MY BIG MOUTH

Emotions! Drama! Trash Talking! Accusations! Insults! Threats!

It could be an action movie, but that’s also pretty much what we have to look forward to right now as our hourly injection of political campaigning.  Speech like that can cause all kinds of damage, and if you or I were doing it, we’d probably be up to our eyeballs in lawsuits. In fact, I do find myself getting a little vocal sometimes and I bet you do too.

Let me give you an example to which you can probably relate.

I have a special watch that I use when I run outdoors. It has a global position system (GPS) receiver, so it can tell me exactly where I am and how fast I’m moving. It cost me a couple hundred dollars, so I have high expectations!  But I have had a lot of problems with it. Color me “frustrated.”

Not my watch

You can guess that I’ve taken the time to complain to the manufacturer by phone and email. I’ve also posted my critical comments on Facebook and on some other web forums, such as the manufacturer’s website itself where everyone can see them. I’m sure many of your have exercised your right to free speech and have at one time or another made sure that a lot of people knew your opinions about bad experiences with businesses or your poor opinions of other people.

While we have the right to speak freely and enjoy it, that doesn’t mean that we are free from the financial consequences of our words.

In my watch example, I might have let my frustration get the best of me and let my modest factual complaints become replaced by angry, frustrated, critical statements that might be less than objective and fair. My words might even go “viral” if I was creative, perhaps making a dramatic and poignant video of my rant thinking I was going to really get back at the watch maker. My disparaging comments might reach a whole lot of people, and that could be a problem for me even if my comments are truthful.

libel to publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others. (http://dictionary.law.com/default.aspx?selected=1153)

You can be sued for libel. Even though you may feel that your statements are accurate and truthful, you will have to prove it in court if sued. You’ll have to hire an attorney, prepare a defense, provide and collect evidence, appear for legal proceedings, possibly go to trial, and possibly pay damages.

Here are some other examples with  which some of you might be familiar:

  • An employee is fired and posts statements on Facebook “bashing” his former employer.
  • A minor gets angry about a bad experience at the local store and writes angry comments about the business and some of its employees, causing them embarrassment and financial damages to restore their reputation.

Instead of writing disparaging words, some situations seem to warrant other actions such as an attempt to detain someone. Consider this real-life example: Kids Brutally Vandalize Man’s Family Home — But Now He’s the One Facing Jail Time. This man confronted kids who were in the process of destroying his father’s home. He locked them in a closet and called the police. Not only did this man face possible criminal charges, he might also have been faced with a lawsuit for wrongful imprisonment, assault, and battery.

A lawsuit causes you to lose money and time the moment it’s filed, and it could end with money being awarded to the “hurt” person or business. In our vocal and “don’t tread on me” society, it’s easy for any of us to allow our emotions get the best of us and get into hot water.

DAMAGES

If you wrongfully damage a person’s reputation or a business’ reputation, there is a very good chance that you are going to owe some money. That money is referred to as damages.

Let’s look at what might be possible:

A Facebook post can reach all of your “friends”. I have a couple hundred Facebook friends, but I know some people who have thousands. Let’s say that you (or your daughter) have 200 “friends” who read your posts.

  • All 200 see your colorful rant.
  • 10% of your friends decide to repost your comments to their friends, because that’s what we do on Facebook – spread the word. 10% of 200 = 20 reposts.
  • If those 20 friends have 200 of their own friends, that’s 20 x 200 = 4,000 more people who saw your rant.

Your rant has now reached 200+4,000=4,200 people. INSTANTLY.

And you can’t take it back. The financial impact of your comments are hard to measure, but the affected business estimates a possible impact of $10 per person x 4,200 people = $42,000 damages. Can you hear the words “granted” coming from a judge?

INSURANCE COVERAGE MUST BE ADDED

While there are some limitations, these risky words and actions are insurable. You can include coverage for these kinds of mistakes in your insurance portfolio.

We’re talking about Liability Coverage here, so remember that liability pays for an attorney to defend you against a lawsuit made against you (so long as the policy have coverage for the allegations), and also pays for the damages that you might by ordered to pay.

Personal Liability coverage is going to be found in Homeowner policies, Renters policies, some Rental Dwelling policies, stand-alone Comprehensive Personal Liability Policies, and Umbrella policies.

If you have any of these kinds of policies, be aware that the special coverages for libel, slander, and wrongful imprisonment require the policies to be modified to include the necessary coverage.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

You have to flip to the section of your policy titled Personal Liability, which is Section II on a homeowner policy. Here’s is typical language found there:

COVERAGE E – Personal Liability
If a claim is made or a suit is brought against an “insured” for damages because of “bodily injury” or “property damage” caused by an “occurrence” to which this coverage applies, we will: …

You need to look up the definition of “bodily injury” in your policy to see how it is defined, but most of the time, “bodily injury” means doing physical harm to someone’s body.

You may have an endorsement (a form attached to the end of the policy that modifies the insurance agreement) that adds liability coverage for Personal Injury. If you have such an endorsement, it will say something like this:

DEFINITIONS
The following definitions are added:

“Personal injury” means injury arising out of one or more of the following offenses, but only if the offense was committed during the policy period:

1. False arrest, detention or imprisonment;

2. Malicious prosecution;

3. The wrongful eviction from, wrongful entry into, or invasion of the right of private occupancy of a room, dwelling or premises that a person occupies, committed by or on behalf of its owner, landlord or lessor;

4. Oral or written publication of material that slanders or libels a person or organization or disparages a person’s or organization’s goods, products or services; or

5. Oral or written publication of material that violates a person’s right of privacy.

SECTION II . LIABILITY COVERAGES
A. Coverage E Personal Liability
The following is added to Coverage E . Personal Liability:

Personal Injury Coverage
If a claim is made or suit is brought against an “insured” for damages resulting from an offense, defined under “personal injury”, to which this coverage applies, we will:…..

Now not every example of Personal Injury is covered by any insurance policy, and criminal charges are never covered by a liability policy. For example, if I KNOWINGLY make false statements about my watch and the manufacturer, I’m probably out of luck looking for insurance coverage.

You want this coverage. You want to know that you have some coverage for Personal Injury. And you want to have a high liability limit to pay for your blunders.

Be cautious and prudent, but carry the right insurance for those times that you screw up.

Please reach out to us if you have questions or want to learn more about Personal Injury coverage!

Robert H. Bourdeau

Without risk, there are no rewards.But when taking risks, it's important to ask "is it worth it?" Most of us are not good at evaluating risk. That's why I love insurance. When you get it, you realize that you have a tool for making choices. We can put ourselves out there, enjoy life and strive for personal and financial growth. When we fail, insurance gives us a way to recover financially, and we learn to be better. I'm a lifelong student with degrees in mathematics and computer science, a licensed insurance producer, and hold professional insurance designations including CPCU and CIC.I enjoy distance running, bicycling, craft beers, cool people, and taking risks.

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