What Insurance Covers Dog Bites and Snow Melts?


By Dave Carpenter, AP Personal Finance Writer

Recession or no recession, the relentless extra costs of owning or even renting a home can be budget-wreckers.

That’s why the right insurance coverage can really save you.

In this installment of "Your Money," we look at questions in areas that could foul up your household finances, such as a flooded basement or a dog that bites, as well as how insurance could help you out.

Q: I just moved to an area where I expect a lot of snow this winter. If my basement floods from the melting snow, does my homeowners policy cover it?

A: The short answer is almost certainly no. Melting snow is considered surface water, which is listed with other exclusions in a standard homeowners insurance policy.

That's why it's important for someone moving into an area that has a large amount of snow to carry flood insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The federal government's National Flood Insurance Program is designed to cover water damage from rain or melting snow and is available through insurance agents. NFIP policies must be in place for 30 days before coverage takes effect. More details here.

That can run hundreds of dollars a year, however. A more cost-effective approach might be simply to buy a sump pump for your basement. Prices start at about $100, although you might want to invest in a backup system too so expired batteries don't foil you.

A standard homeowners policy does at least cover a related area: damage from roofs that collapse under heavy snow, as well as ceilings and interior walls ruined by water leaking because of gutters blocked with ice. To prevent such ice dams from occurring, homeowners need to clean their gutters in the fall.

Q: What if my dog bites someone on my property or elsewhere — does homeowners or renters insurance protect me?

A: Typically, yes. But you'd better hope your dog doesn't bite someone who files huge lawsuits. Most policies provide $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage. If the claim exceeds that limit, the dog owner is personally responsible for all damages above that amount.

Claims filed for dog bites are more common than many might think. Dog bites account for a third of all homeowners insurance liability claims, costing $387 million in 2008, according to the Insurance Information Institute. And the cost of claims has risen nearly 28 percent since 2003, averaging $24,511 in 2007.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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