If you have an ice dam on the edge of your roof or a dangling tree limb thanks to recent winter storms, you may need a contractor to clean up or perform emergency repairs.
But if you're not careful, hiring a well-meaning handyman or contractor could also lead to home insurance headaches if they’re injured and you’re found to be negligent.
"Hiring someone who is not properly insured can leave you staring at a lawsuit," says personal injury and property damages attorney Thomas Stephens in Chicago. "If a contractor falls off your roof and hurts himself, he could try to sue you, and your insurance company, to cover his injuries and lost wages."
An uninsured or under-insured contractor could also lead to you having to file a homeowners insurance claim, and jeopardizing your low insurance rates.
Holly Anderson, a State Farm Insurance spokesperson, suggests you only hire experienced contractors who are licensed and bonded.
"It's important to look for recommendations and, if possible, inspect other work the contractor has done," Anderson says.
You also want to ensure a contractor is licensed and bonded.
"Just ask," says Brian Kearney, owner of Neponset Valley Construction in Norwood, Mass.
Don't worry that about possibly offending a contractor. A reputable contractor understands your need to know what you might be liable for before hiring the contractor to perform repairs or a service, Kearney says.
"You should request a copy of the contractor's proof of insurance and follow up with the insurance company to make sure the policy covers the project. Some contractors buy inexpensive policies that do not cover bigger projects," says Kearney.
Making sure a winter contractor is insured can reduce your risk of having to file a claim on your own home insurance. Any claim you file becomes part of your claims history, says Loretta L. Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.
That's true even if you're not at fault or the insurance company doesn't wind up paying on the claim.
And even though she says home insurance companies cannot cancel your policy as long as it's been in force for more than 60 days (unless you fail to pay the premium, have committed fraud or made serious misrepresentations on your application), a clumsy contractor can lead to your policy not being renewed.
"Your insurance company can decide not to renew the policy when it expires based on the number and/or size of claims filed," Worters says.
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