Quirky insurance benefits save the day

Liz Pulliam Weston is an award-winning, nationally-syndicated personal finance columnist.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland:
This was the first week of the hurricane season -- forecasters at Colorado State University are predicting eight.

Now, we've talked ad nauseum on this program about the importance of insurance. It is literally your lifeline to a starting over after disaster. But it can also help out in smaller calamities.

Our friend Liz Pulliam Weston has written about some of these odd insurance options in her column for MSN Money, so Liz, take us through some of this coverage.

Liz Pulliam Weston: Okay, normally in insurance, you are not covered for things that you do deliberately. In other words, if you go out and break somebody's window, you're going to have to pay for that yourself. Here's the situation: I was talking to Bill Sirola, who's a spokesman for State Farm, and he related the story of his friend who walked into the kitchen and found a snake on the floor that was threatening his wife and his 3-year-old child, so he grabbed the first thing that came to hand -- which happened to be an axe -- and gave the creature five or six good whacks, which took a big chunk out of his kitchen floor, and Mr. Sirola said, yep, his insurance covered that.

Vigeland: Now, why is that?

Weston: Because you are trying to protect your loved ones and there's some leeway in there that even if you do take big chunks out of your floor in your process that you weren't doing it deliberately to hurt the floor.

Vigeland: You mentioned waterbed liability?

Weston: I love this one! Doesn't that just conjure up disco balls and whatever? If you have a waterbed and you have renters insurance or condo insurance, go check it out because you probably have waterbed liability, which means if you break that sucker and it leaks into your neighbor's apartment, you're actually covered for the damage that you do downstairs.

Vigeland: And is that something where you have to get specific coverage to the waterbed or is that just generally covered by your homeowners policy?

Weston: It's usually covered by renters and condos or it's often covered, I should say, since every policy is different; you have to go check. But if it's not in your particular policy and you happen to have a waterbed, you can go out and buy it.

Vigeland: And you said for apartments and condos. Is this not something that's available to homeowners?0

Weston: Well, generally not unless you're stacked on top of somebody else that you have to worry about the water leaking through.

Vigeland: Well, it could leak through to your nice wood floor!

Weston: Well, you're always covered for the damage you do to yourself in those situations, but the worry was that you could damage a neighbor and not have coverage for that because that's a liability issue. So unless you have a mondo waterbed that's going to flood the whole neighborhood, you don't probably need it if you're a single family homeowner.

Vigeland: You also mention that there are a couple of benefits that you might have through your health insurance and one of them is massage?

Weston: Well, it can come in different ways. If you have coverage for chiropractic care -- you know, the adjustments -- and then if your chiropractor says you need massage as well, that can be covered. Or if you have a workers' compensation injury where massage can help, that's a way it can be covered as well. So if you're a massage junkie like I am, it might be something to check into if that's an issue that you have.

Vigeland: Let's talk about the sometimes-troublemakers in the house: kids and pets. I was very surprised to learn that if your dog bites somebody, you may actually be covered for that damage to the other person.

Weston: Yeah. Insurers now are getting really picky about which dogs they will cover, but otherwise, if your little Chihuahua goes out and chomps on somebody, you probably do have liability coverage for whatever health care they might need, et cetera. But if the dog bites again, you probably don't have coverage after that. There's sort of a one-bite thing. If you do have coverage, you'd better make sure that dog is properly trained or kept away from people it could hurt.

Vigeland: And little Susie is playing a little bit of softball in the backyard and accidentally, the ball goes through the neighbor's window.

Weston: Clearly an accident.

Vigeland: She's not liable, I assume, at 6 years old.

Weston: Well, you could make her work it off, you know, or confiscate her allowance for a while, but no, your homeowners insurance typically covers that kind of thing.

Vigeland: For going through a neighbor's window?

Weston: Exactly. That's again a liability issue. Anytime you do something to someone else, there's a liability issue that you have to pay for the damage there. So as long as it was accidental, as long as she didn't go over with the baseball bat and break the window, then you're covered.

Vigeland: Okay, well, let's end this conversation with the end, which is your tombstone may be insurable or insured.

Weston: This is one I never would have thought of if it wasn't pointed out to me by an insurance professional, but yeah, if somebody goes and knocks over a loved one's tombstone or vandalizes it in any way, your homeowners insurance may cover the restoration. So again, you have to look at your policy. Now it won't cover a tombstone that's swept away in a flood or blown away by a hurricane or shaken apart by an earthquake, but if somebody deliberately does something to it, you probably have coverage.

Vigeland: I guess that's because it's your home for the afterlife?

Weston: Maybe so.

Vigeland: Alright. Liz Pulliam Weston is a columnist with MSN Money. Good stuff.

Weston: Thanks Tess.


Vigeland: Here's one way you can help yourself out when it comes to insurance: Do a home inventory -- everything you own from floor to ceiling.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...