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Thanksgiving Day is a time to celebrate with family and friends, a chance to carve out some quality time to eat, drink and be merry.

Unfortunately, it can also be a time of fires, slips and falls, or even food poisoning. If your feast goes foul, knowing what your home insurance covers will help.

Nobody ever expects their Thanksgiving celebration to result in a call to the fire department or a trip to the emergency room, but it does happen. And, unless you are adequately protected by homeowners insurance, Thanksgiving could end up costing much more than the price of a turkey and fixings.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common Thanksgiving and holiday party mishaps and the role insurance plays in covering a cornucopia of calamities.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • Thanksgiving presents many opportunities for disaster. Fires, food poisoning and overserving a guest can result in injuries, medical bills and even lawsuits.
  • Homeowners insurance will pay to repair the damage done by a kitchen fire or a fryer in the garage.
  • Your homeowners insurance will cover medical bills for injured guests whether or not you are at fault. 

Burning the turkey and more: Thanksgiving cooking fires

Thanksgiving is always busy for firefighters. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)’s 2020 report, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, for which unattended cooking was the leading contributing factor. There are about 2.3 times more home-cooking fires on Thanksgiving Day than on any other day of the year.

Cooking was far and away the biggest cause of fires on Thanksgiving. It was responsible for 74% of all Thanksgiving fires.

Thanksgiving fires typically start on the stovetop but can happen outside, also.

If you are forgoing the oven this year and breaking out the turkey fryer, expect the danger to increase. According to the NFPA, deep fryer fires cause five deaths, 60 injuries, destroy 900 homes and cause over $15 million in property damage every year.

Regardless of whether your fire starts in the kitchen or in a turkey fryer, always call in the fire department. Statistics show that over half (55%) of reported non-fatal home cooking fire injuries occurred when the victims tried to fight the fire themselves.

Does home insurance cover Thanksgiving fires?

The dwelling coverage of your homeowners insurance will cover the cost of repairing (or rebuilding if the fire gets out of hand) your home up to your coverage limits.

Homeowners coverage not only protects your home, but it also extends to your garage and other outbuildings on your property. So, if you burn down a detached garage with a turkey fryer, you’re covered.

The loss of use section of a homeowners policy will help cover everyday expenses if your home is too damaged to live in after a Thanksgiving fire. This coverage helps cover expenses such as hotel and restaurant bills and even the cost of dry cleaning if you are unable to return to your home.

Football fumble: When a backyard game leaves someone injured

A few drinks, that one relative who takes a tackle too seriously, or just a collision on the field: a friendly Thanksgiving football game can cause an injury in several ways. If someone has to go to the ER and comes home with a bill, home insurance can help.

Does home insurance cover guest injuries?

If a guest is injured on your property, the liability or the medical payments portion of your homeowners insurance will cover the cost of medical bills and even legal fees if you end up in court over the injuries.

While liability will cover incidents you are legally liable for, you don’t need to be at fault for medical payments coverage to kick in.

So, if one of your guests is injured in a pick-up football game out in the yard, their medical bills would be covered by your medical payments coverage.

Liability is a more robust coverage that covers medical bills, legal bills and even property damage for which you are legally responsible. It will pay the legal bills if you are sued over a Thanksgiving incident and will cover any settlements or judgments up to your coverage limits.

It should be noted that neither of these coverages will cover the medical expenses of anyone who lives in your home – only guest injuries.

Undercooked turkey: What happens if your food makes someone sick?

As a Thanksgiving host, you carry liability risk if a guest goes to the hospital due to your cooking.

"If a guest at your home contracts food poisoning, you can be held liable," says Christopher Earley with the Law Office of Christopher Earley.

While most food poisoning cases resolve themselves after a day or two, in some cases, it can turn serious, and if it does, your insurance should help out.

Does home insurance cover food poisoning?

"Your homeowners general liability policy should protect you. This coverage will pay for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering associated with food poisoning. If a lawsuit is filed, your carrier will cover the costs of the litigation and will also provide you with legal representation," Earley says.

The liability portion of your policy will cover a variety of issues related to food poisoning. It will typically cover medical costs as well as legal fees if the food poisoning turns serious and you end up on the wrong side of a lawsuit.

A standard homeowners policy provides $100,000 in liability coverage, but you can up this figure, and most industry experts recommend doing just that.

"Personal liability insurance is incredibly affordable," says Travis Biggert, President, Oklahoma and Arkansas, at HUB International, a global insurance broker. "We recommend base limits starting at $300,000 on your homeowners policy with a $1 million umbrella policy which will kick in when your personal liability limits are reached."

The CDC offers the following tips for safe food handling on turkey day:

  • Safely thaw your turkey: Thaw turkeys in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes. Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter.
  • Safely stuff your turkey: Cooking stuffing in a casserole dish makes it easy to ensure it is thoroughly cooked. Use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing's center reaches 165°F.
  • Safely cook your turkey: Set the oven temperature to at least 325°F. Place the completely thawed turkey with the breast side up in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F.

Thanksgiving DUIs: What happens if a driver you served alcohol to crashes?

Thanksgiving is already a hazardous time out on the roads since millions of people drive to their Thanksgiving celebrations.

If you serve a guest alcohol, you may find yourself responsible for any damage they do once they hit the street. Most states have social host liability laws; if a guest injures or kills someone on their way home from your party, you’re responsible.

"While each state is different, in general, if you over-serve someone in your home who is visibly intoxicated, then you can be held liable for all losses caused to any third party. For example, if you over-serve a visibly intoxicated guest and [they] then negligently cause a car accident, you can potentially be held liable to any third party that is injured under a social host liability law. However, if your intoxicated guest simply injures himself, then you would not be liable," Earley says.

Does home insurance cover guests’ impaired driving damages?

If you serve a guest alcohol at your Thanksgiving celebration and they cause a wreck after they leave, the liability portion of your home insurance will cover damages. It won’t cover your guest's injuries but will cover injuries sustained by non-negligent third parties and damage to their property.

"Most homeowners insurance policies will provide coverage in the event of a claim that stems from over-serving a guest in your home. As with food poisoning claims, your homeowners carrier will cover the claim as well as the costs associated with any lawsuit that is filed, up to your policy limits," says Earley.

To up your protection, consider an umbrella policy that kicks in when your homeowners insurance liability coverage reaches its limit. Umbrellas are sold in $1 million increments and are usually very affordable.