Homeowner's insurance covers both property loss and claims against the homeowner for accidents that occur on the property. This article discusses the requirements for properly submitting a claim based on an injury on the property, when the accident was caused by the homeowner's negligence.
The provision in a home owner's insurance contract providing coverage for accident liability to others contain very strict "notice" requirements. Under these notice requirements, the home owner must notify the insurance company of the accident "as soon as practicable."
What counts as "as soon as practicable" depends on the circumstances, but it generally means what it says, i.e. the first opportunity the homeowner has to notify the insurance company. If the home owner waits too long the insurance company may be able to deny coverage.
Some states require the insurance company to prove that it was "prejudiced" by the late notice before it can deny coverage, i.e. that proper notice would have given it a better chance to investigate and defend the accident claim in court. Other states do not require prejudice -- failing to comply with the accident notice requirements is fair grounds to deny the claim regardless of other factors.
Note that if the homeowner could not have reasonably known about the accident until a lawsuit is filed, the failure to file a notice of accident cannot legally lead to a denial of coverage in any state.
Although the requirements of particular home owner's insurance policies may vary, the homeowner is usually required to provide:
The homeowner should consult the policy and/or contact the insurance company to determine what, exactly, is required to satisfy the notice of accident requirements.
If the homeowner's insurance broker is an authorized agent of the insurance company, providing notice to the broker is usually sufficient. However, it is always safest to consult the policy to determine the best person to notify. Keep records of the attempts to notify the company and use certified mail for any correspondence.
Even if the homeowner properly notified the insurance company of the accident, he or she must also notify the insurance company if the injured person sues the homeowner.
Along with notifying the insurance company of the suit, the homeowner typically is also required to send along to the insurance company all documents related to the lawsuit, such as the complaint and demands for damages.
As with notice of the accident, whether the notice of suit is late depends on the facts and circumstances, but the homeowner is required to make the notice of suit "immediately" or "as soon as practicable." Whether the insurance company must have been "prejudiced" by the late notice also varies from state to state.
Aside from giving notice and providing litigation-related documents, the homeowner is required by the policy to cooperate with the insurance company. This typically includes:
Keep in mind that some kinds of accident claims are not covered, even though the accident occurred on the homeowner's property. Excluded claims include:
For more on the limitations of homeowners insurance coverage, see Will Homeowner's Insurance Cover You in an Injury Lawsuit?