From Pools to ‘Pandemic Puppies,’ Backyard Family Fun Brings Risk

Sales of pools, trampolines and other backyard recreational items have surged in recent weeks as families try to salvage a summer marred by camp closures, community pool shutdowns, travel restrictions and continued anxiety over the COVID-19 crisis.

Vendors in the U.S. and Canada have sold out of above-ground pools while pool shop owners continue to be inundated with inquiries. Soaring demand for trampolines has likewise led to bare shelves and inflated online prices, and luxury backyard amenities like hot tubs and outdoor fire features have become increasingly popular.

“Getting a pool or fostering a puppy are great family activities, but you should familiarize yourself with the risks you are taking on when you engage in them. Everything that you own, you are liable for.” –Wendy McCormack, Burns & Wilcox

Pet adoptions have also risen dramatically, in a “pandemic puppy” trend that has families taking advantage of extra time at home to train a new dog.

These home upgrades and family additions come with substantial risks, however—from dog bites to fall injuries and even drownings.

“Getting a pool or fostering a puppy are great family activities, but you should familiarize yourself with the risks you are taking on when you engage in them,” said Wendy McCormack, Senior Underwriter, Personal Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, Toronto, Ontario. “Everything that you own, you are liable for.”

In addition to implementing safety measures like gates and locks to protect both people and property, checking in with your insurance broker or agent to make certain you are covered for property damage or liability in the event of an accident or other unforeseen event should be a priority.

Drowning, trampoline injuries on the rise

A recent report indicated child drownings are on the rise. As the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury resulting in death, each year drowning claims about 3,536 lives and leads to 6,600 hospitalizations in the U.S. There were 1,340 drowning hospitalizations in Canada between 2010 and 2017, 53 percent of which involved patients age 19 or younger. Between 2013 to 2015, 27 percent of U.S. drownings among children happened at the home of a friend, relative or neighbor. “If someone drowns in your backyard pool, you are responsible,” McCormack said. “You have to be careful when anyone is around the pool. That is why we suggest you always have your pool fenced and gated, so no one can wander into it.”

Public health experts have long warned consumers about the potential hazards of trampolines, especially for young children. Trampoline-related injuries are increasing in Canada and in the U.S., where they accounted for 3.59 percent of pediatric fractures in 2008 but 6.16 percent of all broken bones in children by 2017.

“When homeowners are thinking about getting a trampoline for their kids, they may not be thinking about the increased liability they now have for any of their kids’ friends or additional family who will be playing on it,” said Kate Wright, Regional Practice Group Leader, Personal Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, Indianapolis, Indiana. “We all are aware of the injuries that can be caused from a trampoline, but it is something that many homeowners may not think about until it is too late.”

“If you cannot access professional dog training, you should follow consistent training routines at home that aim to keep your pet and others safe. Pets can be very unpredictable, so you must also have the correct insurance coverage to protect your liability as a homeowner.”–Kate Wright, Burns & Wilcox

The risk of dog bites should be considered before adding a pet to the family, especially when dog training resources may be limited. In addition to pain and injury, dog bites also have the potential to spread disease. About 1 in 5 dog bites requires medical attention, and children are more likely than adults to be bitten.

A court recently awarded $30,630 for medical expenses to a North Dakota man bitten while mowing his lawn by his neighbor’s dog, which was not vaccinated against rabies. An Illinois family was awarded $1.1 million in 2013 after a dog escaped a backyard fence and attacked a teen. On May 19 a 7-year-old girl was hospitalized after a dog bite incident on Cape Cod. The week prior, in Milwaukee, a baby and her grandmother were seriously injured after being bitten by their family dog.

“If you cannot access professional dog training, you should follow consistent training routines at home that aim to keep your pet and others safe.” Wright said. “Pets can be very unpredictable, so you must also have the correct insurance coverage to protect your liability as a homeowner.”

Insurance needs and requirements vary widely

While Homeowners and Dwelling Insurance policies generally cover a backyard pool, be sure to disclose it to your insurance broker or agent. Most insurance carriers will require a protective fence or barrier around your pool to prevent others from entering it unsupervised, Wright explained. A self-closing, self-latching gate and a pool cover may also be required by your insurance carrier, and hot tubs may need to be covered and locked while not in use. Some insurance carriers require trampolines to be outfitted with a safety net enclosure, while others may have a trampoline exclusion.

“Without adequate insurance coverage, a lawsuit could be financially devastating.” –McCormack

Pools, hot tubs and trampolines are generally considered “attractive nuisances” in the insurance industry because they are hazardous items that draw the attention of others. “If a child sees a trampoline, they may want to use this item and that creates an increased liability for a property owner,” Wright said. The same concerns apply to backyard pools. Late last year, a Florida toddler drowned after wandering into his neighbor’s pool that was reportedly fenced in with only a black tarp.

A standard Homeowners Insurance policy liability limit of $300,000 to $500,000 may not cover a lawsuit related to a serious pool or trampoline injury, dog bite or other incident. Homeowners with one or more backyard amenities—and even those who have none—are encouraged to consider Personal Umbrella Insurance.

“Medical costs are rising each year, and there may be the potential for physical therapy or long-term medical expenses following an accident,” Wright explained. “Costs could total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the type of accident. With a trampoline injury, someone could be paralyzed for the rest of their life. The financial implications are considerable at that point.”

“A Personal Umbrella policy provides an additional layer of liability over each of the additional hazards that you have,” Wright said. “I am a huge advocate for this coverage, whether or not you have backyard amenities, but it is critical if you have a pool, trampoline or fire pit.”

“Without adequate insurance coverage, a lawsuit could be financially devastating,” McCormack added.

Before you buy, review ordinances and consult experts

Homeowners should research local ordinances before installing a pool, hot tub or trampoline, as municipalities likely have specific rules governing permits, fencing and other precautions. If a pool is installed illegally, insurance coverage could be affected. “If your pool does not meet local laws, then there could definitely be implications to that. Every carrier is different,” Wright said, adding that pool elements like a diving board or slide should be disclosed to your carrier. “These things could have a bearing on whether or not the carrier is willing to provide liability coverage for your pool.”

Municipalities also have ordinances for pet licensing, and some have breed-specific legislation banning the sale or ownership of certain dog breeds. Prospective dog owners or fosters should verify animal liability coverage on their Homeowners Insurance policy.

“If you do decide to invest in warm-weather amenities, be sure to also invest in the proper coverage to protect yourself and the possibility of injury among guests, neighbors and family, as well as your property.” –Wright

While an insurance carrier may not have specific guidelines for fire pits, homeowners should check for local burning regulations, read about responsible use of their fire feature and take appropriate steps to prevent injuries. “You have to be very careful when you are using a fire pit; for example, closely monitor and supervise children present at all times, and be very careful about where the pit is located,” Wright emphasized.

A Canada woman was awarded $1.1 million in 2018 after she was burned in a back yard fire pit at a party.

Homeowners should take note that there are some exclusions in every insurance policy, McCormack said. “You have to review your policy to see what is and is not covered. You can always call your broker or agent and ask for a review because you purchased a hot tub or pool, adopted a dog, or for any other changed circumstances to adjust your policy if needed.”

While deciding on policy limits can be overwhelming for homeowners, it is best to rely on the experts. “Work with your insurance broker or agent and identify all of your hazards to determine the amount of liability insurance that adequately protects you,” Wright said.

A new backyard respite is best enjoyed when the proper protections and precautions are in place, she said. “If you do decide to invest in warm-weather amenities, be sure to also invest in the proper coverage to protect yourself and the possibility of injury among guests, neighbors and family, as well as your property.”

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 and Dwelling Insurance, Personal Umbrella Insurance or other products that might be right for you.