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October 31, 2012

Insurance coverage for Halloween hijinks

By Linda Melone, InsWeb.com

The scariest thing you encounter this Halloween may be the homeowner’s insurance claim you have to file the following day. Eggs, shaving cream and other Halloween hijinks may all put your personal property at risk.

Before you hand out candy to a bunch of scary creatures, find out whether you’re covered for these popular pranks.

Your car is trashed by eggs and paintballs.

If you hand out apples or boxes of raisins instead of Baby Ruth bars and Snickers candy, little goblins may take out their revenge on your home or car. Eggs and paintballs on your car and home can cause enough damage to require repair.

Fortunately, as long as you have comprehensive coverage on your car, the damage would be covered – after you pay a deductible, which typically can be up to $1,000, says Rose Marshburn, a personal lines specialist with SIA Group, an insurance agency in North Carolina.

As for damage to your home, your homeowner’s policy pays for the damage, says Dan Weedin, an insurance consultant. Remember, you’ll have to pay a deductible, though.

In the process of toilet-papering your tree, vandals knocked a tree over and it lands on your backyard shed.

Toilet-papering a tree in itself may not do harm, but if the perpetrators damaged your tree in the process or caused it to fall, you may be covered.

This topic creates as much confusion as anything related to insurance, says Janet Scott-Buckley, an agent with Harrington Insurance Agency in Massachusetts.

“If your neighbor’s tree falls and damages your (property), it’s most often your problem, not your neighbor’s,” Scott-Buckley says. “You have to file a claim with your … insurance company, and the usual deductible applies.”

Having the tree hauled away is covered by most standard home policies for up to $500, Scott-Buckley says.

Damage to shrubs, lawns, plants and trees from vandalism also may be covered by your homeowner’s policy.

Coverage normally is limited to 5 percent of the insured value of your house, with up to $500 per tree or plant.

Your loved one’s gravestone was stolen.

Kids who dare their friends to run through graveyards and steal cemetery grave markers can leave emotional as well as financial scars. Grave markers can cost thousands of dollars.

Most homeowner’s policies will cover you for cemetery markers and urns for $500 to $2,000. The policies typically don’t cover damage caused by hurricanes or other catastrophes, however.

Your dog bites a trick-or-treater.

Maybe it was the Kim Kardashian mask or the crowd of kids at your doorstep all at once that turned little Fido into a mean beast. Regardless, your normally docile puppy took a nip at one of the neighbors’ kids, landing the child in the ER.

The liability portion of your policy will pay if the child’s parents sue you, Marshburn says. “The medical payments coverage of your policy pays for hospitalization or medical payments the child may need,” she says.

It's bad news for the dog, however, Weedin says. “Your homeowner’s policy will cover you for damages … but may not renew your policy unless the dog is given away,” he says.

You decide to escape the Halloween craziness and go to a movie instead. When you get home, you find your home was burglarized.

You’re covered for stolen personal items up to a point. Most insurers provide contents coverage for 50 percent to 70 percent of the structural value of your home, according to the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. Fine arts, expensive jewelry and furs have coverage limits.

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