There are plenty of things that scare us at Halloween.
Horror movies that feature ghosts, zombies, vampires, and werewolves come to mind immediately. What about the horror of being on the receiving end of a lawsuit? While Halloween can be a great time for kids and adults alike, it can also be a dangerous time relative to other holidays or seasons. Keeping your property safe, planning your parties properly, and driving with greater caution may reduce the probability of incurring significant financial liabilities.
Trick or Treaters
At Halloween, the neighborly thing to do is open up your property to children of all ages in expectation of receiving candy or other “treats.” Ideally, when you open your front door, the hope is that the blood on a child’s face is actually fake, rather than the result of a child tripping on an unsafe pathway leading up to your house. One of the ways to prevent injuries on your property is to take some precautions in making sure your property is safe for expected visitors.
One way to reduce this potential liability is to make sure your yard, pathways and steps are well lit and free from obstacles. This is especially important for children wearing masks that make it harder for them to see. By illuminating a clear path to your front door, the likelihood of falls and injuries can be minimized. Pet owners may display their Halloween spirit by dressing up the family dog in a silly costume. It is advisable, however to keep dogs away from the front door when children are present. Aggression and potential biting can result from the dog’s desire to defend the home, fear, or a natural predatory instinct for going after small things, such as children. Even the best behaved dogs can be driven to bite when confused by ringing doorbells and little people in strange costumes. As a dog owner, you may be held liable for medical expenses and punitive damages if a child is bitten at your home.
If you are planning on hosting a Halloween party, there are things you’ll need to consider. Common decorations can easily turn into fire hazards or cause illnesses. Alcohol consumption is obviously the most common liability to consider when hosting any home party, but the issue may be magnified if impaired guests leave your home after dark when children are out walking in the street trick or treating. If you do choose to serve alcohol at your event, it is important to provide plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives. When greeting your guests, ask who the designated driver will be and hold them accountable to that upon their departure. If a guest does drink too much to drive, offer to have them spend the night or call them a cab. Homeowners may not be liable to a drunken guest who injures himself, but they will most certainly be liable if that guest injures a third party. Dry ice provides a spooky fog effect to your Halloween decorations. It should however, be kept well out of reach of children, pets and guests. When handled improperly, it could cause severe frostbite. As this solid “melts” into a gas, it is recommended that it be kept in a well ventilated area. Otherwise, breathing in the CO2 could cause guests to get sick. Additionally, lit candles, including those in jack-o-lanterns, could present a serious risk if knocked over. Battery powered candles or glow sticks can provide the same effect without the risk of burning flammable costumes.
Driving on Halloween
In the mid 90’s, the Center for Disease Control conducted a study over a 20-year period to determine Halloween’s impact on pedestrian deaths of children age 5-14. The results concluded that a child is four times more likely to be the victim of a fatal pedestrian accident on Halloween than on any other night of the year. For parents, this obviously means that you should encourage children to carry flashlights and take other precautions. For drivers, or parents of drivers, it means that precaution should be taken when navigating through neighborhoods on Halloween. Even if accompanied by an adult, children are likely to dart across streets and through driveways while trick or treating in residential areas. After dark, this turns roads into virtual obstacle course of children. Driving slowly and using high beams will help in avoiding accidents. Also, avoiding distractions like cell phones, iPods, or car sound systems will help to keep you alert Teenage drivers are more expensive to insure for a reason. They tend to be less experienced, and more susceptible to distractions while on the road. For that reason, it would be wise to recommend to your teen driver to stay off the streets on Halloween night.
Your homeowners, drivers or umbrella liability insurance policies should cover many of the liabilities outlined thus far. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t proactively attempt to reduce your risk this Halloween. While insurance may cover damages and litigation costs, it will not help you live well knowing a friend or neighbor’s injury could have been prevented. Additionally, any submitted claims may lead to increases in premiums or cancellation of future coverage. Different seasons lead to different risk exposures. As winter approaches, so do injuries incurred by slipping on ice, or property damage caused by freezing pipes.
In the summer months, we can look forward to liabilities associated with swimming pools. At RegentAtlantic, we do not sell insurance products. However, we do encourage our clients to discuss areas of potential risk/liability with their wealth manager and their insurance agent. A loss is a loss, whether it comes in the form of a market decline or a lawsuit.
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