The weather is cooling down, but COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. A lot of folks want to stay in touch with friends and family this season, while still maintaining proper safety protocols like social distancing. Many people have taken to spending time together distantly outdoors, in parks and backyards across the country. Like hosting a guest in your home, there can be liability risks associated with hosting in your backyard. In this article, we’ll go through the insurance implications to consider as well as some tips and tricks to lower your liability risk as a host when it comes to backyard hang outs.
Insurance liabilities for backyard hangouts
Hosting always holds some level of risk and liability, even in non-COVID times. If someone gets hurt on your property or is injured as a result of visiting (like drinking and driving), you could be found responsible for all associated costs and liabilities. Sure, your guest may never come into your house or even close to you, but since they are visiting your property, there are liabilities you could face based on the nature of the gathering:
- Liquor liability
- Attractive nuisances
You’ll also want to consider an umbrella policy for supplemental liability.
Alcohol always increases the risk of accidents. If you’re serving alcohol, in many states you are responsible for any related damages or injuries as a result of your cocktails. This includes if someone drunkenly falls on your property as well as if they drive home drunk and get into an accident. That’s right, if your guest drinks at your backyard gathering and causes an accident on the way home, you could be held partially or fully responsible for the accident.
Here are some ways to protect yourself when serving alcohol:
- If you are hosting an event, talk to your homeowners’ insurer about adding liquor liability for the day of your event. This is an add-on coverage that has specific coverage limits for alcohol-related incidents.
- If you’re hiring a bartender to serve at your event, ask them about their coverage. Reputable companies and bartenders will be able to show proof of insurance.
- Never let anyone drive intoxicated. Take guests’ keys if they’ll be drinking and call them an Uber/Lyft to send them home.
Hosting a backyard gathering means you also need to prepare the environment as well. Even if your party is COVID-19 safe (or as safe as can be), slips and trips in your yard can be problematic in terms of liabilities. You’ll want to do everything in your power to make the environment safe for your guests:
- Fix broken pavers
- Install secure handrails on steps
- Get rid of loose or sharp stones
- Don’t host if there is ice
- Put a fence around pools and other attractive nuisances
If someone is injured on your property, you are responsible. Your homeowners’ liability would likely help cover these expenses up to your limits. However, these kinds of expenses include not only medical payments and doctors’ bills but may also include ongoing physical therapy bills, pain and suffering, etc. These expenses can add up quickly, depending on the severity, and could extend beyond your homeowners’ limits. For that reason, you may also want to consider umbrella insurance, which can help provide supplemental liability insurance with higher limits.
Pets are a liability. Cats can scratch your guests, even accidentally, and even the nicest dogs can lash out and bite. A lot of animals also get nervous or fearful around new people or around a lot of people. Keep in mind that if your pet injures someone, you would be responsible for the associated medical payments and costs.
Usually, we recommend keeping pets in a separate room with the door closed during parties. This works well for a backyard gathering, too, by keeping your guests safe while also protecting your pets from harsh weather conditions, like frosty winds and the chilly ground on their paws.
Also, make sure your home insurance company knows you have a dog. If you decline to tell them, they could void your coverage, and you would not have coverage for dog bites or related injuries. In some cases, they may cancel your policy altogether if they find out you have a dog that you haven’t mentioned. Additionally, there are some dog breeds that certain homeowners insurers won’t cover, so you’ll want to talk to your agent or shop around to find the most inclusive policy for your house and pets.
Whether you’re cooking in the kitchen, gathering round a fire pit or backyard fireplace, or you’re setting up heat lamps, you’ll want to protect against an increased risk of fire during these scenarios. Most homeowners insurance includes fire as a covered peril, but it doesn’t hurt to talk to your insurance agent about limits in case something happens. Also, make sure you have a fire extinguisher and other home safety features to minimize the risk of a serious fire (and the expenses that come with it).
Pools and trampolines are considered “attractive nuisances,” which means they’re a greater liability and raise the cost of your homeowners insurance. Make sure your insurance agent knows about any attractive nuisances on your property, otherwise they likely won’t provide coverage in the case of an incident. Learn more about insuring attractive nuisances here.
If you’re hosting in your back yard in cold weather, make sure your pool is securely covered and clearly marked, so no one accidentally falls in. We also recommend making the trampoline off-limits to reduce risk of injury and liability of your guests. Attractive nuisances cost more on your insurance for a reason—they’re a greater liability. So, make sure you know how to keep your guests safe if you have these on your property.
Consider an umbrella policy
Most of the above issues would fall under your homeowners insurance, particularly homeowners’ liability. However, it’s possible that your homeowners’ liability limits aren’t high enough to cover all the potential costs of an incident.
Insurance check: Do you have enough liability insurance?
If your homeowners liability limits aren’t high enough or don’t cover all potential perils, we highly recommend purchasing an umbrella policy. Umbrella insurance can offer significantly higher limits, starting at $1 million, and tends to cover more scenarios and liabilities than your homeowners insurance might. Find out more about the benefits of umbrella insurance in our “Umbrella” learning center.
While any type of gathering carries risk during this pandemic, many folks have turned to outdoor meetups to try to lower their risk. As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, don’t forget to address other risks, in addition to COVID. Having guests to your property, including your backyard, can have liability implications, even in non-COVID times.