.
  2. You have health issues…you won’t qualify.  While good health certainly makes life insurance more affordable, having a health condition doesn’t automatically mean you’re uninsurable. There are companies that write policies for a range of health conditions if they are under control; however, they will be more expensive and often have lower limits. 
  3. Life insurance provided by your employer is enough.  Even if you enjoy this benefit at work, it may not be enough to cover your needs. If you leave your job, you may lose your life insurance, and if your health deteriorates, you may find yourself ineligible to purchase a policy at a later date. Even with a conversion option, it may be more cost effective to purchase your own policy now.
  4. Buy term insurance and invest the difference. Term insurance is a great value and good for covering debts and other expenses with a specific time frame. Yet, a permanent policy may be more advantageous if you have needs that require coverage for your entire life. If you had to purchase another term policy later in life to extend coverage, it may be more cost effective to purchase a non-term policy at the outset.
  5. You’re young and don’t need to be concerned about life insurance yet. When you’re young, the annual premiums are less expensive. While you may be paying a premium for a longer time, the lower premium can fit into your budget easier as you get older. Also, the longer you wait the greater the chances of having a health issue arise that would make it more expensive or challenging to get coverage.
  6. Your single and don’t have dependents so you don’t need life insurance. Even if you’re single, you probably have debts that could be a burden to your family or executor. Also, just because you’re single now, doesn’t mean you will be forever. Getting life insurance now may be more affordable than waiting.
  7. Only breadwinners need to be insured. Stay at home spouses provide a lot of value maintaining a household and providing child care. The cost for a surviving spouse to pay someone to handle those tasks could  cause a financial strain. Both adult contributors to a household should be insured.
  8. Shopping many different agents saves money. Every company has different insuring criteria, which makes the process time consuming and challenging to undertake on your own. Even talking to multiple agents can be confusing as you’ll have to make sense of all the differences. By working with one trusted agent that deals with a large number of companies, they can do the work for you and use their expertise to narrow it down to the best options saving you time and money. At Murphy Insurance, we work with over 50 different companies when searching for the best solutions.

If you’ve never talked with an insurance professional about life insurance, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get the facts. Don’t make assumptions about affordability or options….Don’t wait until it’s too late. Reach out to us so that we give you the information you need to make an informed decision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

new year resolution

With the new year, lots of us make "new year resolutions".  A resolution is defined as "a firm decision to do or not to do something."  So, it maybe a new habit such as exercising more, changing eating habits, quitting smoking or changing a routine. Or, it could be checking something off your "bucket list" or taking care of a long put off task or project.

Some of us have given up on the concept of "new year resolutions" because after years of making and breaking them it feels like "What's the point?"  Admittedly, it can be tough to get out of our own way and take the time to do things that will truly provide long-term benefits because change isn't always easy. It takes commitment, but the rewards can be great.  

New Year 2017Now, if we said put "Deal with Insurance Issues" on your resolutions list, you'd probably think...SALES PITCH!  But truthfuly it's not...it's about never wanting to see anyone have a financial crisis because something bad in life happened to them. We can't tell you how many times we turned on the news this holiday season and saw stories about house fires, apartment fires or serious car accidents. We can't help but hope those people affected by these catastrophes had the insurance they needed so that on top of suffering the emotional trauma of a loss, they aren't also facing a financial crisis.

If you've seen those news reports, too, and thought, "What if that was me?" then talking to your agent is probably something you should put on your "resolution list". The good news is if you take the leap and call your agent, you can probably get any issues identified and dealt with relatively quickly.

 Here's hoping that you stay committed to your resolutions whatever they are and reap the rewards. And, if we've prompted you to put "Deal with Insurance" on your list, here are a few items to discuss with your agent:

Car Insurance - Do you have Accident Forgiveness coverage? Do you have enough liablity protection in case you seriously injure someone or someone without good insurance injures you in an accident?

Home Insurance - Is your home properly valued?  Do you have replacement cost on the dwelling and all your possessions?

Renters Insurance - If you are a renter, you need this to protect your liability as well as pay for all your stuff.  Think about all those apartment fires and all the people who lost everything. It can happen to you. For approx $20/month, you can have solid protection.

Umbrella Insurance - How much would it cost to get $1,000,000 liablity protection?  Often it's less then $20/month.

Life Insurance - This is the one that lots of people put off year after year. If you have a spouse, partner or children, then know that they would most likely suffer greatly if something happened to you. Term life insurance is an affordable way to protect them. If you have life insurance through work, that's great but chances are it's not nearly enough to adequately protect them.

Need help? We can help you get your resolution underway.  Just contact us!

Contact Us

 

winter driving tips

Avoid cold weather driving disasters with these tips

Snow, sleet, ice and below freezing temperatures all have an effect on driving conditions. During winter, safety depends on driver performance in winter hazards, good vehicle maintenance—and common sense. These tips will help you and your car weather the winter. 

Prepare your car—and yourself—for winter driving conditions

winter drivingBe prepared for driving in inclement and freezing weather. Start with these suggestions.

  • Understand how your car behaves in the snow. While features like anti-lock brakes and all-weather tires can be advantageous, every car performs differently. If possible, practice stopping, starting and turning in a big, empty, snowy parking lot to get the feel of your wheels in the snow.
  • Make sure your battery is charged and working optimally. Cold weather adversely affects battery performance, so check it before the temperature drops.
  • Be sure to keep your gas tank full. Stormy weather or traffic delays may force you to change routes or turn back. A fuller gas tank will also prevent your car's gas-line from freezing.
  • Change your oil filter and maybe your oil. The oil in your car thickens in cold weather and (depending on the manufacturer's recommendations for your vehicle) a thinner grade of oil will help your car run more smoothly in the winter.
  • Make sure your wiper fluid contains anti-freeze, so the spray doesn't freeze up in cold weather. Consider buying winter wiper blades, which prevent ice and snow from hardening on the wiper.
  • Keep windshield and windows clear. Keep a snowbrush and scraper in your vehicle at all times. Your car's defroster can be supplemented by wiping the windows with a clean cloth to improve visibility.
  • Make sure that your tires have good tread and keep them properly inflated—both are essential to safe winter driving. And while all-weather tires are sufficient for some, if the conditions in your area tend towards snow and ice, consider winterizing your car with snow tires.
  • Check your exhaust pipe to make sure it is clear. A blocked pipe could cause a leakage of carbon monoxide gas into your car when the engine is running.
  • Pack your trunk for emergencies. A snow shovel and a bag of salt (or kitty litter) will help you dig your wheels out of a ditch and give them traction on snow or ice; a blanket will keep you warm and bottles of water will keep you hydrated in case you get stuck. 

Plan your trip with common sense  

A bad weather accident can happen whether you’re on a two-hour drive or a short hop to a dentist appointment. Take precautions before starting your ride.

  • Allow extra time to arrive at your destination. Trips can take longer during winter than other times of the year, especially if you encounter storm conditions or icy roads. And driving in inclement weather is stressful enough without the added pressure of being late, which might cloud your safe driving judgment.
  • Don't warm up your car vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage. This can cause toxic carbon monoxide to build up.
  • Fully charge your cellphone and make sure to have your car charger in case you're running late or need to phone help if you get stuck or have an emergency. But avoid the temptation of using the phone while driving, as it can be a dangerous distraction. Always pull over if you need to make the call.
  • Monitor the weather conditions before beginning your trip, not just at your departure point but also at your destination. If it seems like the roads will be too hazardous, say if an ice storm, hurricane, tornado, flood, hail or other severe weather is expected anywhere on the route you are taking, change your travel plans. 

Drive extra carefully

“Failure to keep in proper lane or running off the road” and “driving too fast for conditions” are the two of the most frequent poor driver behaviors, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Bad weather makes these behaviors exponentially more dangerous, so take additional precautions on the road.

  • Drive slowly because accelerating, stopping and turning all take longer on snow-covered or icy roads.
  • Leave more distance than usual between your vehicle and the one just ahead of you to give yourself at least 10 seconds to come to a complete stop. Cars and motorcycles usually need a minimum of 3 seconds to halt completely even when traveling on dry pavement.
  • Be careful when driving over bridges and roadways that aren't exposed to sunlight—they are often icy when other areas are not.
  • Know your route and be especially alert to avoid sudden stops and quick direction changes, which might cause spinouts or collisions with cars on slippery roads.
  • Be alert to animals that are often bolder in their hunt for food when there is snow on the ground and wander on or near roads. Around known habitats, take steps to avoid collisions with deer or other animals.
  • Don't activate your cruise control when driving on a slippery surface. You want to maintain full control of your vehicle. 

If you do get caught in a storm  

Sometimes, despite best efforts, you'll find yourself driving in bad weather. In that case:

  • Stay tuned to weather reports and weather-related accidents on your radio or GPS. Change routes to avoid the worst of the storm or its havoc.
  • Don’t try to drive your way out of it. Seek shelter for both yourself and your car and wait for the storm to pass.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

Family, friends and festivities should be the focus of the holiday season, but don’t let this joyous time be marred by fire, theft, accidents and other disasters, advises the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).Taking a few simple steps, and having the right insurance coverage can reduce these seasonal hazards. Start with these five safety tips:

1. be fire safe

December is the peak month for fires caused by candles. Christmas tree-related fires, while not as common as candle fires, are much more likely to be deadly.

Decorations and cooking are the two leading causes of home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Take care when decorating for the holidays not to put decorations too close to a heat source, and never leave the stove unattended while cooking. Always be sure to have smoke alarms in working condition.

In the event of a fire, evacuate immediately. And prepare by developing and practicing a home fire escape plan with the whole family.

Fire, smoke and water damage are covered under homeowners and renters insurance policies.

2. protect your identity

Whether shopping online or in a brick-and-mortar store, the hustle and bustle of the holidays creates a perfect opportunity for thieves looking to steal your credit card information.

To protect yourself, shop at reputable stores and check your credit card statements regularly, and if you find anything unusual, report it to your credit card company immediately. If your wallet is either lost or stolen, contact the police and your credit card company as soon as you can. 

Many standard homeowners insurance policies now include identity theft coverage. Moreover, most homeowners and renters policies provide some coverage for stolen cash or unauthorized use of your credit card.

3. burglar-proof your home

December is the fifth most common month in which burglaries occur, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

If you’re traveling over the holidays, have mail and packages picked up or held by the post office, use automatic timers to turn lights on and off at appropriate times and have a dependable neighbor check on the house periodically.

Consider making your home more secure with dead-bolt locks, window grates and smoke/fire/burglar alarms. An added benefit: most insurers provide discounts for devices that make a home safer.

Personal possessions are covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies—even holiday gifts stored in your car! 

4. be a responsible party host

Throwing a holiday bash? Party hosts who serve alcohol at their gatherings can be held liable for injuries to a third party caused by a drunken guest.

Protect yourself—and your guests—by promoting safe alcohol consumption and having the proper insurance coverage. To be a responsible host:

  • Encourage guests to pick a designated driver.
  • Offer non-alcoholic beverages and always serve food.
  • Stop serving liquor toward the end of the evening.
  • If guests drink too much or seem too tired to drive home, call a cab, arrange a ride with a sober guest or have them sleep at your home.

5. drive safely—especially in winter conditions

Safe driving and well-maintained vehicles take on even greater importance in winter.

  • Give yourself enough time to arrive at your destination; never rush in rainy, snowy or icy conditions.
  • Stay off the road between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. when drunk driving accidents are most likely.
  • Obey speed limits and avoid all distractions (no texting, eating, grooming!) while behind the wheel.
  • Keep your gas tank full. Stormy weather or traffic delays that force you to change routes or turn back can result in the use of more gas.

If you have an accident, make sure you understand your auto insurance coverage and how to file a claim.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

winter snow removal

Keep those shovels ready

Winter ShovelingWinter is underway and we’ve already had the first snow fall of the season. If you own residential or commercial property, it’s essential to understand your legal responsibilities regarding snow removal. The state you live in has laws that dictate snow removal and in many cases, your city or town may have local ordinances or by-laws that further define snow and ice removal responsibilities.

In 2010, Massachusetts snow removal law underwent a major change with a Supreme Judicial Court Ruling that overturned a 100+ year old Massachusetts Rule that previously allowed property owners to not shovel “natural accumulations” of snow without liability. With the change in the law, all property owners (owner occupied and rental) now have a legal obligation to keep their property free from snow and ice for the safety of visitors and guests…whether it’s “natural” or “unnatural” accumulations.

When do you have to shovel or treat icy surfaces?

Because of the dangers caused by snow and ice, it’s wise to shovel and treat surfaces as quickly as possible. If a danger exists, you have liability. Some cities and towns specify a minimum time by which surfaces must be cleared after a storm, but you may need to clean snow sooner; i.e. Boston -  businesses 3 hours and residents 6 hours; Worcester – 12 hours.

Do you have to shovel sidewalks in front of your house/business?

Most Massachusetts cities and towns require property owners to clear sidewalks, but also check your city or town ordinances. Often you can be fined for failing to remove snow.  Also remember that shoveling snow out into the street is not allowed and is a fineable offense.

Can you transfer responsibility for shoveling to tenants?

Landlords have the primary responsibility for snow removal at rental properties, which can’t be transferred by language in a lease. Property owners are responsible by law to keep all egresses free of obstruction. The only exception is when a dwelling has its own egress that is not shared with other units. In this case, a landlord may require in a lease for the tenant to be responsible for snow and ice removal of the entrance. However, this exception does not apply to the driveway or parking areas and so may not guarantee transfer of liability in some situations. It’s probably not worth taking a chance and relying on the tenant.

Do homeowners, dwelling fire and commercial general liability policies cover injuries if someone slips and falls?

Typically, yes. Standard policies generally cover you if someone slips and falls on your property.  Be sure you purchase sufficient liability coverage of at least $500,000 or $1,000,000. For many homeowners, the additional cost to increase coverage to $1,000,000 is very small. When a lawsuit happens, you can never have enough insurance…ask any attorney!


Helpful Links

Massachusetts Law about Snow & Ice

New Hampshire Law about Snow & Ice

City of Boston Snow Center

Ayer – Snow Removal Guidelines

Bolton – DPW

Hudson – Winter Tips & Parking Ban

Groton – Snow Policy

Littleton – Winter Snow Removal Operations

Marlborough – Snow & Ice Removal FAQ

Maynard – Snow & Sidewalk Plowing Policy

Medway – Snow & Ice Management Policy

Mendon – Highway Department

Northborough Snow & Ice Removal

Worcester Snow DPW