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What kinds of calamities you might expect to encounter on the holidays, how to avoid them, and what your homeowners insurance covers.

Thanksgiving Insurance

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 review the role insurance plays in covering a cornucopia of calamities.

When Butterballs become fireballs

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

The U.S. Fire Administration statistics show an estimated 2,400 residential building fires on Thanksgiving Day every year between 2014 and 2016, the most recent study. These fires resulted in five deaths, 25 injuries and an astounding $19 million in property loss. The data shows that cooking is the leading cause of fires on Thanksgiving, with 76.5% of turkey day fires.

It turns out that cooks are responsible for a majority of home fires in the U.S. year-round. They account for almost half (49%) of all home fires nationwide, as well as 45% of home fire-related injuries. Unattended cooking (don't get distracted by family and friends) is the leading cause of home cooking fires and fire-related deaths.

Turkey fryer fires

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.

Here are a few tips if you are taking the plunge (into hot oil) and frying up a turkey this year:

  • Always use a turkey fryer outdoors on a flat surface. Make sure it is away from structures, wooden decks, and covered patios. Never use a fryer in a garage.
  • Have a fire extinguisher nearby and ready to use.
  • Never leave the fryer unattended. Monitor the temperature of the oil with a thermometer to prevent the oil from overheating and catching fire.
  • Make sure the turkey is completely thawed to prevent a fire.
  • Always keep children and pets away from the fryer to prevent tipping.

Oven and range fires

While fryers are indeed a significant fire hazard, they are not the only thing causing Thanksgiving blazes. NFPA stats show that throughout the year (not just Thanksgiving specific), ranges accounted for 62% of home cooking fire incidents while ovens accounted for 16%.

Fires can quickly spread out of control, causing both injuries and damage to your home. You should always call in the professionals if you have a fire; 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?

When it comes to homeowners insurance, the dwelling coverage of your homeowners insurance will step up to help cover the cost of repairing (or rebuilding if the fire really gets out of hand) your home.

When buying homeowners insurance, you should get enough dwelling coverage to match your home's full replacement cost. The cost to repair damage to your home or rebuild it completely at equal quality — at current prices – is the replacement cost.

Dwelling coverage not only protects your home, but it also extends to your garage, sheds and any other outbuildings on your property, so if you manage to burn down a detached garage with a turkey fryer, you should be covered.

Another component of your homeowners insurance may also be called into service if someone is injured on your property. Your liability coverage will help pay the medical bills if your turkey fire manages to injure a guest or neighbor. We will get into more about liability coverage soon but suffice it to say that carrying the proper amount of liability coverage is an absolute necessity.

For a very different type of insurance in 2020, Whole Foods is offering their Thanksgiving Turkey Protection Plan this year to help people out if they accidentally burn the turkey. If you purchased your bird from Whole Foods between November 11th and 22nd and have a cooking fail, they'll give you a $35 gift card to replace the turkey if you're within the first 1,000 customers to "file claim".

Toxic turkey: I poisoned my guests. What now?

As a Thanksgiving host, you carry liability risk if a guest is sent 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.

There are no Thanksgiving-specific statistics on food poisoning. Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that foodborne diseases make one in six Americans, or nearly 48 million people, ill each year. These illnesses hospitalize more than 128,000 people and kill over 3,000.

According to the CDC, if any of these symptoms present themselves after downing your Thanksgiving meal, you may have food poisoning:

  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Dehydration

Does home insurance cover food poisoning?

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.

"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 there is a lawsuit filed, your carrier will cover the costs of the litigation and will also provide you with legal representation," says Earley.

It is important to note that liability coverage only covers those visiting your home, but not you or other household members.

The liability portion of your policy will cover a variety of issues, not just food poisoning. It will typically cover:

  • Medical costs: This portion of your policy will cover medical costs for not only injuries such as food poisoning but also damage from slips, falls or other injuries that occur in your home. This includes outdoor areas such as icy sidewalks and driveways.
  • Damage to neighbor's property: If you hit a baseball through a neighbor's window, back over their mailbox or destroy their landscaping, this portion of your policy will cover the damage, up to your policy limits.
  • Legal fees: If the food poisoning turns serious or a fall results in a long hospital stay, you may end up on the wrong side of a lawsuit. Your homeowners policy will cover legal fees and any damages or settlements that come from the suit, up to your coverage limits.

A standard homeowner 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, with HUB International. "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."

As an example, a home insurance rate analysis by Insurance.com shows that bumping up your liability limits from $100,000 to $300,000 costs just $18 more, on average, for a policy with $200,000 in dwelling coverage and a $1,000 deductible.

For a policy with $200,000 in dwelling coverage and a $1,000 deductible:

  • $1,806; national yearly average home insurance with $100,000 in liability
  • $1,824; national yearly average home insurance with $300,000 in liability

To get an idea of what your cost would be to increase dwelling and liability limits with various deductibles, use our average home insurance rates tool that shows premiums by ZIP code for 10 different coverage levels.

Another portion of your policy covering food poisoning is your medical payment coverage, which is similar to liability but has lower limits and pays out regardless of fault.

If you end up serving undercooked turkey and guests get a case of food poisoning, their medical expenses could be covered if you have medical payment coverage on your homeowners insurance policy. This coverage applies to the costs associated with injuries sustained by guests, regardless of who is at fault. This coverage might be applied toward medical expenses for those not living at the property and the limit varies by state and insurance company, but typically ranges between $1,000 and $5,000 per person.

Despite the fact that the CDC doesn't have exact stats on Thanksgiving poisonings, they do offer 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, or in the microwave. Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. If a turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, it can end up in the temperature danger zone between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria can grow rapidly.
  • Safely stuff your turkey: Cooking stuffing in a casserole dish makes it easy to ensure it is thoroughly cooked. If you put stuffing in the turkey, do so just before cooking. Use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing's center reaches 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F and may cause food poisoning. 
  • 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 by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint.
  • Leftovers can be dangerous: Leftovers can be dangerous as well. It is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning. Get your leftovers in the fridge as soon as possible.

If your guests end up in the emergency room due to your holiday meal, your homeowners insurance should step up to help out. "Your homeowners general liability policy should protect you. This coverage will pay for medical bills, lost wages, as well as pain and suffering associated with the food poisoning.  If there is a lawsuit filed, your carrier will cover the costs of the litigation and will also provide you with legal representation," says Earley.

Too much Wild Turkey?

Thanksgiving is already a very dangerous time out on the roads due to the fact that millions and millions of people drive to their Thanksgiving celebration.

As an effect of COVID-19, AAA forecasts that there will be at least a 10% drop in Thanksgiving travel for 2020. But even with a decrease, AAA expects 47.8 million Americans to travel by automobile during Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, the Thanksgiving travel period is also pretty deadly. In 2017, Thanksgiving experienced the second-highest daily fatality average, with only Independence Day beating it out.

Booze plays a bigger part in road accidents on Thanksgiving than normal days of the year. During the 2018 Thanksgiving holiday, NHTSA reported that nearly one in three traffic fatalities involved a drunk driver, leaving a total of 10,511 people dead from drunk-driving crashes.

Impaired driving during Thanksgiving is so prevalent that cultural trends like Blackout Wednesday and Danksgiving were created encouraging impaired driving and making light of the serious and often deadly consequences.

Impaired driving is no laughing matter and the impact can be devastating.

If you serve a guest alcohol, you may find yourself responsible for any damage they do once they hit the street. In addition to the responsibility you'll feel if a guest injures or kills someone on their way home from your party, the majority of states have social host liability laws in place. These laws hold hosts liable for any property damage caused by their intoxicated guests. This can range from something minor, like a mailbox being run over, to much more serious offenses.

"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 he or she then negligently causes 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," states Earley.

Does home insurance cover guests impaired driving damages?

If you serve a guest alcohol at your Thanksgiving celebration and they are in a wreck after they leave, the liability portion of your home insurance will kick in to help. This coverage will not keep your guest from getting a DUI or DWI or facing other criminal charges related to the collision. It will also not cover your guest's injuries but will cover injuries sustained by non-negligent third parties.

However, it is essential to understand that your liability insurance has coverage limits and an accident that is severe enough could easily exceed that limit.

 "Most homeowners insurance policies will provide coverage in the event a claim is made 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.

This is where having the right amount of insurance in place can be a financial lifesaver. Auto accidents, especially ones involving drunk driving, can quickly spiral into a costly claim or lawsuit. If you are underinsured some of these costs will end up falling to you and that can put all of your assets at risk.

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. Prices vary but expect to spend $150 to $300 for $1 million in protection.

As the Insurance Information Institute says, a good host is a responsible host. The best policy on drinking and driving is simply not to do it at all. But if you plan to serve alcohol at your Thanksgiving celebration, here are some tips to reduce risks to yourself and others:

  • As part of your party planning, encourage guests to plan a designated driver. Offer yourself or an unimpaired family member as a designated driver for those who don't have one.
  • Limit your own alcohol intake so that you can keep a better eye on your guests sobriety.
  • Stop serving alcohol after a certain point in the night, giving guests the opportunity to sober up.
  • Ask guests to drop their car keys in a basket upon arrival. This gives you and your guests a chance to assess sobriety before taking the keys back to leave.

Remember, friends don't let friends drive drunk.

How do I minimize the risk of hosting Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving Insurance

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of year for many. It is a time to enjoy good food, good friends and good fun. But it does not come without risks. It's not difficult to minimize your risk at Thanksgiving by merely taking a few precautions and familiarizing yourself with local laws. Do your research, be prepared, make sure you have adequate homeowners insurance, and finally, be responsible.

Fun Thanksgiving Facts

  • Thanksgiving beginnings: Writer Sarah Josepha Hale convinced President Abraham Lincoln to officially declare Thanksgiving a national holiday that recurred every year after years of persistent lobbying. She also wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb" as well as founding "American Ladies Magazine."
  • $48.91 - Average price to feed ten people Thanksgiving dinner in the United States in 2019
  • $75 - The average cost for a ready-to-eat meal from a grocery store
  • 45,000,000 – Number of turkeys are eaten for Thanksgiving dinner
  • 100,000 - Average number of questions answered by the Butterball Turkey hotline every November and December
  • 2.65 - Number of miles the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade route covers. 3.5 million spectators attend to watch 1,000 clowns perform and to see 30 parade floats while 43 million people watch at home
  • 229 – The average number of grams of fat you will consume during your Thanksgiving meal, which is roughly four times the amount you should eat in a day. You may also consume roughly 4,500, according to the Calorie Control Council, an industry group.
  • 50 million – Estimated number of pies that will be eaten on Thanksgiving Day according to the American Pie Council
  • Plumbers are busy – According to Roto-Rooter data, Black Friday is the busiest day of the year for plumbers. Kitchen drains, garbage disposals, and even toilets, require more attention the day after Thanksgiving.
  • $9.2 billion – Amount spent on Cyber Monday in 2019, making it the top spending day. Thanksgiving Day was the third biggest spending day of the year with $4.2 billion spent.