Ride Sharing and Your Auto Insurance

Ride Sharing - Uber
(Photo Credit: Uber Technologies, Inc.)

Ride sharing programs (Transportation Network Companies) such as Uber and Lyft have transformed how people get in and around cities. The idea is pretty simple. Using a smartphone app, riders can easily connect to a TNC driver to provide an alternative to traditional taxis and black cars that is convenient, competitively priced, and powered by private car owners. Chances are, you’ve probably either used or at least heard of these services.

It all sounds easy enough, but the concept is not without issues and controversy. One of the biggest issues is how traditional personal auto policies do, or more importantly, do not provide insurance protection when they are being used in a ride sharing program.

In Massachusetts and New Jersey, Personal Auto policies generally exclude coverage for accidents arising out of driving passengers for a fare, known as livery. TNCs do offer insurance plans for drivers when there is a fare in the car. When there is no passenger in the car, but the driver is waiting for a fare, there is a potential significant gap in coverage.

In addition, if an insurance company finds out you are driving your car for a TNC, they may cancel your Personal Auto coverage because of this expanded use. If you plan on driving for a ride sharing (TNC) service, you should talk to your independent agent and learn what you need to do in order to be properly insured and protected

You can read about the full insurance and non-insurance requirements for TNC vehicles and drivers on the Massachusetts Legislature’s website.

Why Your Garaging Address Matters

A beautifully manicured yard with a garden full of perennials and annuals.
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How much you pay for your car insurance depends on many things. These include what kind of vehicle you have, how many miles you drive, and who the operators of the vehicle are, among others. Where your car is primarily garaged is also an important factor in calculating premiums. Generally, this is your primary residence.

It is important to make sure the garaging address on your policy is correct. If you move or spend the majority of the year with your car away from your principal garaging address, you need to inform your agent so your policy remains up to date. Failure to do so may result in a denial of a claim and possibly a cancellation of the policy.

If you are unsure of what to do, you should contact your Agent to discuss your specific circumstances.

Preventing Water Damage From Plumbing

mold and water damage from basement leak
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Plumbing fixture failures and faulty installations are a leading cause of interior water damage in homes and businesses. Even in the warmer months, when frozen pipes are not a threat, costly losses can arise from what would appear to be simple plumbing problems. Minor leaks and clogs should be taken care of properly as they may be signs of more serious issues.

If a pipe, appliance, hose, or fixture contains running water, it needs to be properly maintained to prevent any water related losses. The list below contains the places where failures are most likely going to happen if not kept in working order.

Toilets

Clogs and overflowing toilets made up 33% of all toilet failures that led to water damage. The valves and flushing mechanism of every toilet in your building should be inspected every six months to ensure they are working and show no signs of wear. The shut off valve should be easy to turn and the supply line should be able to be turned off as well.

Drains & Pipes

Banging pipes, increased water bills, rust stains, and moisture on walls and floors are all signs of plumbing and drain problems. Keep drains and pipes clear of obstructions, and never pour grease down a drain. Have a backflow prevention system installed in your sewer connection if your home or business is located downhill or below street level. For an extra security measure, have a house leak detection system installed.

Washing Machines

Failure of the hose which supplies water to a washing machine is a leading cause of water damage. The hose should be replaced if there are cracks or blisters, and/or if the tubing appears worn. This should be done every five years or when the situation merits. If you are planning on vacating the building for a long period of time, turn off the water supply valves. When doing the laundry, do not overload machines and only use detergents designed for this type of use.

Water Heaters

Like any piece of equipment, age is an important factor in the odds of a mechanical failure. Even with proper maintenance, water heaters need to be replaced after they reach their life expectancy (typically around 10 years – check your manufacturer for model-specific information). In addition, water heaters should be inspected by a plumber every year for broken valves, loose joints, and rust.

You can learn more about how you can prevent plumbing systems from causing water damage to your building by accessing the IBHS’s website.

Plumbing Archives – IBHS.” IBHS. Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, 2016. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.

Icy Sidewalks And Injury Prevention

SONY DSC
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Every winter, many people are injured when they slip and fall on icy sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots. These injuries can range from minor bumps and bruises to broken bones and head injuries. Whether you’re a property owner/manager or just going for a walk outside, there are some things you can do to help prevent injury to yourself or others when the pavement gets slippery.

For Property Owners/Managers

  • If you don’t have access to a snowblower or a plow, shoveling walking surfaces early and often during heavy storms will make the job easier and less stressful on your body. While shoveling, drink plenty of water and take breaks.
  • Make sure entrances and vestibules are kept dry or wet floor signs are present when water and slush are tracked into a building.
  • Check your local municipal government’s website to see if there are laws or ordinances regarding snow removal deadlines to avoid fines or citations.
  • Be mindful of the type of salt/de-icer you use on your driveway/walkway and apply only the recommended amounts as indicated by the manufacturer. Certain kinds are harmful to plants, animals, water supplies, and may even damage the surface itself.
  • Grit, such as sand, kitty litter, and gravel can help provide extra traction on stairs and sidewalks, especially when combined with salt or de-icer.
  • Lock all gates, doors, and fences leading to restricted or unused outdoor areas (such as bar or restaurant patios) to prevent trespassers and unauthorized visitors from slipping on untreated surfaces.
  • Risk Transfer – if you’re using a contractor to clear snow and ice from walkways, driveways and parking lots, make sure you have a signed contract with contractor assuming responsibility for this exposure and you are named as an Additional Insured on the contractor’s GL policy covering this operation.

For Pedestrians

  • Move slowly and try to keep your steps flat to the surface to avoid slipping on icy or wet areas.
  • Wear shoes or boots with plenty of traction. If the soles of your footwear are smooth or worn, they are more prone to losing grip on slippery surfaces.
  • Black ice may form when the temperature drops suddenly after a storm. Be especially careful walking outside after the weather has been cold and wet.
  • Watch out for traffic. Icy conditions for pedestrians mean icy roads for motorists who may lose control of their vehicles if they’re not careful.

Icy and untreated sidewalks are dangerous and can leave your home or business vulnerable to a injury claim or lawsuit. Following these tips can help mitigate your risk of being liable if someone slips and falls.

Maintaining Vacant Property

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It is easy to understand how an unoccupied office, building, or apartment could seem harmless from the perspective of the insured. Many business owners operate remotely and maintain vacant property in other locations. Vacant properties however, can present a surprising number of challenges if not properly monitored.

Property is considered vacant if less than 31% is occupied. Because of the lack of owner or tenant presence, vacant properties are more likely to experience damage and are prone to criminal activity.

Property that has been vacant for 60 consecutive days before the loss may not be covered by an insurance claim if the following events occur:

  • Vandalism
  • Sprinkler leakage (resulting from unprotected pipes)
  • Glass breakage
  • Water damage
  • Theft or attempted theft

In addition, other covered causes of loss are reduced by 15% for vacant but insured property.

Consider taking steps to ensure that your vacant commercial property is secured and protected from loss that may occur in an owner’s absence. There are ways that both tenants and property owners can reduce the risk associated with unoccupied building space for extended periods of time. Properly setting the thermostat, or using a remote climate controlled system, and turning off the water supply when not in use prevents leaks, cracks, and water damage. Ensuring that ice dams are prevented and gutters cleaned out also helps reduce possible damage. Installing an alarm system and providing lighting around the perimeter discourages burglary, theft, and glass breakage.

Reasons To Go Paperless

The rising ubiquity of modern mobile technology means that consumers are more often using their smartphones for tasks once reserved exclusively for snail mail transactions. Our phones allow us to apply for loans, view our bank statements, trade stocks, and now, if you’re an N&D® policyholder, manage your insurance account. We have recently announced the arrival of the new My Insurance® app in iTunes. With our new app, you can sign up for the My Insurance service, view and pay your insurance bills, contact us or your agent, and review your policy information. You can also enroll in paperless billing and policy delivery.

Today, more people are electing to go paperless for correspondence like bills, statements, and other financial documents. And while everyone has their own preferences and considerations, there are good reasons to go paperless:

  • Environment – It may not seem like much when you go paperless, but the amount of paper that is saved when many people move to digital does add up quickly.
  • Security – My Insurance as well as email accounts are password protected and are more secure than outside mailboxes. Not having physical copies of financial information around the house or office eliminates the risk of theft.
  • Convenience – Electronic delivery of bills and policies means you can access your information 24/7.
  • Storage – Not having to file any papers means saving physical space and dealing with less clutter.

If you would like to sign up for My Insurance and enroll in paperless billing and policy delivery, you can do so by downloading the app on iTunes or visiting the My Insurance Website.

Protect Your Home from Wildlife Entry

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During the spring and summer months, the Northeast sees a dramatic increase in wildlife activity as animals come out of hibernation. Mating season for most small mammals and birds occurs around this time and as a result, there is a higher possibility of homeowner property being damaged. Mothers looking for safe nesting space for their babies will look to sheltered and secure areas. Unfortunately, this can mean the walls of attics or underneath porches. This activity can also cause both interior and exterior damage to your house – damage that is usually not covered under Section I of the Homeowners’ policy. Loss caused by animals such as birds, vermin, rodents, or insects that attempt to access shelter by utilizing pre-existing structures is not covered under most standard policies. Damage caused to your dwelling by large mammals such as bears is covered under your policy, but otherwise, it is good to take steps in order to limit the ability of animals to enter and possibly damage your home.

Here are some steps that homeowners can take to “animal proof” their home:

  • Make sure that screens, windows, and sliding doors are free of holes or tears
  • Seal possible exterior entry points in places such as roof openings and vents or holes near the base of the house
  • Adding screens over vents and placing chimney caps over chimneys will help prevent entry while maintaining smooth air flow
  • Remove any hanging tree limbs and other vegetation that is very close to the house
  • Add sturdy screening to the bottoms of porches and decks

Taking these measures could greatly reduce the risk of possible damage caused by animal activity over the next few months and into the fall, saving you time, money, and a lot of frustration in the long run.

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

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Every May, the NHTSA and state governments come together to coordinate Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, which strives to spread awareness about motorcycle laws and education designed to keep everyone on the road safe. The number of deaths and injuries caused by accidents involving motorcycles is staggering, and many of these are caused by non-motorcycle users of the road. It’s important to understand safety issues facing motorcycles in traffic, regardless of whether your vehicle has two wheels or more. Below is a list of safety tips you should familiarize yourself with before your next ride:

For Motorcyclists:

  • Always wear a DOT-compliant helmet while riding. You are much more likely to experience severe brain damage caused by head trauma in a crash if you are wearing a non-compliant helmet.
  • Wear brighter, more reflective gear, especially while traveling at night, and make sure your lights are functioning, bright, and visible (unblocked).
  • Lane splitting may help save time and avoid getting rear-ended in heavy traffic, but it can also be very dangerous and illegal. If you’re going to filter forward, make sure it is done safely, with courtesy, and only where it is legal.

For Other Road Users:

  • Because motorcycles are smaller than cars and trucks, they can be more difficult to spot, especially in blind spots. Always check your blind spots & mirrors, use your turn signals, and use extra care when you know motorcycles are nearby.
  • Give more following distance to motorcycles. This gives motorcyclists room to perform emergency stops or maneuvers for road hazards like gravel, potholes, standing water, cracks, or train tracks that passenger vehicles can usually continue over at reduced speed.
  • Share the road with motorcyclists, but not the lane. Motorcyclists should always get a full lane width, even if it may look like there is room for a car.

For Everyone:

  • Never operate any vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Leave the phone in your pocket and just focus on the road. Distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.
  • Take time to rest during long trips so you stay alert, awake, and ready for the road ahead.

You can learn more about Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month at the NHTSA’s website.

Spring Cleaning For Insurance Policies

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Once all of the snow melts and the temperatures begin to rise, it’s always a good idea to conduct a bit of spring cleaning. And while you and your family are dusting around the house and donating old clothes, it is also a good idea to review your current insurance policies and make sure their coverages are still adequate. If you have recently made improvements to your home, bought an expensive piece of jewelry, or plan on going somewhere for vacation this summer, now is a good time to talk to your agent to ensure you’re fully covered. The Insurance Information Institute has a quick spring cleaning insurance coverage checklist to help you decide if your policies need a bit of spring cleaning this year. You can view the list here.

Understanding Employment Practices Liability Risk

superior court
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Many businesses underestimate the potential risk involved with not having employment practices liability insurance (EPLI). Having a code of conduct and expertise in human resources helps mitigate most forms of unlawful employment practices, but incidents can and do still happen. Every business is exposed to employment practices liability, an area of professional liability that includes:

  • Breach of Contract
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Invasion of Privacy
  • Wage/Hour Law Violations
  • Intentional Emotional Distress
  • Wrongful Termination
  • False Imprisonment

The laws regarding these illegal practices are interpreted and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which recognizes eleven types of employment practices discrimination: age, disability, equal pay/compensation, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy, race/color, religion, retaliation, sex, and sexual harassment.

Employment practices don’t deal with just full-time employees either. Volunteers, part-time workers, contractors, customers, and vendors can all file charges against an employer for an alleged violation of these laws. With these types of charges on the rise, it is important for business owners to fully understand the laws surrounding employment practices as well as the tools needed to best protect them from potential lawsuits. For more information about employment practices liability, visit our Employer Protection resource page.

Laws Enforced by EEOC.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. USA.gov, n.d. Web. 16 May 2017.

Discrimination by Type.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. USA.gov, n.d. Web. 16 May 2017.