Who Pays for Fallen Tree Damage?

It’s the morning after a storm.  A long branch from your neighbor’s majestic oak tree is now sitting in your backyard; chunks of your roof and gutter are resting next to it along with a crushed fence.  Your neighbor is on the hook for the damages, right?

Fallen Treet

Wrong!

In most cases, once any tree or portion of tree crosses property lines after a natural event like a storm, it becomes that property owner’s responsibility.

It’s the same story with any resulting clean-up duties. Your neighbor bears no legal responsibility to pick up any branches and debris that come to a final resting place on your property as a result of Mother Nature.

While it obviously would be a kind gesture for neighbors to assist with such clean-up and damage reimbursement, they are not legally required to do so.  If we’re talking about a few sticks and leaves, no big deal.  But what if remnants of that majestic oak require the hiring of professional tree removal service, a roofer, and fence company?  Not as painless.

Are there exceptions? Always.  Insurance companies will examine each case individually.

For example, if that majestic oak was more of an unwieldy dead and dying oak, your neighbor may be found guilty of negligence and in turn bear the responsibility.

With hurricane season upon us, familiarize yourself with your homeowner’s policy.  Take the necessary steps to assure you won’t be repairing your wallet along with your roof after the wind settles.

How to Prevent Pothole Damage to Your Car

PotholeIf you’ve driven in New Jersey after our harsh winter, chances are that you’ve encountered a pothole…or many and the potholes are still out there. You’re not alone. Here are some tips to help you safely avoid damage to your car from potholes and information about filing a claim if damage is unavoidable:

Avoid the PotholeIf there are no vehicles in adjacent lanes, the preferred action is to safely maneuver around the pothole.  This also applies to puddles that may be hiding potholes beneath the surface of the water.

Practice Proper SpacingLeaving extra space behind the vehicle in front will allow time to identify and avoid potholes.  In general, slower speeds are advisable in known pothole areas.

Keep Tires Properly InflatedToo little air pressure will allow the tire to bottom out quickly into the rim, which will cause a rigid impact to the front suspension system and increase the possibility of damage.  Too much air pressure will result in a rigid impact, as the tire is much harder when overinflated.

Take It Slow at NightPotholes can be more difficult to spot and avoid at night, especially if it is raining.  Reduce speed, especially on unfamiliar roads, to allow time to spot and react to potholes that aren’t visible until spotted in your headlights.  Keep in mind that where there’s one pothole, there’s likely more.

Check the Vehicle after ImpactA professional inspection can identify issues that could present safety issues in the future.  Potholes should also be reported to the local township.

FILING A CLAIM

Through Rue InsuranceIf you have collision coverage, please call us as soon as possible at 800-272-4RUE.

Through New Jersey:  If your car was damaged by a pothole on a state road, you have 90 days to seek reimbursement from the New Jersey Department of the Treasury by submitting their claim form available at: 

http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/riskmgt/pdf/Property_Damage_Form.pdf

Through Pennsylvania:  I am sorry to say if you are driving in PA the Penn Dot website clearly states:

“Any individual, who believes they have sustained damages as a result of the negligence of the Commonwealth, may file a claim for recovery. The law, however, prohibits the payment of property damage (tires, rims, etc.) as a result of a pothole. Because of this, no reimbursement has ever been made for a claim of this type. Although we regret your misfortune in this incident, we are strictly limited by the provisions of the law”.

 

Car-Sharing Services – Are You Covered by Insurance?

Car ShareA press release was recently issued by the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance Commissioner Ken Kobylowski alerting consumers to the potential loss of insurance coverage in connection with popular business activities known as car-sharing or Transportation Network Companies (TNC) provided by online firms such as Lyft, SideCar and UberX. TNCs offer transportation services for a fee using smart phone applications to connect potential passengers with drivers offering their personal vehicles. When individuals use their own private passenger automobiles to transport individuals for a fee, they risk driving without proper insurance and/or having inadequate coverage for themselves, their vehicle, their passengers, and third parties who may sustain personal injury and/or property damage.

“Car-sharing is growing in popularity with New Jersey consumers who are obtaining and providing transportation through Internet purveyors,” said Commissioner Kobylowski. “In many cases, there may not be auto insurance coverage for these activities. There may also be legitimate coverage denials under personal automobile policies in the unfortunate event of an accident. Consumers need to use caution when weighing whether to pay for transportation or to make their personal vehicles available to others for a fee through these companies.”

Typically, personal auto insurance policies exclude coverage for drivers using their personal vehicles as “public or livery conveyances,” that is providing rides to members of the public for a fee. In addition, the failure to disclose this use of the vehicle to the insurer may result in the insurer seeking to void the policy for misrepresentation. The TNC may have an insurance policy that purports to cover the driver and passengers while the vehicle is transporting a paying passenger. However, New Jersey consumers should be aware that these policies are not reviewed by the Department. Further, being covered by different policies for different uses of the vehicle is a new concept that has not been tested under our state’s laws and in our courts.

Traditional share-the-expense carpooling or ride-sharing arrangements in which friends, neighbors, or co-workers share driving duties and the cost of gasoline are not considered commercial-type activities and are typically covered by individual insurance policies.

“Garden State consumers should not find out after the fact that they do not have sufficient insurance coverage to engage in TNC activities,” said Commissioner Kobylowski. “Taking steps now, before entering into TNC agreements, can prevent serious financial losses.”

Commissioner Kobylowski offered the following tips for consumers considering TNC transactions: 

  • Carefully review any written agreements offered by a TNC:
  • Before relying on any TNC provided insurance coverage, ask for a copy of the firm’s insurance policy;
  • Consumers should review their own personal auto policies for possible exclusions of coverage for using their vehicle to carry passengers for a fee (also known as “livery”);
  • Consumers should also consult with their carrier or agent to identify the correct type of policy and coverage if they intend to engage in TNC activities including considering purchase of a commercial policy for TNC activities.

For information about auto insurance coverage for this type of vehicle usage call 800-272-4RUE, click www.rueinsurance.com, or email info@rueinsurance.com.

A Quiet Hurricane Season Is Not What You Think

sandy_hurricane_noaaAn article from National Public Radio predicts this summer’s hurricane season to be “Quiet.” That’s not a great way to summarize a hurricane season. It’s like comparing a Jay Z concert at Madison Square Garden to YoYo Ma at Carnegie Hall. Either way a concert is going to happen. It’s a matter of how loud it’s going to be…and, depending on your age, if you need to bring earplugs.

What the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are saying is this year’s hurricane season is expected to be lower than normal. There is a chance that we will see approximately 13 tropical storms. Of these 13 storms, 3 to 6 of them will become hurricanes. Of the 3 to 6 hurricanes, 1 or 2 may grow to a class 3 hurricane.

The average season is: 12 tropical storms, 6 hurricanes, 3 hurricanes a class 3 grade or more.

But don’t be lulled to complacency because the season is expected to be lower than average. Hurricane Sandy went from a class 1 hurricane to a tropical storm just before the eye of the storm made landfall in New Jersey. Still the death toll was 34, total damage estimated at $36.9 billion, and two years after the storm some neighborhoods are radically reshaped.

So regardless of the “Quiet” forecast, you still should be prepared. We talked previously on our blog about what do to do before, during, and after a storm hits. You can also check out the FEMA web site that is dedicated to knowing more about hurricanes and what steps you can take to be prepared.

Remember the maxim “A weather forecaster is the only person who can be wrong and still maintain his job.” So be prepared regardless of what the forecast says.

Teens Know Drinking and Texting Risks but Don’t Always Drive Like They Do!

It is Prom and Graduation Season.  Everyone should be reviewing the risks of distracted driving.  Distracted_drivingFrom drinking or texting while driving to using a designated driver, there is a disconnect between what teenagers acknowledge as risky behavior and what they actually admit to doing behind the wheel, according to a survey from Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions).

While teens know certain behaviors and situations are risky, many don’t apply that knowledge when it comes to getting behind the wheel. For example, a good number say that it is acceptable for a designated driver to have alcohol or that a designated driver is simply the most sober person in a group. Also, a majority of teens admit to using a cell phone while driving despite knowing the danger.

DRINK AND DRIVE

According to the survey results, teens claim to understand the dangers surrounding drinking and driving:

  • The majority (86 percent) of teen drivers consider driving under the influence of alcohol to be extremely or very distracting.
  • Only 1 percent of teens define driving under the influence of alcohol as acceptable.
  • Only 5 percent of teens admit to at least sometimes driving under the influence of alcohol.

However, when asked about actual driving behavior involving alcohol, driving “under the influence” takes on a different definition:

  • One in 10 teens who say they never drive under the influence acknowledge that they occasionally drive after having an alcoholic beverage.
  • More than two-thirds of teens (68 percent) who admit to driving under the influence of alcohol say they have done so after having more than three alcoholic beverages.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a quarter of fatal crashes involving young drivers are resulting from drinking and driving.

“While many teens seem to have gotten the message about these driving dangers, the real challenge is to make sure they understand that even a sip of alcohol or a quick text at a red light can be deadly,” said David Melton, driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual Insurance and managing director of global safety. “Teens need to realize it’s not acceptable to put an allowable limit to their engagement in these behaviors – they need to be eliminated entirely when they are behind the wheel.”

DEFINING ‘DESIGNATED’

While underage drinking is never acceptable and always illegal, many teens and parents consider a designated driver to be a safe alternative to impaired driving. In fact, more than half of parents (58 percent) encourage teens to use designated drivers to avoid driving under the influence, and almost half of teens (47 percent) admit to using one.

However, teens’ definitions of “designated” are concerning:

  • Designated Means “Basically Sober”: 21 percent of teens define their designated driver as allowed to have “a little” alcohol or other drugs, as long as they aren’t too impaired to drive.
  • Designated Means “Least Impaired”: 4 percent of teens describe their designated driver as the “most” sober person in the group.

“With teens reporting these lax definitions of what it means to be ‘under the influence,’ a zero tolerance approach is the only answer to prevent potential tragedy,” said Stephen Gray Wallace, senior advisor for policy, research and education at SADD. “The parents and community have a responsibility to initiate and maintain an open dialogue with teens about exactly what driving under the influence means.”

SADD is a peer-to-peer youth education, prevention, and activism organization.

TALKING AND TEXTING

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 3,300 deaths were reported in 2012 alone as the result of distracted driving, many attributed to talking or texting on a cell phone. Teens seem to understand the dangers of these behaviors:

  • Nearly all (96 percent) teen drivers understand that using a cell phone while driving – either talking or texting – is at least slightly distracting.
  • 62 percent of teen drivers think texting and driving is extremely or very distracting.

However, according to the new data, teen drivers often do not grasp the dangers of what it actually means to use a phone while driving:

  • The majority of teen drivers (86 percent) still admit to using a cell phone behind the wheel.
  • Nearly half (47 percent) of the teen drivers who say they never text while driving still admit to texting at a red light or stop sign.
  • 68 percent of teen drivers admit to reading or replying to text messages while driving.

“It’s critical not only for teens, but for all drivers to understand that any time you pull out your phone when you are driving, whether you’re moving or at a stoplight, your attention is diverted and you put yourself, passengers and others on the road at risk,” said Melton. “If you need to use your phone while driving, find a safe place to pull off the road to make a call or send a text. It’s not worth the risk to respond at a stop sign or before the light turns green.”

Sources: Liberty Mutual and sadd.org

 

Even those who rent face risks. A case for renter’s insurance

You finally moved out of your house to a place you now rent. Maybe you are on your own, maybe you moved in with friends. Either way you are on your own.

Have you ever asked yourself if you had to go out today and buy all new clothes and furniture how much it would cost? Look at the clothes in your closet and ask yourself how much you would have to if this building you lived in burnt to the ground how much would you have to pay to replace all of this?

Don’t be surprised if you see numbers of $10,000 or higher.

What would you do if you had to temporarily live somewhere else while the building you live in was being rebuilt after a fire? How much would it cost you to rent another place? If you got a really good deal on rent in your apartment could you afford to live somewhere else with higher rent?

Did you know the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in New Jersey is around $1,200?

If you have a dog and he bites a guest in your apartment, can you afford to pay his medical bills?

Did you know that in 2011 the average dog bite claim was $29,396?

Do you like to use social media to talk about people, products or services? What would you do if you were sued because you said the wrong thing, at the wrong time, to the wrong person/company?

Did you know that a woman in Texas was sued by a local board of education because she posted criticism about them on her blog? The board claimed her blog posts about the board of education were considered libelous statements.

Be honest with yourself. Can you afford to pay out-of-pocket for any of the above?

What if I told you that you could buy an insurance policy that would provide financial protection for you in the cases mentioned above? Would it be worth it for you?

All of the above are real life scenarios and a well- written renter’s insurance policy can provide you with financial protection for a fraction of the cost.

Call, click, or email us for a quote for a renter’s insurance policy. We would love to talk to you about your concerns and craft an insurance policy that will meet your needs.

PEOs and Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Amazing-InsuranceProfessional Employer Organizations (PEOs) are growing, and more small to mid-size businesses are taking advantage of some of the services which help them cut costs.

One of the advantages that PEOs provide is low cost Employment Practices Liability insurance.  The main reason behind the low cost is the buying power the PEO has in the insurance marketplace.  But one has to look at the fine print to see if the coverage provided through the PEO is sufficient to protect your company’s financial statement.

Recently we worked with a company that provides EPLI coverage at an extremely low cost, $34 an employee.  Here is the protection they were giving our customer:

  • Limit of Coverage: $100,000
  • Defense coverage only
  • $2,000 per claim deductible
  • Choice of legal counsel is decided by the PEO
  • Covers current employees only
  • Claims limited to complaints given to the EEOC or the equivalent state agency.

So what are the problems we see with this low cost insurance protection?

  • No coverage for any court awarded judgments or settlements of claims outside of the courts.
  • EPLI claims are only limited to those where an employee filed a complaint through a government agency.  We see claims brought directly against our client’s through a lawyer, especially wage and hour claims.
  • No coverage for claims from former employees who were not enrolled in the PEO.
  • No coverage for claims from 3rd parties like your customers or vendor who claim to be harassed or discriminated by one of your employees.

In a previous post to our blog we talked about what the costs were for an EPLI insurance policy.  In the examples we gave the average cost per employee varied from $89 to $171 and provided the following protection:

  • Limit of coverage: $1,000,000
  • Defense and Damages coverage
  • $2,500 per claim deductible
  • Client chooses which law firm to use from the insurance carrier’s highly experienced team of lawyers
  • Covers current, past, and future employees
  • Claims are not limited to EEOC complaints but from any lawyer.

Having a separate EPLI insurance policy to cover your company, in addition to coverage from the PEO, is a smarter solution that reduces your long term cost of risk.

If you are in a PEO or are contemplating joining one we created a coverage analyzer which will help you gauge the strength and weaknesses of their EPLI insurance policy.  And we are always here to help.  Give us a call at 1-800-272-4RUE or drop us a line here.

Rue Insurance has been recognized by The MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce as this year’s Outstanding Small Business Honoree

Logo for Mid Jersey Chamber of Commerce

 

 

 

The MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce announced the Hall of Fame honorees to be celebrated at the 2014 Annual Dinner scheduled for April 9, 2014.  This is a yearly tradition in which the Chamber recognizes the outstanding achievements of individuals and organizations from across the region.  The honorees for 2014 were selected from a destinguished group of candidates who have made a commendable impact in the community.  This year’s winners include:  Sherise Ritter, the Mercadien Group (Citizen of the Year); The Times of Trenton (Distinguished Corporation of the Year); Rue Insurance (Outstanding Small Business); and the Girl Scouts of Central and Southern New Jersey (Community Impact).

Visit www.2014AnnualDinner.org to reserve your seat, to purchase a congratulatory ad, become a sponsor or to view the other honorees’ profiles.

 

 

What is Wedding Insurance? How much Does it Cost?

What is a wedding?  One modern day educator asked this question and said “Well, Webster’s dictionary describes a wedding as: the process of removing weeds from one’s garden.”  While Professor Homer J. Simpson does not provide an accurate answer we want to dig deeper and ask what is Wedding Insurance, what does it do, and how much does it cost?

Simply put, Wedding Insurance provides financial protection to a couple who are about to experience the most costly and busiest 3 to 5 hours of their lives.

It’s not uncommon for a couple to spend $15,000 or more for a wedding.  You are orchestrating a complex event where multiple parties are involved to do one thing – make your day special and memorable.  For example:

  • You hire a DJ or a band.
  • You rent a hall.
  • You hire a caterer.
  • You hire a photographer.
  • You hire someone to record a video.
  • You hire a limousine.
  • You rent a tuxedo.
  • You buy a wedding gown.
  • You hire a florist.
  • You hire a minister to conduct your ceremony.
  • You hire a musician to perform at your ceremony.
  • You buy rings to be exchanged .
  • You have a rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.

 

So what could possibly go wrong?  Here are some things we have seen couples experience:

  • A week before the event the catering hall has a fire and burns to the ground
  • A destination wedding in Cancun, Mexico was canceled due to a hurricane that hit the resort.
  • The day of the wedding the limo company does not show up
  • The caterer goes out of business and the deposit paid is gone
  • A guest at the wedding breaks a statue at the catering hall.
  • An intoxicated guest leaves the reception, gets behind the wheel of his car, and is involved in an auto accident.  Weeks later the bride and groom receive a lawsuit from a person who was injured by this drunk driver because he drank at their wedding.
  • The priest has a heart attack the morning of the wedding.

A well crafted Wedding Insurance Policy can provide you with protection for certain expenses you incur from an event being canceled, postponed, or moved to another location.  Also liability coverage, including host liquor liability, can be included to protect you from someone who is injured at your event.

You may be wondering why a couple should be concerned about liquor liability.  Most likely the hall or restaurant has their own staff serving the liquor.  Why would the couple be responsible?  Ultimately they may not be responsible, but because it was their event, and they picked the hall or restaurant; they could still be named in a lawsuit and would have to hire a lawyer to defend themselves.  The liquor liability coverage would pay for a lawyer to defend them.

The cost of insurance is small compared to the overall amount you have to spend on the event.  To give you a “rough idea”, for a $25,000 event with 120 guests including liability and liquor liability coverage you will pay around $470.  That’s about 1.9% of the total cost of the event.

Depending on the area of the United States where you are having your event or where you live, the premium and coverages provided may be different or not even available.

Also with any insurance policy there is the fine print.  Some Wedding Insurance policies have sub-limits or restrictions of coverage.  For example, a policy that offers $50,000 of coverage may have a restriction that if wedding rings are lost the most the policy will pay is $2,000.  Some policies have deductibles, others do not. 

If you are buying a policy online you should ask the company to give you information about restrictions and sub-limits so you know what you are buying.  The best option is to get a copy of the actual policy language and read firsthand what kind of coverage is really provided.

Although we at Rue Insurance have a bias…you should call us and talk about this important piece of insurance.  A website isn’t your neighbor, but we are.  You may like us so much that you would want to invite us to your wedding.

Can you be held responsible for serving alcohol at your Super Bowl Party?

It’s Super Bowl weekend!  The world’s largest sporting event will be held in our home state of New Jersey. It’s also one of the biggest events where more people drink and drive.  If you are having a party at your house or apartment and you are serving alcoholic beverages here is some food for thought. 

You probably have heard stories of bars or restaurants that served too much alcohol to a patron.  He then gets into his car, has an accident, and someone is injured or killed.  The bar gets sued because they didn’t cut off the alcohol to their customer and take proper steps so this person did not get behind the wheel of a car.

Did you know that hosts of a private party can also be held responsible for the same thing?

For many years New Jersey has a Social Host Liability Law on the books that will hold a host of a private party responsible.  The law only focuses on drinking and driving.

The law and subsequent court cases give social hosts added responsibility when alcohol is served to guests at their party.  It doesn’t make a difference if the host or guests provided the alcohol, nor does it make a difference if the host or guests served the alcohol.  If the host allows alcohol to be served to a “visibly intoxicated” guest and that guest leaves the party, drives off in his car, and causes an accident the host can be sued.

So what does this have to do with insurance?

Most homeowners and renters insurance policies provide some form of liability protection for Social Host Liquor Liability.  These kind of policies usually have a limit of $100,000 but that may not be enough liability protection.  Usually you can buy up to $500,000 and anything above that is covered under a separate personal umbrella policy.

We do stress that some insurance companies do not cover social liquor liability.  So always take a look at your policy and give us a call (or your agent a call) and we can go over it with you.  By the way, if you are with another agent we do have one question – Why are you with them and not us?

Even if you have liability coverage through your homeowners or renters insurance policy there are steps you can take to help you prevent an accident from happening. 

  1. If you are having a big enough party why not have it at a restaurant, hall, or bar that will serve the alcohol?  The staff who serve alcohol for a living are more in-tuned to people’s drinking habits and the signs of intoxication.
  2. Encourage guests to have a designated driver who is not going to drink.
  3. Always serve food and provide non-alcoholic beverages that can help counter the effects of alcohol.
  4. Do not pressure your guests to drink alcohol.
  5. Set a reasonable cut off time for serving alcohol.  Most restaurants or bars cut off serving alcohol 30 to 60 minutes before they close.  Have non-alcoholic beverages like tea, coffee, water, or soft drinks available.
  6. Call a cab to bring a visibly intoxicated guest home.
  7. Offer them a room or couch to sleep on your place.  (Word of caution: If the person likes you and you don’t like them….pony up the money to pay for a cab.  That cab is the best investment you will ever make).

Want to talk more to us about this?  Give us a call or send us an email.  I you want a quote for a homeowners or renters policy you can get a quote right on our web site!