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Bellingham Bulletin

Reasonable Care Is Critical in Homeowner Claims

Jan 27, 2018 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson
Did you know that you have an obligation to use “Reasonable Care” in protecting your home and property?  It’s true. There is Reasonable Care language in your homeowner policy that can trigger a denial of coverage under certain circumstances. For example, if you fail to keep sufficient oil in your tank to fuel your furnace or you intentionally shut off your heat to save money and freezing pipes occur, expect your claim to be denied. Let’s look at a couple of cases.
 
As you may recall, last month we suffered a cold snap of historical proportions when temperatures failed to rise to over 20 degrees for a week. It was one of the coldest stretches of winter weather ever recorded in the Bellingham area. If you don’t remember, I hope it’s because you were on some warm, tropical island. I was still here freezing cold while teetering on the edge of a few claims myself.

Automatic Oil Delivery—Maybe Not: Our insurance building receives automatic delivery from a local oil company. In 30 years I’ve never had to call them once for a delivery because we’ve always been on “automatic” delivery. Thank goodness a tenant in our building called me on a freezing cold day to say that the heat was off in the building because the oil tank was empty! Fortunately my oil retailer has 24-hour service and was able to re-fill the tank and re-start our oil furnace.
 
Insurance Agent Outsmarts Himself: Knowing that the worst of the cold snap was about to descend upon us, I realized that I had not shut off the water supply to the sill cocks (faucets) at the front and back of my house. So off I went to the utility closet in my basement, where I found a maze of pipes, valves and handles. When I shut off what I thought was the water line to the sill cock at the front of my house, I actually shut off my natural gas supply!  My gas furnace and gas hot water tank immediately shut down. Thank goodness I realized my mistake right away and was able to re-start them. For good measure, I clearly labeled the gas main in my utility closet for future reference.
 
Fortunately for me and my property, none of my pipes froze or burst. But what if my tenant had not given me a head’s up on the lack of oil? Or what if I had gone away and left my house with no gas supply?  Would my water damage claims have been paid?  In the first case, the answer is YES because we have automatic oil delivery, which demonstrates reasonable care. In the second case, the answer is also YES because shutting off the gas was an unintended mistake while I was actually trying to protect the house. In the insurance field, we sometimes refer to this as a case when “stupidity is covered.” 


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