Liability can arise in the strangest ways. We got an inquiry from someone who wanted to know,
I was house sitting for a friend, and damaged her home. Will renters insurance cover it? We broke the porcelain of the toilet tank, and didn’t realize that it was leaking. Not only did it flood her apartment, but it also damaged my laptop that I had left there. We both have Cary, NC Renters Insurance, if it matters.
There are a host of issues at play here, not the least of which is who is responsible for what. Don’t forget about compensation, and the question of whether it was negligence or something that could be construed as an intentional act. Let’s take a look.
Which Policy Is Which?
Let’s start with whose policy might cover what. To start with, this sounds very much like sudden and accidental discharge of water. The friend made a good faith effort to ensure that heat was maintained and that the property was not vacant by ensuring someone checked on the property, so any of your friend’s personal property that suffered a loss as a direct result of the discharge of water is likely to have coverage.
Was their negligence on your friend’s part? Negligence is required for her renters insurance to pay for damages that neighbors suffered because of the water leak. Arguably, the apartment resident was negligent in choosing whom to have watch her home while she was away, so there may well be coverage based on that negligence alone. It was, after all, her water that damaged the neighbor downstairs.
In addition, the house sitter may have been negligent as well. There were two potential moments when negligence could be found on the part of that actor. First, the moment when the toilet was broken and second the moment when they knew or should have known there was a leak and didn’t notice it or weren’t present.
Was The Breaking Of The Toilet Negligent?
One could argue that any act which would break the tank of a toilet is negligent, and one might be correct. But the circumstances at play also factor into whether or not a renters insurance policy will consider it to have been negligent. How did the toilet tank get broken? Did it continue running, and the lid had to be removed and replaced to stop it from running on a regular basis? That negligence might be on the apartment resident for not fixing it.
On the other hand, if the house sitter was drunk at the time and there was no inherent defect that the resident knew or should have known about, liability for the damage would likely fall to the house sitter. But there’s a problem. If the house sitter was, in fact, intoxicated, were they negligent, or was it an intentional act? An argument could be made that those drunken acts go above and beyond negligence. It may not be a good argument, but if this turns into the three insurance companies in question fighting it out in court, the argument could (and likely would) be made.
In all actuality, chances are strong that both parties would be considered to have been negligent. This would likely result in both parties (and their policies, most likely) being responsible for some portion of the damage to other residents of the building. Interestingly enough, contribution actually serves to increase the amount of coverage available in this example. If both the resident and the house sitter had $100,000 of liability, and each were fifty percent responsible, the total coverage available for others damaged by their collective series of actions would be the total of the two policies.
Who Doesn’t See A Floor Covered In Water?
It’s not negligent to leave the home you’re house sitting. People still have to run to the store and go to work. There is no reasonable expectation that the person who is watching your home will spend every single minute in that home while you are away. Very few people live that way, and even fewer do so by choice. With that in mind, it’s possible that the instant when the house sitter knew or should have known was when they returned and discovered the damage.
Is This A Business Pursuit?
Your renters insurance policy does not cover liability incurred as a result of “business pursuits.” What is a business pursuit? Not all policies define it specifically, and some policies don’t define it at all. But generally speaking, a one-off arrangement where someone pays you a token sum of money to keep an eye on their home is not going to be considered a business pursuit.
You need to be very careful here, however. The threshold is often quite low, a few thousand dollars a year in income even if it’s not profit from an activity. An amateur photographer, for example, could be considered to be engaged in a business pursuit after doing only a very few weddings and charging expenses plus meals for them.
The good news is, it’s not your problem to sort all of this out. The other residents who suffered a loss will file personal property claims on their policies. The building owner may file a claim on his policy. You might file for your own personal property that was damaged. One of the reasons that renters insurance liability is so important is that an apartment involves many people living very close together. A claim for one generally involves a claim for many.
When you get a number of insurance companies involved in a single claim, there will be a dispute as to who is responsible for what. That’s typical. The insurance companies will negotiate between them on that matter, that’s not your job. Attempting to do so by claiming responsibility is actually counter-productive most of the time. If the negotiations fail, there’s a legal process called subrogation. Again, that’s incumbent on the insurance companies in question to handle.
So Whose Fault Is It?
Remember those word problems in grade school where “not enough information to solve” was an option? Remember how that was almost never the correct answer? In this case, it is. There simply are too many questions left unanswered to determine who is responsible.
That’s fine, because that’s what you have insurance for. They’ll pay the claim if necessary, but it’s their job to provide a defense to you against the claim – and against the claims of the other insurance companies. That duty to defend is just part of the liability coverage on your policy.
What we can see for certain, however, is that everyone needs renters insurance. Whether you live in North Carolina or North Dallas, the coverage is affordable and necessary. To find out more, just call (800)892-4308 or click to get covered - whether you need Cary renters insurance quotes online or coverage anywhere else!
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