Accident Schmaccident

Son got bit at school on Friday.

This didn’t thrill me, but I wasn’t angry. Kids do these things, I understand. The boys were arguing over whose turn it was to use the bathroom (is anyone surprised this story is potty-centric?). I wanted to find out what happened, how it was handled and what, if anything, needed correction. I was not irate about it, I just was being a responsible, parent, following up on a incident at school.

This morning as I dropped Son at school I approached the teachers to talk about it. The head teacher proceeded to tell me what happened, emphasizing that she didn’t see the actual bite occur, as she was outside on the playground. She told me that Son had gone inside “without permission” and tried to enter a bathroom that another boy, who HAD gotten permission, had just entered (Son, obviously, should have waited his turn).

What I didn’t like was the teacher continually stressing that Son didn’t have permission while the other boy did. If she had mentioned it once it would not have risen my ire, but with every question I had she just kept hammering that point home, never really answering my questions. I maintained that if Son was inside without permission then:

A. Neither Son nor the other boy were being properly supervised, and

B. Whether or not he had permission to be inside was irrelevant to the other boy choosing to bite and the school’s subsequent handling of the incident.

I couldn’t get her to get past the permission issue to give me the details of what actually happened. I understand that she’s just trying to mitigate her own culpability (which the school director later dismissed as “human nature”) in this molehill incident, but her unwillingness to shift and discuss the actual incident was giving me a mountain of frustration and irkedness.

The other thing that kept me from just letting it go was that they kept calling it “an accident”. I immediately took issue with that characterization. It was most decidedly NOT an accident. Dropping a book on one’s toe is an accident. This was a deliberate act; an incident; the result of a poor choice. This is not an indictment of nor judgment about the child, but he – and Son – and the other children – need to understand that it was a poor choice to bite. NOT an accident. I don’t believe it serves Son or the other boy to whitewash what happened, or give them a way to dismiss poor behavior by shifting the accountability from themselves to whatever nebulous being in the karmic universe causes accidents.

Completely unsatisfied by the conversation with his teacher, and given that the teacher was unable to give me any more information, she suggested I speak with the school director. She wasn’t there yet, so I arrived before the normal pickup time to meet with her.

It was equally unsatisfying, for more reasons than I’ll talk about here. First, her story about what happened was very different from the teacher’s. I pointed out to the director this was not the first time I’d seen children slip unnoticed from the playground into the building, and have in fact stopped a few myself. This she dismissed with excuses that the children see their mother is coming (sometimes, but often I am the only parent approaching), and that the teachers are busy trying to ensure that each child leaves with the correct parent (a very important task).

I’m sorry, but if your system isn’t working develop a new one.

In my meeting with the director I also learned why the word “accident” is used so liberally, and incorrectly. When something like this happens each child gets a report in their file. The “offender” gets an “Incident Report”; the “offendee” an “Accident Report”. It’s so very ingrained in their vernacular to use the word “accident” that getting the school to use a more fitting word just is not going to happen. These are government forms. A very poor choice of words, likely designed to discourage litigation. Anyone think I can get the state to change the name of the forms? Me neither.

I’m a pretty good communicator, at least most of the time. I know and understand that often these things happen so quickly they’re over before even the most attentive parent or teacher can react. I did not enter Son’s school today planning to make a big fuss about the incident. Just find out what happened, have them tell me, have them assure me that if there was anything they could do better, they would, and if there was anything I could do better, they’d tell me that, too. Then move on.

Apparently that’s too much to expect.

Should it be?

A Miracle For One Family, Heartache For Others

Back in December Zack Dunlop’s devastated parents were faced with the horrible decision of either keeping their son hooked up to life-support equipment or pulling the plug and letting his body follow his brain into death. He’d been declared brain dead, all of the tests showing no blood flow to his brain after an ATV accident, and his parents eventually decided to let him go. But they wanted to honor his wishes and have his organs donated.

So a helicopter was dispatched to pick up his heart. Then, as his family said their final goodbyes, his cousin (a nurse) ran a knife blade along his foot. And he moved it. They pressed into his fingernail bed. He pulled away his arm.

His family was shocked, and hopeful, and guarded. The doctors were dumbfounded. But how much brain damage was there?

Some, but not much. Since that day 21-year-old Zack Dunlop has made extraordinary strides in his recovery. He’s walking, talking, ready to drive. He still has some issues and is still in therapy, but he’s alive. And vibrant. And alive.

I’m so very happy for Zack, and his family. They truly got a miracle. The doctors cannot explain what happened. As Husband and I watched his appearance on the Today Show and heard his story I got tears in my eyes. Husband noticed my reaction and said, “That’s great, isn’t it?”, assuming my tears were for Zack and his miracle.

But my tears weren’t for Zack, or for his family. My crazy brain was thinking about the many families who had walked in Zack’s family’s shoes. Families who decided to end life support for their child and had no such miracle, and experienced the mixture of grief and guilt that I can only imagine anyone would feel in the aftermath of that decision.

What were they thinking when hearing Zack’s miraculous story? How many were second-guessing their decision? What if…? The unthinkable.

Chances are that there was no hope, no missed miracle for their child (or husband or mother, etc., but I was thinking at that moment only in terms of parent and child). But now, in addition to their grief, they’ll have a whole new level of guilt.

That is possibly the only pain worse than losing your child, I imagine.

And who the heck needs that?

Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay Lohan has had many troubles lately, most of them her own doing. The substance abuse monkey is a very difficult one to try to get off your back, and the bad decisions one makes as a result of intoxication, self-hatred and general apathy can have far-reaching consequences.

But some of Lindsay’s troubles aren’t of her own doing. There are many who want to take advantage of her, and her deep pockets.

In October of 2005 Lindsay was involved in a car accident with one Raymundo Ortega. The California Highway Patrol determined that Mr. Ortega was responsible for the accident, having made an illegal U-turn. Nevertheless, Mr. Ortega, a busboy, felt that it was moral and just to sue Lindsay for $200,000 because she had the nerve to be there when he made his illegal U-turn. He alleges that she was fleeing paparazzi (not a crime) and drinking (likely, but there’s no evidence).

Lindsay settled the lawsuit with Mr. Ortega, but I really wish she hadn’t. I’m sure he didn’t get $200,000 from her, but he didn’t deserve a penny. Not one cent.

These types of cases really get my panties in a twist. The burglar who sues you because he gets stuck in your garage while breaking into your house. The kid climbs the fence to break into the pool area and breaks his neck diving in. The woman who sues the apartment complex because she gets bit by a dog in the park across the street.

Those people have kahunas. Great big mirrored brass ones.

I don’t have an issue with suing the truly responsible party if you are injured permanently or suffered greatly or lost money due to someone else’s negligence. But I shouldn’t have to pay someone who got hurt because of their own. Neither should Lindsay. And neither should you.

Yet another reason to get a Personal Liability Umbrella.

Why You Should Consider a Personal Liability Umbrella

My father is part-owner of an apartment complex where tenants are not permitted to have pets. The complex was sued by a woman who was bitten by a dog that was owned by a friend of a tenant, and the bite happened in a park across the street from the apartments.

No way she’d win, right?

Wrong.

It burns me. It really burns me. The woman’s attorney successfully argued that because a brochure for the apartment complex had a picture of the park and mentioned that it was across the street from the apartments that the complex made it a defacto part of the complex. The woman was award over $300,000 for a very minor bite, plus attorney fees.

It is just so wrong, on so many different levels.

But that’s a corporation, right? Not something us individuals need to worry about, is it?

I think we do need to worry about it.

We live in a litigious society (though I have high hopes that somewhere, perhaps in Utah, it may be slightly less litigious than it is here in South Florida). In the first five minutes after I met one of my neighbors she mentioned three people she was suing (you can bet she has never been invited inside my house!).

The example I gave is of a corporation that got shafted, but ordinary citizens have to defend themselves against lawsuits every day of the week.

Everyone knows about cases like these:

  • Kids Play – One person kneels behind another and a third pushes the “victim” over. In a recent case three 10-year olds were the players. One child broke his arm and the other two were sued. The case cost the kneeling boy $100,000 and the one who did the pushing $195,000.
  • The Clumsy Worker – A 40-year-old window washer broke his heel in a fall after a downspout he was holding onto broke away from the house on which he was working. Although the worker was found partially responsible, the fall cost the homeowner $1.2 million.
  • The Accidental Athlete – A 22-year old suffered permanent eye damage when he was struck by a golf
    ball. He sued claiming that the golfer who hit the ball had failed to look out for other players. The errant shot cost the golfer $160,000.
  • Not-So-Funny Ski Bunny – A professional dancer suffered permanent knee damage — an end to her
    career—when she was knocked down on a beginner’s ski slope. She offered to settle for the $300,000 covered by the defendant’s insurance, but was rebuffed. The case went to trial, where it cost the defendant $2.2 million.
  • Pool Tragedy – At an end-of-school swim party, a 16-year old dove and hit his head on the bottom of the pool. He became a quadriplegic, and the case resulted in a $1.5 million settlement against the homeowner.

Then there are the car accidents where someone is seriously, permanently injured, or the damage to the house down the street when your kid throws three dozen eggs at it on Mischief Night.

Horrible things. Such tragedies.

If I’m responsible I want to have the money to help people who are hurt – it’s the right thing to do. And if it’s a frivolous lawsuit I want to be able to defend myself without going bankrupt. We think that because we’re right, morally right, common sense-ally right, we’ll win. Not necessarily. Very not necessarily. And that’s shocking, isn’t it?

Whether I’m responsible or not I don’t want to have to give up everything I own to defend myself or pay a judgment. The way I see it we’ve worked way, waaaay too hard to stay out of debt and build up our savings and a few assets to give it all away to someone else. So, that’s why I think I’m finally going to buy a Personal Liability Umbrella.

A Personal Liability Umbrella policy provides an extra layer of liability coverage (usually starting at $1 million) over and above what the limit of liability on each of your underlying personal liability policies (i.e. homeowners, personal automobile, boat-owners, motorcycle, etc).

The policy covers “personal injury” liability such as bodily injury, property damage, sickness, disease, disability, mental anguish, false imprisonment, wrongful entry, libel, slander, humiliation, defamation of character, invasion of privacy, etc. The coverage is often broader than what would be covered on your underlying policy, as a typical Homeowners policy covers only “bodily injury” and “property damage” liability. So, if for example you are sued for making an allegedly libelous statement about someone in the newspaper, that would be excluded by your underlying Homeowners policy, but covered by the Personal Liability Umbrella policy, up to the limit of the policy.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of a Personal Liability Umbrella is the coverage for the cost of defense of lawsuits. In addition to the $1 million liability, most Personal Liability Umbrella policies also pay for defense of suits that are not payable by the underlying policies, all expenses incurred by the insurance company, all costs taxed against the insured, premiums for appeal bonds, reasonable expenses incurred by the insured at the insurance company’s request, and interest on unpaid judgments.

The cost? About the same as one hour of an attorney’s time per year. One hour.

So, who should have one?

  • Do you own your home or condo?
  • Do you have children?
  • Is there a teenage driver in the family?
  • Do babysitters or cleaning people work in your home?
  • Do you have a swimming pool?
  • Do you ever leave your home in the care of a housesitter?
  • Do you regularly ferry other people’s kids around in your car?
  • Do you have a dog, snake, ferret or other pet?
  • Are you active in sports, such as golf, biking, skiing, or mountain climbing? Do you own a boat?
  • Do you own rental property?

In most cases, the more often you answer yes, the more likely you need an Umbrella policy. But for some people, one “yes” answer is all it takes. For example, lots of people who can’t sell their homes in the current market are renting them to others. I would absolutely, positively not even consider renting out any property I own without having an Umbrella in place.

Talk to your insurance agent for some more info. Most companies will only write the policy if you have your home and/or auto insured with them. And I may have to increase my auto coverages to qualify for one (my company requires that my auto liability limits be $250,000 per person/$500,000 per accident), but that’s okay.

Now I won’t have to worry if someone leaves my house with a cup of hot coffee in their crotch, spills it and sues me. Because, you know, I was really losing a lot of sleep worrying about that.

The preceding information is not advice, it’s just my thoughts and opinions. I’m just a girl on the web, not currently licensed in insurance or anything else in any state. You should absolutely seek the counsel of an insurance agent licensed in your state before taking any action at all. Coverages and programs discussed may or may not be available in your state.

Did you like this article? Be sure to check out my other articles on insurance:

Auto Insurance 101: Part 1 ~ Before We Shop Let’s Understand What We Have

Auto Insurance 101: Part 2 ~ 10 Tips for Shopping Smart

Auto Insurance 101: Part 3 ~ What to Do With The Quotes Now That You Have Them

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