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Home insurance and 4th of July fireworks

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The Fourth of July is typically the busiest day of the year for fires, the National Fire Protection Association says, with two of every five structure fires blamed on fireworks.

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    Almost 20,000 fires annually are blamed on fireworks. Hospitals see about 10,500 fireworks-related injuries a year. About one in four fireworks-related fires are on the Fourth of July, according to the NFPA.

    Will your home insurance cover fireworks injuries and damage?

    It's both a simple question and a complicated one. Most home insurance policies provide many different types of protection, and these protections often have different payment limits. Also, there are different types of accidents. The answer, mostly, is yes.

    That is, unless fireworks are illegal where you live, and unless you purposely caused injury or damage. Then you may be on your own.

    The most injured body parts, according to the NFPA, are:

    • 36%: Hand or finger
    • 19%: Head, face and ear
    • 19%: Eye
    • 11%: Trunk or other
    • 10%: Leg
    • 5%: Arm

    More than half the injuries are burns.

    According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the fireworks that cause the most injuries are:

    • 20%: Firecrackers
    • 19%: Sparklers

    More than two-thirds of those injured are male; 47 percent are 19 or younger -- and 24 percent are younger than 10, said the CPSC.

      Different accidents, different coverages. If fireworks set fire to leaves in your gutter, a section of your home insurance policy for fire incidents could cover the damage. Fireworks that malfunction and injure a friend on your property could be covered under a section for medical payments to others. Likewise, a section on liability payments could cover your fireworks accidentally shooting into your neighbor’s house and breaking a window.

      But if you get into a bottle-rocket war and injure a friend, you may not be covered because the incident was intentional.

      If you injure yourself, you may not be covered because you can't file a liability claim against your own policy. Your health insurance would have to kick in.

      If you're shooting off illegal fireworks and set fire to your house, you may not be covered. Most policies exclude damage resulting from illegal acts. (See what the laws are in your state in this American Pyrotechnics Association guide.)

      Get an umbrella (policy). If you have lots of assets or need more protection, consider adding an umbrella policy. A personal umbrella liability policy can protect you after you reach the limits of your standard policy. It may also protect you in areas not covered on your other policies.

      Each homeowners insurance policy is different, so if you have a question, ask your insurance company to point out and explain the sections of your policy that describe your coverage.

      Practice safety. Even if you understand your home insurance policy and are sure you’re covered, the best way to avoid problems is to focus on safety by using proper pyrotechnic practices. Every year, thousands of people are injured by fireworks, and some are even killed.

      Imagine how you would feel if you burned down a neighbor’s house or seriously injured someone while trying to celebrate. Insurance questions would probably be the last thing on your mind. Even if your insurance did cover the accident, the consequences could continue for the rest of your life.

      Basic safety tips, from the American Pyrotechnics Association, National Council on Fireworks Safety and the Insurance Information Institute:

      • Don't use fireworks if illegal where you live. There's probably a good reason for it.
      • Keep fireworks away from children; they lose fingers, toes and eyes to fireworks accidents, and many are burned by even something as tame-seeming as sparkler -- which burns at up to 2,000 degrees. 
      • Never point fireworks at others.
      • Use fireworks outdoors on a flat, hard surface in an open area. Keep kids at least 30 feet away.
      • Use a flat, hard surface like a driveway. Avoid lighting fireworks on grass or in containers.
      • Wear eye protection.
      • Have a way to put out a fire handy -- a fire extinguisher, hose, or bucket of water. Put used fireworks into a bucket of water.
      • Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Have a "designated shooter."

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