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Are You Liable? Protect Yourself from Home Worker Lawsuits

As the housekeeper is vacuuming your living room, she trips over one of your daughter’s toys and seriously injures her back. While your neighbor’s teenage son is mowing your front lawn, he steps in a large hole and sprains his ankle. Will your homeowner’s insurance cover you if one of these workers decides to file a lawsuit?

Many homeowners do not realize that they could be held financially liable if a maid, landscaper, nanny or another house worker were to suffer from an injury on their property. Here are some things you should keep in mind before you hire a home worker:

Is that worker an employee or a contractor?

When you hire someone to help out around the house, you should figure out whether he or she is an employee or a contractor. This is one of the factors determines whether or not you are liable for a worker’s injury. So, how do you know if the worker is considered your employee or a contractor? It all comes down to how much control you have over the worker.

Let’s say you hire a nanny named Lisa to take care of your children and do some light cleaning in your home. Lisa follows your instructions about how to care of your kids and how to complete certain household tasks. You supply Lisa with the supplies and tools she needs to do her job. Because you have control over how Lisa works, she is most likely considered your employee.

On the other hand, let’s say you hire a professional landscaper named Bob to fertilize and mow your grass, trim the hedges and plant flowers in your yard. Bob uses his own lawn mower and yard tools and he does yard work for other homeowners, as well. Bob also has a team of workers who help him with his business, and he pays these workers. In this case, Bob would be considered an independent contractor.

Of course, these are two fairly simple examples. If you are uncertain about whether a worker in your home is considered a contractor or an employee, consult a lawyer or tax professional.

Understanding worker’s comp insurance

Some states require that homeowners who have house worker “employees” to carry workers’ compensation insurance coverage for them. However, even if your state does not require this, you should still consider purchasing this insurance for your employees. Why? Because if one of your employees is injured on your property, you may have to pay for their medical bills and other expenses out of your own pocket. However, with workers’ compensation coverage, the insurance company will cover the costs.

Alternatively, if you hire a house contractor, such as a landscaper, carpenter or plumber, they should be covered by their own workers’ compensation insurance. If a contractor is injured while doing work on your property, he or she will be covered under that policy. If the contractor doesn’t have enough coverage, you may be held financially liable. However, depending on the circumstances, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the contractor as they are required by law to have sufficient workers’ compensation coverage.

If you are looking to hire a house contractor, it’s important to ensure they are covered for worker injuries, property damage and uninstalled materials. Don’t just take their word for it. Ask for written proof that they have a contractor’s license, workers’ compensation insurance for themselves and any subcontractors and general liability coverage.

Know what your homeowner’s insurance covers

When it comes to coverage for home workers, every homeowner’s insurance policy is different. Depending on your home state, your policy may include a provision that provides limited coverage for minor workers performing lawn mowing or other tasks that require the use of power tools on your property.

On the other hand, your policy may specifically exclude domestic workers such as nannies or maids. Your policy may cover the injuries of household employees, but only after a lawsuit is filed against you. Because homeowner’s policies vary widely, it’s important to read through your contract and talk to your insurance agent before you hire a home worker.

Consider an umbrella policy

If you discover that your homeowner’s policy offers limited or no liability coverage for workers, you may consider purchasing additional liability insurance. While you may have some personal liability coverage through your homeowner’s policy, it’s probably not nearly enough to cover a major lawsuit from a home worker. If someone were to file a lawsuit against you, you could end up losing hundreds of thousands of dollars or more-even if you win.

You can further protect yourself with what’s known as an umbrella policy. This type of policy offers a higher level of liability coverage and ensures that you and your family will be protected if someone sues you for damages. Umbrella policies are typically sold in million dollar increments, and you can obtain a policy once your home and auto insurance policies meet a minimum “attachment point”-typically a liability limit of $250,000 or $500,000.

Check with the Better Business Bureau

Before you hire a home worker, you should contact the Better Business Bureau for more information. They can tell you if any consumers have filed complaints against the worker. Visit the bureau’s website at www.bbb.org.