Spooky insurance claims: Are Halloween tricks covered?

By Posted : 10/21/2013

Halloween trick or treatersWhile frightening economic reports about the state of the economy abound, Halloween spending estimates for the year are a bit less scary. The average consumer will dole out $75.03 on decorations, costumes and candy, down from $79.82 last year, but still more than the $72.31 two years ago. About 158 million people are planning to participate in the annual scare-fest, a decrease from last year's 170 million, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

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Despite these dips, average spending on Halloween has still increased 55 percent since 2005, and this year’s spending forecast is slightly higher than 2011.

Of course masquerading in creative costumes is perhaps the best part of Halloween. Here are the most popular, according to the NRF:

Top Adult Costumes

Top Children’s Costumes

Top Pet Costumes

1. Witch

1. Princess

1. Pumpkin

2. Batman character

2. Animal

2. Hot dog

3. Vampire

3. Batman character

3. (T) Cat/Devil tie

4. Zombie

4. Action/Super hero

4. Witch

5. Pirate

5. Spider-Man

5. Superman

6. Action/super hero

6. Witch

6.  Dog

7. Superman

7. Zombie

8. Dracula

8. Disney Princess

7. Bowties/Fancy collars

9. Cat

9. Superman

8. Bee

10. Scary costume/mask

10. Fairy

9. Batman/Vampire tie

 

10. Ghost

Given the popularity of the holiday, it's wise to be prepared should calamity ensue – and to be aware of the role insurance plays should you need to file any claims.

"In general, on Halloween, more incidents occur, whether it involves throwing eggs or smearing windows with shaving cream," says Christopher Wukovits, manager at AAA New York Insurance Services. The denser the population, the more trickery is apt to happen, he says.

For home and automobile owners, taking precautionary measures to safeguard your property can reduce the chances of falling victim to Halloween high jinks. For instance, Ron Moore, senior product development manager at MetLife Auto & Home, recommends keeping areas well-lit and putting things that can be vandalized, such as pumpkins, in an area that is not easily accessible by passersby. If you won't be around for the Halloween festivities, make sure to keep a light or two on and even consider leaving the television on.

Since egging cars is a rite of passage for many teenagers on Halloween, try to keep your vehicle off the street or covered with a tarp. Expensive cars are particularly prone to egg attacks, according to Moore. "This is definitely the time of year to put it in the garage," he says.

Even the most careful property owners can wind up being the victim of Halloween pranks. However, certain types of homeowner insurance and auto insurance typically cover such damages. Here's a look at the types of policies that generally cover five common capers and accidents that happen on Allhallows Eve.

1. My car is splattered with eggs or splotched by paintballs, am I covered?

Vandalism to your car is covered by your automobile insurance as long as you have comprehensive coverage. According to Moore at MetLife, most people have a deductible of $100 to $500. Whether or not you should file a claim depends on the amount of damage. "If your car is just dirty it will take a lot of car washes to meet a $250 deductible," says Moore.

On the other hand, if the car is splattered by paint or the eggs eat away at the car's paint job, then filing a claim is justified. "Most people bring their car to the body shop to get an estimate to see if it's significantly above the deducible," says Wukovits of AAA.

2. Does homeowner insurance cover toilet paper in the trees?

Homecoming isn't the only time people's trees are adorned with toilet paper. This tomfoolery is also popular on Halloween. Toilet paper typically doesn't damage trees, Moore says. .

"For the most part, toilet paper is just that: paper in the branches," says MetLife's Moore.

However, if the tree is damaged during the act of vandalism, most homeowners policies will cover it, he says, noting that the damage will have to be $100 or more to make a claim worthwhile. The most you'll typically get is $500 for each tree, says Moore. If your tree does have major damage, don't cut down limbs or haul away debris before getting a claim representative out to take a look.

3. Oh no – my dog bit a trick-or-treater! Am I covered?

Halloween is a time of heavy traffic to your home whether you're handing out candy to trick-or-treaters or hosting a costume party. While it's a festive time for many people, it can be downright spooky for dogs, which could result in your pooch biting one of your costumed visitors.

More than one-third of all liability claims paid out last year by homeowners insurance companies were the result of dog bites. They totaled almost $479 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

Dog bite claims topped 16,000 last year, and an average of nearly $29,400 was paid out for each claim, the III found.

While every state has different rules, homeowners policies typically cover the liability and medical expenses related to an accident in your home. If your dog is excluded from the policy, which isn't common, you would be responsible for the costs.

According to MetLife's Moore, there's no deductible in the event someone gets injured on your premises but homeowners should take precautions to avoid the situation. "If you know you have people coming over in costume, put the dog in a separate room away from the traffic," says Moore.

If the dog joined your family after you took out the homeowners policy, Wukovits suggests alerting your agent to make sure you're protected.

4. Lights are on, but nobody's home – is burglary covered?

You might see Halloween as a time to escape to the movies or a night out far away from the costumed carousers. Of course, this makes your home more vulnerable to theft. If your house is burglarized on Halloween, your homeowner policy will cover theft of any belongings as well as any damage that occurs because of the break-in. In this case, your deductible will apply.

Remember that the burden falls on you to establish proof of ownership of the items that were stolen, says Wukovits at AAA. "We recommend our clients take regular inventory of the items and keep receipts when possible," he says. To prevent a theft on Halloween, MetLife's Moore says the best defense is to stay home. If that's not an option, keep lights on and make it appear as if someone is in the house.

5. A grave matter: Is tombstone theft or vandalism covered?

A ghoulish but common prank on Halloween is the theft of or damage to a tombstone. Believe it or not, grave markers are generally covered by homeowner policies. According to AAA's Wukovits, the typical amount covered for a tombstone is $1,000. You can take out additional insurance of up to $5,000, which might make sense if the tombstone costs more than $10,000.

"The average granite tombstone is priced right now anywhere from $7,500 to $12,000," says Wukovits. "If it was cracked, smashed, defaced with spray paint or stolen, you would want the higher limit."

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