5 Tips for Safe and Secure Hosting During the Holidays

As the holiday season begins in earnest, we anticipate gatherings of family and friends filled with love, laughter and plenty of food and drink.

When hosting such gatherings, make sure that your plans include safeguarding your home and guests against some of the season’s most common mishaps. While you cannot foresee or prevent every scenario, you can minimize the likelihood and impact of impaired driving, house fires, slip-and-fall injuries and dog bites by taking some simple precautions and checking in with your insurance broker or agent.

“If you are planning to host a holiday party, it is important to remember that a good host is a responsible host and you must keep in mind the safety of your guests,” noted Kate Wright, Regional Practice Group Leader, Personal Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, Indianapolis, Indiana. “(One of your responsibilities) is making sure that you have the proper Homeowners Insurance coverage.”

1. Observe fire safety

A lovingly prepared feast for family and friends is the centerpiece of many holiday gatherings, as evidenced by the more than 46 million Thanksgiving turkeys prepared annually in the United States. Last year in Canada 2.2 million turkeys were purchased at Thanksgiving and 2.4 million more were purchased at Christmas.

“If you are planning to host a holiday party, it is important to remember that a good host is a responsible host and you must keep in mind the safety of your guests. (One of your responsibilities) is making sure that you have the proper Homeowners Insurance coverage.” –Kate Wright, Burns & Wilcox

Whether a turkey is roasted in the oven or deep-fried in a backyard fryer, accidents related to meal preparation and serving pose threats to hosts, guests, pets and property. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports there are three times more home-cooking-related fires on Thanksgiving than on the average day in the U.S.

Such incidents are not only dangerous, they can also be very costly to homeowners. According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), an average of five deaths, 25 injuries and $19 million in property loss related to home cooking fires occur annually on Thanksgiving in the U.S.

Fires can also result from unattended candles or dry Christmas trees and electrical malfunctions. According to the NFPA, one out of four home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems. Indoor and outdoor Christmas decorations can also malfunction, causing fire damage and threatening the safety of holiday guests.

Following basic manufacturers’ safety guidelines can help you avoid most fires, especially when using a deep fryer in your driveway or dazzling your neighbors with an elaborate Christmas display on your front lawn. Other simple steps include checking fire alarm systems and fire extinguishers in the house to ensure they are functioning properly and keeping small children and pets away from deep fryers when in use.

If an accidental fire does occur, a Homeowners Insurance policy can cover the cost of property damage and most third-party injury claims from a fire, Wright says. A Personal Umbrella policy can supplement a Homeowners Insurance policy by mitigating the costs of non-excluded liabilities beyond the limits available within a Homeowners Insurance policy.

2. Promote safe driving

In 2018, an estimated 54.3 million Americans journeyed at least 50 miles from home for the Thanksgiving holiday, with more than 48 million driving to their destinations. In the last few months of 2018, Canadian residents took 72.3 million trips within Canada and abroad (mainly the United States).

For holiday hosts, serving alcohol during the season is often part of the celebration. Homeowners should be cognizant of the responsibilities that entails and the potential liability stemming from intoxicated guests and alcohol-related driving incidents. Many states have passed social host liability laws, under which homeowners can be held liable for property damage and third-party losses caused by intoxicated guests who get behind the wheel after leaving a party held in their home.

“It is important to speak with your insurance broker or company representative about your Homeowners Insurance coverage—there could be exclusions, conditions and limitations in your policy regarding this kind of risk,” warned Wright. “A Homeowners Insurance policy does have a minimum amount of liquor liability coverage when you are on your premises, but it could be limited to $100,000 or $300,000, which may not be enough.”

“When it comes to serving alcohol, if you have a large amount of people attending it may be very difficult to properly monitor them and make sure that they are not overdrinking.” –Wright

According to Wright, a Personal Umbrella policy can provide additional protection beyond the limits of your Homeowners Insurance policy for these types of exposures, with limits up to $5 million or more.

In 2016, the National Safety Council (NSC) reported that 439 traffic fatalities occurred on Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.; 34 percent of those fatalities involved alcohol impairment.

To prevent such tragedies, hosts should serve non-alcoholic drink options, provide a car service or a designated driver for drinking guests, or insist that intoxicated guests spend the night rather than drive while impaired.

“When it comes to serving alcohol, if you have a large amount of people attending it may be very difficult to properly monitor them and make sure that they are not overdrinking,” Wright noted. “You can also consider hiring an outside vendor to come in to provide food and alcoholic beverages. Vendors can then be required to carry substantial liability insurance to cover these exposures and limit your personal liability.”

Wright added that hosting a gathering at an outside venue would also shift the liquor liability to the venue, freeing hosts from the responsibility of monitoring and managing their guests’ alcohol consumption.

3. Avoid slip and fall injuries

Homeowners should always be vigilant about averting slip and fall accidents on their premises; however, the threat of such accidents is especially elevated when holiday guests pack the house and venture outside—possibly after consuming alcohol—and more packages are being delivered than usual.

Homeowners should take precautions, Wright suggested, such as shoveling and salting walkways and clearing spaces of clutter and dangerous furniture.

However, accidents do happen. “When the weather gets bad, you can do your due diligence to protect people who are on your property, but your Homeowners Insurance policy is designed to provide coverage for those who may fall and incur medical costs associated with the injury,” Wright said.

4. Be social media savvy

Wright recommended that both homeowners and holiday guests post responsibly on social media during the holidays to avoid being targeted by criminals. To many, it may seem harmless to post news about a holiday vacation or photos from the Thanksgiving Day parade. However, these posts inform your social media contacts—many of whom you may not know well, or at all—when you are absent from home, especially for an extended period or when you may have expensive gifts stashed in the garage.

She also suggested that homeowners check to make sure that family members, guests and friends are all observing social media safety during the holidays. Another safeguard is informing a trusted neighbor or friend of your holiday plans and asking that person to check on your property while you are away, Wright added.

5. Set up pets for success

For many, the family pet is part of many holiday celebrations. However, even a usually well-behaved pet may be uncomfortable with—and even agitated by—the presence of strangers and unfamiliar noises and smells. Every year more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs; 800,000 of those bitten require medical attention. To avoid dangerous situations that may result in injuries, homeowners should crate or house family pets in a comfortable, peaceful room away from the festivities.

“Talking to your insurance broker or agent and making sure that you are adequately covered is the first step for any of your holiday plans, whether they involve travel or hosting parties (in your home).” –Wright

Homeowners Insurance policies provide coverage for dog bite liability, although coverage may be limited depending on the carrier, Wright explained.

Holiday hosts should consult with insurance brokers and agents to ensure that they have adequate coverage in case any of their guests suffer an injury from a family pet. Some pet owners may wish to inquire about a Personal Umbrella policy with added liability coverage for dog bites.

Prepare ahead, then enjoy the season

Whether hosting a cocktail party with family and friends, playing football on the lawn, or letting the family dog socialize with guests during a celebration, homeowners face a myriad of risks during the holiday season.

Before your party starts or you embark on that holiday trip, remember to get proper consultation in case misfortune arises.

“Talking to your insurance broker or agent and making sure that you are adequately covered is the first step for any of your holiday plans, whether they involve travel or hosting parties (in your home),” Wright advised.

As with any coverage need, an insurance broker or agent must be consulted. Click here to forward this article to your insurance broker or agent to ask if you need this coverage.

This information was provided by Burns & Wilcox, North America’s leading insurance broker and underwriting manager. Burns & Wilcox works exclusively with retail insurance brokers and agents to assist clients like you with their specialty insurance needs. Ask your insurance broker or agent about Homeowners Insurance or Personal Umbrella policy that might be right for you.