It’s that time of year where kids, dressed up in all kinds of ingenious garb and reciting “trick or treat,” come up to your door to shake you down for candy. Yes, it’s Halloween!
Growing up in my neighborhood, if you were too stingy with the candy you might have found your decorated pumpkin spattered all across the sidewalk, if not worse, the next morning. But I was too busy trying to beat the system to become a nuisance to society, as I had a single goal to obtain as much candy as I possibly get my hands on.
Back in those days I was only allowed to trick or treat on my street and one other street that ran in between my horseshoe-shaped street. (My father considered candy an occasional treat, not a daily indulgence.) According to my calculations, this left me with 83 houses to visit and, with a 2 to 1 participation rate, a mere 55.4 homes to mine for candy.
But with an average of only two pieces of candy per house, that would net me a dismal yield of 110.8 pieces. So every year I would devise a plan to harvest as much candy as possible – a plan that included ditching my sister and friends so they wouldn’t slow me down and maximize my haul. The way I saw it, I had only a total of two hours to obtain a full year’s worth of candy.
My plan was simple: Make a run on all the houses, change costumes and go again. Repeat. And repeat again.
The second costume was always the previous year’s costume. For the next round, I would put on either a football helmet and jersey or a cowboy outfit. The final round I was a ghost, using a sheet with two “eyes” cut out so I could see where I was going. The sheet was also a strategic decision to hide my identity, because after the second and third times through the neighborhood, many mothers and fathers would begin to catch on to my plan. “Haven’t you been here already?” they would ask as they shorted me a piece of candy.
Those were the days!
But what makes Halloween fun can also make the holiday dangerous, and as a homeowner I am now more concerned today with the liability and safety issues of the holiday than a candy haul. So as this Halloween season rolls around, let me suggest the following risk management and safety suggestions to keep you, your neighbors and, of course, those little goblins safe.
Keep your property illuminated – Trick-or-treaters will be coming and going throughout the evening, so properly illuminate the walking paths to your front door. You have to remember the litigious society in which we live today, and anytime you have people stepping onto your property, you run the risk of a potential lawsuit. Also, by properly illuminating your property this will deter and discourage vandalism and foul-play from little Johnny down the street.
Keep property free of trip hazards – Keep the area around your home and walking paths clear so that children and accompanying parents don’t stumble and injure themselves. You should also put away hoses, gardening tools and toys that could serve as additional trip hazards.
Be careful with candles – Good Halloween home safety practices should consist of being extra careful with lit candles around the house, as well as on your front porch where trick-or-treaters might bump into them. A candle-illuminated walkway or jack-o-lantern might create a spooky environment, but it also presents a real threat to catching a child’s costume on fire. Last year, in Springfield, Mo., a student dressed as a zombie was badly burned with third-degree burns after getting to close to an open flame. So remember, LED lights and battery-powered decorations are a safer and affordable substitute.
Restrain your pets – Remember, Halloween can be downright scary for your pets. Keep dogs and cats away from the front door so that they don’t jump on or bite trick-or-treaters. While every state has different rules, homeowners’ policies typically cover the liability and medical expenses related to an accident in your home. But it’s not uncommon for a pet to be excluded from the policy, and in the event of a bite or other related injury, you would be responsible for the costs. Also remember to keep pets away from Halloween décor so that they don’t chew on electrical cords, which could cause fires.
Invest in good security – Halloween is that time of the year when some people feel the need to become pranksters and get into a little mischief. A good deterrent at Halloween – or any time of year – is to install motion-sensing lights, alarms and security hardware. And if you’re going to be gone for the evening, it’s always a good idea to leave some lights on.
Park your car in the garage – Vandalism is common during this time of year, especially “egging” cars. Be sure to park your vehicle off the street and in your garage … and keep a good count on your eggs.
Check the smoke alarms – With the increased use of candles during the Halloween season, it’s always a good idea to check your smoke alarms and replace the batteries to prevent or minimize damage from a fire.
Be a responsible host/hostess – Several states have passed “social host” laws that expose homeowners, as party hosts, to liability risks for serving alcohol. “Witches’ brew in your punch bowl can place a homeowner at risk for a post-party accident, which can have lasting legal implications to a homeowner. Therefore, to play it safe, avoid serving alcohol. But if you do, don’t serve to anyone who is under age 21, and stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party ends. Another risk avoidance tactic is to hire a professional bartender who has been trained to recognize signs of intoxication and limit consumption. Finally be sure to arrange transportation and designated drivers for those who have had too much.
Don’t scare the guests – Unlike haunted houses, you can’t rely on the courts to rule in your favor after you scare the bejeebees out of someone and caused an injury. In other words, sitting in the bushes or behind a prop to scare visitors may not be in your best interests. The duty of care owed to patrons for paid haunted houses is different than to a homeowner, because courts recognize that they are intended to scare people and do so by producing an environment with limited lighting and scary surprises. As a homeowner, those guests haven’t paid to enter your property, and any claims resulting from attempts to scare them will likely go against you. If you insist on hosting your own haunted house, you should contact your insurance agent for a one-time special event policy to protect your backside.
Remember as a homeowner, it’s your duty to protect those who come on to your property, regardless of your level of participation for this holiday. It’s also your duty to freely distribute handfuls of candy to those little visitors, to ensure compliance to the trick or treat verbal contract that those little ghost and goblins make with you on your front porch.
Be safe my friends.
Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.