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Case Study: Wrongful Death – Homeowners Insurance

Case Study: Wrongful Death – Homeowners Insurance

One beautiful spring day an 11-year-old girl in New York attended the birthday party of a friend. Her parents dropped her off, expecting to pick her up when the party was over, but a few hours later, she was dead.

The cause of death was a combination of asphyxiation and blunt head trauma. It is believed that the young lady got a marshmallow lodged in her throat, was unable to breath, passed out from lack of oxygen and struck a table on the way down.

No criminal charges were filed against anyone at the party, but her parents have filed a wrongful death suit against the homeowners in civil court. What would you do if this happened in your home?

How Will You Defend Yourself?

Mounting a legal defense in a civil case can be expensive. Unless you have unlimited funds and an attorney on retainer, a lawsuit can put a kink in your current and future financial plans.

Homeowners insurance, and even renters insurance can help protect you and your family against the financial strain of a protracted legal battle in the event of injury or death at your home.

Will It Be Covered?

The Homeowners Special Form 3 (HO-3) defines “bodily injury” as bodily harm, sickness or disease including required care, loss of services and death that results. A death on your property is included under this definition, but it does depend on the circumstances.

Under Coverage E “Personal Liability” the policy states that if a claim or suit is brought against an insured for bodily injury caused by an occurrence for which the coverage applies, the policy will do one or both of the following:

  1. Pay the damages up to the policy limit.
  2. Provide defense for the insured against the suit, until the policy limit or a settlement has been reached, whichever comes first.

Those homeowners insurance premiums that you pay year after year will seem like an excellent investment should you ever find yourself in a wrongful death suit.

What Is Your Responsibility?

It is first and foremost the responsibility of the homeowner to provide a safe and healthy environment for themselves, family members, friends, guests and anyone else who steps on the premises. However, accidents happen, and in the event of an accident the homeowners policy clearly states the duties of the homeowner:

  1. Provide a written notice to the agent or insurance company including
    1. The insured’s name and contact information.
    2. Any and all details readily available about the occurrence and circumstances.
    3. Contact information for all witnesses and claimants.
  2. Cooperate fully with the insurance company claims representatives with regard to any investigation, attempt at settlement or legal defense with regard to lawsuit.
  3. Promptly forward any and all legal correspondence or suit paperwork received with regard to the claim.
  4. At the request of the insurance company help to obtain a settlement or enforce any right of contribution by anyone else who may be liable in the case. You must also attend all hearings and trials as requested by your insurer and the courts, and secure and give evidence and obtain witnesses as previously stated.

The policy also requires that no insured voluntarily make payment or offer settlement at their own expense or assume any expense or obligation other than those immediately following the bodily injury, such as expenses for first aid on site at the time of the occurrence. Doing so may jeopardize your defense and void your insurance coverage.

Your homeowners or renters policy is the most important line of defense in the event the unthinkable happens. If you do not currently have homeowners insurance, or if your current coverage hasn’t been updated recently, now is the time to contact your broker.

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