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Personal Perspective


By Personal Perspective

Home is where the heart is — but it might also be a danger zone. It turns out that harmful substances found in everyday household items can be hazardous to your health.

According to recent studies, older people and young children are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of these products. However, a new study shows that a high degree of environmental awareness can help Americans reduce their exposure to hazardous products. That’s why it’s important to do your homework and understand which products carry a high risk.

Here are a few of the potentially hazardous household products you might want to avoid. Although you might not be able to cut these things out of your life altogether, you should try to limit your exposure to these items:

Cleaning products. Many cleaning products contain substances like ammonia and chlorine bleach—two substances that can be extremely toxic. Ammonia is known to trigger to asthma, and chlorine bleach is a lung irritant that can be fatal if swallowed. Additionally, some cleaning products include a substance called glycol ethers, which is used to dissolve dirt. When absorbed in the skin this chemical can cause nerve damage.

Be sure to wear rubber gloves if you are cleaning with any of these products, and keep the room well ventilated. You might also want to wear a mask so that you don’t breathe in the fumes. If you want to avoid these cleaners altogether, you could try using hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar or baking soda instead.

Paint products. The fumes from paint and paint solvents, including turpentine and mineral spirits, can be harmful to your health. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Aging Initiative, when these items are used improperly, the fumes can stress your lungs and heart and even contribute to an irregular heartbeat. This is caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) contained in these products.

Be sure to use and store these types of products in a well ventilated area. You might also consider buying VOC-free paints, which are available in some stores.

Pesticides. The EPA says that people who have weakened hearts or lungs should avoid exposure to pesticides because it could lead to arrhythmia or heart attacks. Additionally, some studies claim that there could be a link between exposure to pesticides and Parkinson’s disease. Research suggests that certain people carry a gene that makes them more susceptible to Parkinson’s—and when these people are exposed to pesticides, it could trigger the disease.

Clothing. Believe it or not, the shirt on your own back could be contributing to health problems. Many permanent press fabrics and older flame-retardant and water-repellent materials contain formaldehyde, which can irritate your upper respiratory system. Clothing companies aren’t required to list these chemicals on their labels. However, experts suggest that you stick with untreated clothing made from natural fibers like cotton.

Nonstick pans. As wonderful as these pans are for stick-free cooking, they can also be harmful to your health. At normal cooking temperatures, these pans aren’t dangerous. However, if you leave an empty nonstick pan on a burner for an extended amount of time, it can release 15 different toxic chemicals, including two carcinogens.

Carpet pads and old furniture stuffing. A flame retardant known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers used in some carpet pads and stuffing in older furniture and mattresses can be unsafe. Some studies show that this substance can affect the thyroid gland as well as the nervous and reproductive systems.
If you own an older couch or mattress, make sure that no stuffing is exposed. If there is some stuffing hanging out of a rip in your old couch, seal the rip properly to reduce your exposure.


By Personal Perspective

Most Americans are driving less in order to save money on gas. However, decreasing the time you spend in your car can actually make you eligible for another savings opportunity: Paying less for your Auto insurance. If you’ve cut back on your driving, it’s a good idea to contact us to review the ramifications.

Consumers who are making greater use of public transportation or participating in car pools should contact their insurance company, because significantly reducing the number of miles driven each week could lower the cost of their Auto insurance premiums.

Many companies offer low mileage discounts to motorists who drive fewer than 7,000 miles a year. Even though each insurance company calculates rates differently, they all consider how many miles a motorist drives because the risk of an accident increases with the time you spend behind the wheel.

However, decreasing the risk of accidents isn’t the only benefit to driving less. The money you can potentially save on premiums is significant. A motorist who drops from an average of 15,000 miles driven per year to 8,000 miles could qualify for a 5% premium discount. A driver who goes from 15,000 miles per year down to 5,000 could possibly receive a 15% discount. Keep in mind that your insurance carrier may ask for an annual odometer reading to calculate annual mileage.

The Insurance Information Institute noted some other ways drivers could save on Auto insurance rates. SUV and truck owners who exchange their vehicles for a more fuel-efficient car could also reduce their Auto insurance costs. Premiums are generally lower for a $30,000 mid-size sedan than for a large $60,000 SUV. Besides sticker price, an insurance company will determine the coverage rate for an individual vehicle based on factors such as the cost to repair it, its overall safety record, and the likelihood that it will be stolen.

Drivers can also lower their Auto insurance premiums by taking a higher deductible, maintaining good credit, and dropping unnecessary coverages. If you insure your boat, RV, or motorcycle with the same company, you might also qualify for an extra discount on your Auto coverage.


By Personal Perspective

There’s nothing like the combination of good food and good friends. Whether it’s a potluck dinner for a few of the neighbors, or a wedding for 500 guests, these are the events that memories are made of. However, those memories could easily turn into bad ones if one of your guests leaves your home intoxicated and gets behind the wheel.

Most people are aware that businesses such as restaurants and bars have legal obligations to stop serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated patrons. But you might not be aware that in some states, individual hosts also have legal responsibilities when it comes to serving alcohol. Legislation called “social host” laws makes you responsible for the actions of your inebriated guests after they leave your party venue. Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia have social host laws, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

There are specific circumstances that must be present for a social host to be liable for the injury or damage caused by an intoxicated guest:

  • They were aware, or should have been aware, that the guest who caused the injury/damage was intoxicated.
  • They knew that the guest who caused the injury/damage would be driving after they left the gathering.

There are some ways to protect yourself from liability if you do serve alcohol at your next party:

  • Stop serving alcohol after a couple of hours and serve coffee instead.
  • Make sure there is plenty of food available for your guests to eat while they are drinking.
  • Assign designated drivers to take intoxicated guests home.
  • Keep a list of cab companies’ phone numbers by the telephone in case you need to call a cab for a guest who shouldn’t drive.
  • Remain sober so that you can monitor your guests’ sobriety level.

Another good way to protect yourself from liability is to check your Homeowners policy before your next party to determine what your coverage is for property damage and liability. In the event of an incident, your Homeowners policy would pay for covered liabilities up to the policy limit. You should also consider purchasing a Personal Liability Umbrella policy for increased protection.

Apartment dwellers and owners of condos and co-ops typically aren’t covered for liability and personal property damage under their building’s insurance policy. Generally, the building policy only covers the common areas. That’s why renters should have Renter’s insurance, and condo and co-op owners should purchase a HO-6 Homeowners policy that is specifically designed for their needs. They should also review their condominium or co-op association’s master policy to determine what their responsibilities are in the event of an incident.

If you hire professional caterers and bartenders for your event, don’t assume that you are covered under their Liability insurance. You must be specifically named on the policy to be covered in the event of an accident. However, if you are named on your party Professional Liability policy, their insurance company will defend you if you are sued. That’s why it’s important to verify that they have Liability insurance, the specific situations that are covered, any exclusions, and if you can be a named insured on the policy. Questions? Contact us for more information.


By Personal Perspective

There is nothing more heart-wrenching then watching a natural disaster destroy everything you’ve worked your whole life to build. It’s one of the worst feelings of victimization because there is no one to blame. Even if you are left railing against fate, you can’t lose sight of the fact that behind that natural disaster lurks individuals who want to turn your bad luck into their good fortune.

Major tragedies produce individuals who take advantage of victims by passing themselves off as insurance claims inspectors, contractors, or insurance company representatives. Keeping this in mind, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.

To help arm yourself against fraudulent individuals, the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA) has outlined five steps you should follow after a natural disaster:

  1. If a contractor approaches you and claims to be from your insurance carrier, but you haven’t reported a loss, be sure to verify his or her identity. Ask to see state or local licenses and write down the license numbers. Also, ask for proof that any contractors you choose have Liability and Workers Compensation insurance.
  2. Make sure your policy covers the types of repairs needed. If possible, have your insurance company send a representative to assess the damage and provide a probable cost to repair. This will give you a reliable basis for negotiating repairs with contractors.
  3. If your policies require you to obtain multiple estimates, always try to obtain two or three written repair bids. The bids should include all costs, what work will be done, schedule for completing work, and any associated guarantees. Never pay for repair bids. Most reputable contractors won’t charge you simply for bidding on your job.
  4. Never accept offers to increase the amount of your damage with the reasoning that it will be paid by the insurance company. This is a sure sign of a scam and you could be found guilty of committing fraud, too.
  5. When paying for repairs, try to have the insurance carrier pay the contractor directly. Never pay for work in advance or before completion. The contractor could disappear with your money and leave the work unfinished. Deposits should be about 20% (or less) of the total projected cost. If you do pay for the repairs yourself, pay only with a check or credit card. A contractor who demands cash might be trying to avoid paying taxes or buying legally required insurance. And, if the contractor asks for more money due to unforeseen damage or increased costs, be cautious before allowing work to continue. Make sure your insurance carrier is aware of the cost increases and agrees to payment before proceeding.

Of course, contracting isn’t the only way to make an illegal buck. The Internet provides an opportunity for the unsavory to profit from the unsuspecting. A favorite Internet scam after a large-scale tragedy is collecting charitable donations to aid those affected. Elaborate Web sites encourage you to give, but is it a well-known charity? In spite of how authentic they might appear, never give to any unrecognizable charitable organization. There are a number of well-known disaster relief agencies, like the Red Cross and Salvation Army, to whom you can contribute.

It might not be as readily apparent as the other types of scams, but natural disasters can be a huge opportunity for identity theft. During hurricanes or floods, personal and financial documents are washed out of homes and randomly scattered for thieves to find. A treasure trove of birth certificates, marriage licenses, driver’s licenses, personal checks and credit cards can fall into the hands of the unscrupulous. If you live in area that is prone to natural disasters, it is a wise idea to keep important documents in a bank vault or in a strong steel box that you can take with you in an emergency.


By Personal Perspective

Radon is a radioactive gas that you can’t see, smell or taste. It occurs naturally from the breakdown of uranium inside the earth, and outdoors it’s dispersed in the air without any harmful effects. However, when it’s trapped inside a building, it can lead to health problems. If high levels of radon are trapped in your home, your entire family could become sick.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Surgeon General’s Office have estimated that 20,000 lung cancer deaths are caused each year by radon. In fact, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that are trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As these particles continue to break down, they release small bursts of energy, which damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer. Radon-induced lung cancer costs the United States over $2 billion dollars per year in both direct and indirect health care costs.

According to the EPA, one in 15 homes in the United States has elevated radon levels over 4 pCi/L, the EPA’s recommended action level for radon exposure. A family whose home has radon levels of 4 pCi/l is exposed to approximately 35 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would allow if that family were standing next to the fence of a radioactive waste site.

Radon is more concentrated in the lower levels of a home like basements and ground floors. You don’t know if you have a problem unless you test. Radon test kits that meet EPA requirements are available at local hardware stores and home improvement stores, and typically cost less than $25. If the test indicates dangerous levels of radon in a home, you need to correct the problem immediately.

The National Safety Council, a non-profit organization, operates the Radon Fix-It Program to provide information to consumers with radon levels of 4 pCi/L or higher. The service is free of charge.

Consumers who call the agency’s toll free number (800) 644-6999, can speak to operators who will provide referrals to technical experts in their state, information on reducing elevated radon levels, guidelines for choosing a test kit or a testing company, and information about testing in connection with a real estate transaction. They also provide lists of contractors certified by the National Environmental Health Association and/or the National Radon Safety Board who are qualified to offer advice and perform radon mitigation.

In addition to the National Safety Council, consumers can obtain general information about radon at the EPA’s Web site


By Personal Perspective

Sending a child off to college is always an exciting and anxious time for parents. They worry about their child’s safety, whether she has everything she needs, how she’ll get along with her roommates, and whether she’s ready for independent living. Between making sure that textbooks and supplies have been purchased, tuition bills paid and course registrations completed, it’s natural that parents won’t think about insurance considerations. However, accidents can happen at college just as easily as they can at home, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about insurance coverage.

A Homeowners insurance policy might not cover a part-time student or one over a certain age. For example, policies often state that a person has coverage if she is a full-time student and was a resident of the policyholder’s household before moving out to attend school. They also limit coverage to students who are either under the age of 24 and related to the policyholder or in the policyholder’s care and under the age of 21. This could become an issue when the child is attending college at a later age, or at graduate school, law or medical school, where students are often in their mid-twenties. The parents should discuss this with an insurance agent and consider asking for a change to the policy that would eliminate these restrictions.

A typical policy covers the student’s belongings while at college, but limits coverage to 10% of the amount of insurance covering the parents’ personal property. For example, if the policy shows a limit of $100,000 for coverage of personal property, it will cover the student’s property up to a maximum of $10,000. If this amount of insurance is too low, parents should consider higher limits.

Many colleges require students to own a laptop computer. A standard Homeowners policy will cover a laptop, but only for a small number of causes of loss. These include perils like fire, theft, lightning, explosion, and vehicle damage. The policy does not cover damage from someone dropping the computer, spilling a beverage on it, or damage to its circuitry from a power surge. However, many insurance companies offer special computer coverage that will pay for damage from these types of accidents. An agent can explain to the parents what the coverage includes and how much it will cost.

The Homeowners policy will also cover the student’s liability for any injuries or damages she might cause to others while at school. For example, the policy would pay for repair or replacement of dormitory furniture that she might accidentally damage.

If the student brings a car to college and the parents’ Auto insurance policy lists it, the student will have coverage for its use. Of course, the student could also buy her own policy. If she does, she should buy liability coverage in an amount at least equal to what the parents have. Purchasing only the minimum limits required by state law could leave her owing a large amount out of pocket if she causes serious injuries to others in an accident. If she doesn’t bring a car with her, the parents’ policy will cover her while using someone else’s car unless it’s regularly available to her. The car owner’s policy should also provide her with coverage.

Parents’ insurance policies will automatically cover many student situations. However, parents should read their policies to verify the coverage they have. A discussion with one of our insurance agent is in order if anything is unclear or appears inadequate. A little bit of advance checking can save a lot of worry and expense later.


By Personal Perspective

Although the housing market is in the midst of a prolonged slump, some experts believe prices are still higher than they should be. At least in the short term, homebuyers will take out large mortgages against their homes. Unfortunately, the mortgage amount sometimes brings the lender into conflict with the homebuyer’s insurance company. For example, the mortgage might be for $200,000, but the insurance company might be willing to insure the home for only $175,000. The lender will often threaten to not hold the closing if the borrower does not buy an insurance amount equal to the amount of the mortgage. This obviously leads to a very anxious homebuyer who has many other things to worry about. Who is correct here?

Most insurance policies provide coverage for the home on a “replacement cost” basis. This means that if a covered cause of loss damages the home, the company will pay the cost to repair or replace it without deducting any amounts for depreciation. However, the company will pay the least of:

  • The amount of insurance covering the building;
  • The cost of replacing the damaged portion of the building with materials of similar kind and quality and for similar use; or
  • The necessary amount actually spent to repair or replace the damaged building.

Assume that a fire completely destroys the home mentioned previously. The homeowner bought $200,000 coverage to equal the mortgage amount. The most the insurance company will pay is $200,000 (the amount of insurance) or the reasonable cost of labor and materials to rebuild the house, whichever is less. If the contractors can rebuild it to a state reasonably similar to its prior state for $175,000, that is the amount the company will pay.

The mortgage, however, is based at least in part on market value. Market value reflects what someone is willing to pay for the house and related structures (garage, swimming pool, gazebo, etc.) and the land they sit on. The price someone is willing to pay for a building could be very different from the cost to rebuild it, because that price contemplates factors (school district, proximity to workplaces and shopping or bodies of water, etc.) that have no relationship to the cost of labor and materials. In addition, market value includes the value of the land, something no Homeowners insurance policy covers, since land does not burn, explode, or otherwise suffer insurable damage.

Although it is understandable that the lender wants to see its investment protected, requiring a borrower to insure up to the mortgage amount helps no one other than the insurance company. The lender and the homeowner will never collect more than the cost of rebuilding no matter how much more insurance the homeowner buys. The insurance company, however, gets to collect the premium for $200,000 worth of coverage but will never have to pay out more than $175,000.

Many states have laws or regulations that prohibit mortgage lenders from requiring borrowers to buy amounts of insurance greater than the cost of replacing the house. Arizona, California, Florida, New York, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia are just some of the states that restrict lenders’ insurance requirements. New York’s regulation, for example, prohibits mortgage lenders from requiring a borrower to “obtain a hazard insurance policy in excess of the replacement cost of the improvements on the property as a condition for the granting of a mortgage loan.”

Homeowners should review the amount of coverage on their homes with their insurance agents at least annually. The importance of having enough coverage continues long after the home purchase. However, it is equally important not to buy more coverage than necessary.


By Personal Perspective

One of the favorite rituals of the spring season is the yard sale. Homeowners love them because they change cleaning from a dreaded chore into a profitable enterprise. However, the whole experience can quickly turn into a nightmare should someone slip and fall, and you are considered legally liable. That’s why it is necessary to know exactly what your Homeowners insurance covers before you tag the first piece of merchandise.

The standard Homeowners policy provides you with $100,000 liability coverage for bodily injury or property damage that you or your family members cause to other people. This coverage extends to both the cost of defending you in court and any judgments against you, up to the limit of your policy.

Another feature of the liability protection provided by your Homeowners insurance is the no-fault medical coverage. This is designed to permit a person who is injured on your property to submit their medical bills directly to your insurance company, eliminating the need for a lawsuit. Most policies include between $1,000 to $5,000 worth of no-fault medical coverage.

Of course, we live in a society that loves any opportunity to sue, so it might be wise to add to your liability protection. As a first step you can increase the amount of liability coverage provided by your Homeowners policy to $300,000 or $500,000. For additional protection, you need an umbrella or Excess Liability policy. This type of coverage typically costs between $200 to $350 per year for $1 million of additional liability protection.

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) offers the following list of points you should consider about insuring your yard sale:

  • One-Time Event. Yard sales that are one-time events for the sole purpose of selling unwanted personal items are usually covered under a standard homeowner’s policy. However, it is important to have enough coverage, so be sure to check with your insurance agent.
  • Frequent Yard Sales. If you plan to have frequent yard sales, you should purchase a separate policy for business liability, or an in-home business policy.
  • Charity Fund Raiser. If the purpose of the sale is to raise money for a charity; you will probably be covered under your Homeowners insurance policy. But it’s also a good idea to contact the charity to see what type of insurance protection they can extend you.


By Personal Perspective

People are increasingly using golf carts for more than just golf. Many homeowners use them around their properties or even to travel to neighboring properties. For example, a couple might own a vacation home in a gated community located in a rural waterfront area. They have a golf cart that they use on the roads within the community to shuttle between their neighbors’ homes. The cart might suffer damage in some way or even be destroyed in a collision or fire. Also, it might injure another person or damage someone’s property; for example, it could roll over a person’s foot if the user has not parked it correctly. If something like this occurs, the cart’s owners need to have proper and adequate insurance.

Most Homeowners insurance policies cover liability for injury or damage caused by use of a golf cart under specific conditions. They cover use of a cart while the user is playing golf on a golf course. They also cover her while using a cart for other leisure activities permitted by the golfing facility, while traveling to or from the golf cart storage area at the course, and while crossing public roads to get from one part of the course to another. Finally, it covers her while the cart is inside a “private residential community” that includes her residence, if the community has authority over the roads and has permitted the use of golf carts on those roads. For example, the gated community might designate certain roadways for golf cart use. If the vacation home is in that community, she has coverage for injury or damage she causes with her golf cart while on those roadways.

The policy will provide coverage for damage to a cart the policyholder owns only if she uses it to service her residence. Most people with golf carts use them for other purposes, so the Homeowners policy offers little protection. However, a policy change (called an “endorsement”) can supplement it. The Owned Motorized Golf Cart – Physical Loss Coverage endorsement covers golf carts designed to carry four passengers or less and not designed or modified to go faster than 25 M.P.H. on level ground. It covers damage resulting from a wide variety of causes, including fire, theft, vandalism, and others; collision coverage is available as an option. The insurance company will pay for the cost (above the deductible) of repairing the cart or the cost of replacing it minus depreciation.

Another alternative is to ask for coverage to be added to an Auto insurance policy. The Miscellaneous Type Vehicle Endorsement covers golf carts, and the policyholder can choose to cover the vehicle for some or all of the coverages that apply to cars on the policy. This coverage might be much broader than what the endorsement to the homeowner’s policy provides. For example, the auto endorsement can provide uninsured motorist coverage and No Fault coverage (if the policy is purchased in a state with a No Fault insurance law). However, not all Auto insurance companies offer this; an insurance agent should be able to give advice on which companies will do so. It might be necessary to buy a separate policy for the golf cart if the auto insurance company declines to cover it.

Like any other type of machinery or equipment, a golf cart can offer great convenience, but can also involve the user in an accident. The financial costs of an accident can be significant. Speak with one of our agents about getting the insurance protection that makes the most sense.


By Personal Perspective

According to Javelin Strategy & Research, which recently released its 2007 Identity Fraud Survey Report, young people and those earning more than $150,000 are the most likely victims of identity theft.

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are at the greatest risk for identity fraud because they are the least likely to take safeguards such as shredding documents and using anti-virus software and firewalls. More than 5% of those surveyed in this age group reported having been victimized.

Of those who responded, more than 7% with annual incomes above $150,000 said that they had been victims of identity theft. The researchers also found that this group is twice as likely to not use paper statements and bills. Instead, they opt for electronic bills, which is a method of preventing fraud. They are also 65% more likely to monitor their accounts online, which allows them to spot a fraudulent event before large amounts of money are lost.

The survey also revealed that Americans earning less than $15,000 are the least likely to be victims of identity fraud. Only 2.8% of those polled reported being victims. However, this group takes the longest to discover fraud when it happens. It takes them on average 70% more time for them to detect a fraud than it does for higher income populations. These victims spent an average of 44 hours resolving the fraud. Lower income victims are also more than twice as likely to cut their overall spending, nearly three times more likely to not purchase merchandise online, and three times more likely to refuse to bank online.

Research showed that 500,000 fewer adults in the United States were victims of identity fraud in 2006 than in 2005. Only 3.7% of adults were victims in 2006, compared with 4% in 2005. This is a continuation of the annual decrease in this type of crime that has been occurring since data was first collected in 2003. In that year, 4.7% of the adult population was victimized.

There has also been a significant reduction in the incidents of new account fraud reported in the past 12 months. This fraud happens when criminals use a victim’s personal data to establish a new account. Such fraud dropped from 1.5% in 2006 to 1% in 2007. Additionally, when fraudulent accounts were opened, many victims caught it quicker because of the ability to view statements online. The average fraud amounts dropped from more than $10,000 in 2006 to $7,260 in 2007. Survey respondents said that resolution times had also improved significantly. It took 25 hours to resolve a fraudulent event in 2006, compared with only 5 hours in 2007.