Holiday lawsuits: how insurers look out for holiday mishaps

BOSTON — We all have horror stories about how the holidays have gone wrong.

But what kind of help did Clark Griswold get from his insurance company when his tree caught fire, when his kitchen was destroyed, when a SWAT team burst through his windows? Probably none because, after all, his cousin did kidnap someone.

Things do go wrong in the real world, though, and sometimes hosts are on the hook for things that happen to guests.

"It happens much more frequently than you might expect," Arbella Insurance Senior Vice President of Claims Joe Salerno said. "Oftentimes families don't think about the risks that come with holiday parties."

Guests suffering from food poisoning might seek to have hosts cover hospital bills and if you didn't cook properly, it's certainly possible you could be on the hook. But the food poisoning might not have been your fault and Salerno says it's important to notify your insurance agent so they can work to protect you in a case like that.

"Liability is something that [insurance agents] are always mindful of," Salerno said. "Again, when we talk about holiday parties...this is about having fun and the most important thing you can do is make sure your guests are safe."

Restaurants and bartenders have been held liable for drunk drivers causing accidents and it's possible the host of a party could be as well.

It's also your responsibility to keep guests safe by keeping sidewalks shoveled and doing what you can to prevent falls on driveways, but, again, Salerno says your insurance agent can help make sure you fulfilled your responsibility in the event you are blamed.

"It's always possible that you have the liability for that," he said. "It's tough that time of year to kind of watch out for those kinds of things. Most folks aren't thinking about those kinds of risks when they're having a party."

But beyond parties, the holidays also bring lots of deliveries to homes and some insurance policies could lend a hand in the event that packages are stolen.

"We at Arbella are seeing more and more of this, unfortunately," Salerno said. "The most important thing to do is report it to police, report it to your insurance company, but, most of the time, your insurance company will provide some relief."

So if we've learned anything, you might want to invite your insurance agent to the party -- just in case.

What do you know about the insurance risks and legal liabilities that may come with it? Some risks are covered by homeowners, condo and renters policy, but some aren't.

Can you identify them from the following list?

  • Theft: If you have packages delivered to your front door, but they are stolen, is that covered by insurance?
  • Food allergies: If you happen to serve a dish with an ingredient that triggers an allergic reaction for one of your guests, are you liable for any injury sustained to that guest?
  • Inebriation: If you provide alcohol to a guest, are you liable for any accident that causes injury or property damage?
  • Toxic decorations: If a guest brings a pet to your house, are you liable if that pet ingests items that are poisonous to it such as holly or mistletoe?
  • Fires: Knocking over a candle or improper disposal of ashes are common hazards and can spark a fire. Are you covered if damage occurs from a fire or the sprinkler system?
  • Ice: Should a guest slip and fall on ice on your property, are you liable?