Surprise: 10 risks your home insurance may not cover

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Think you know what your home insurance policy covers? You may be surprised to learn of some risks that often aren't covered.

Several insurance experts helped us create a list of potential claims that people often assume are covered — but aren't.

Their advice for homeowners: Read your policy carefully and pay special attention to the sections that list exclusions. If you still have questions, ask your insurance agent.

Trampolines

Few insurance companies in Florida or the nation will cover trampolines, said Paul Mack, president of Mack, Mack & Waltz insurance agency in Deerfield Beach. Owning a trampoline may even disqualify you from getting property insurance from some companies. Trampolines caused 92,159 injuries that required emergency room treatment in 2010, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Insurance companies know that and are not interested in covering those injuries.

Failing to tell your insurance company about your trampoline won't help. "An insurance company can deny coverage or cancel your policy if you do not follow the policy safety guidelines or do not inform the company when you install a pool or purchase a trampoline," according to a consumer guide from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Screened pool enclosures

Some insurers decided they were too risky after Hurricane Wilma blew over scores of enclosures. Other insurers make the decision based on how strong the screen enclosure is and how it's anchored to the house, said Lynne McChristian, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, an insurance research and trade group. "Connections with thicker angles, larger screws, screen attachment extrusions and staggered angles work best," McChristian wrote in an email, citing a 2011 Florida Catastrophic Storm Risk Management Center report.

Screened pool enclosures account for "10.3 percent of the entire home value, according to a recent study, and they fail often in high winds and are a source of wind-borne debris," she said.

Pools without fences

Without a fence — or cage, in insurance terms — pools are ineligible for insurance coverage and, more importantly, violate state law. Nearly 300 children under age 5 drown in pools and spas every year, according to the safety commission.

Pool diving boards and slides

Insurance companies often won't cover liability risks from diving boards and slides on pools, Mack said. In fact, a diving board or slide may disqualify your house for a policy from some insurers.

Aggressive dogs

Here's another reason to check the liability portion of your coverage. Florida-based insurers often exclude coverage for bites and other accidents caused by dogs considered "high-risk," such as pit bulls, Mack said. Oddly, you may be paying for dog liability coverage even if you don't have one, Mack said. A few insurers add liability coverage for dogs automatically.

Dogs bite 4.7 million people a year and cause 800,000 injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If your dog ever bites someone, "there is an increased risk. The insurer may charge a higher premium or exclude the dog from coverage altogether," McChristian said.

Cash

Most policies don't cover money lying around the house or stored in a home safe, according to Pasquale "Pat" Cuccaro, president of the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, which represents insurance claims adjusters hired by policyholders.

Some water damage

Damage from accidents and calamities such as pipes bursting are typically covered.

Everything else can get trickier: For instance, water that backs up through sewers or drains or discharges from a sump pump is not covered unless you buy sewer backup coverage separately, McChristian said.

Damage from sewer backup is covered by flood insurance policies only if a flood caused the problem in the first place, she said.

Slow leaks are another issue. "Many policies now deny claims for leaks that occur over more than 14 days, even if the leaks are hidden from sight," Cuccaro wrote in an email.

Don't plan to file a claim for flood damage unless you have special flood insurance. Your hurricane insurance won't cover damage from rising water even if it occurred during a storm. Flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program is highly recommended for most parts of the state.

Construction work

You can't typically file a claim for faulty, inadequate or defective workmanship, materials or maintenance, McChristian said.

For instance, if authorities determine the cause of a fire was faulty construction, the damage wouldn't be covered. But if the people who did the work were licensed, their liability insurance could come into play, she said.

Existing damage or wear-and-tear typically isn't covered either. After the 2004 hurricanes, some people made minor repairs and pocketed the rest of the insurance claims money, Mack said. If the home was damaged again by a hurricane in 2005, the insurer typically denied the second claim, he said.

Jewelry, fine art and collectibles

Expect to buy an extra policy — called a rider — if you want coverage for jewelry, fine art and collectibles such as baseball cards that are stolen or disappear, said Mack. Some policies will automatically cover losses up to $500 or $1,000, Mack said.

Mold

Most policies don't cover it, but you can buy coverage separately. Any damage caused by mold has to be "sudden and accidental" to be covered, Mack said.

jvpatel@tribune.com or 954-356-4667

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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