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Keven Moore on Insurance: It’s just a garage sale, what could possibly go wrong? Plenty!

It’s that time of year where many of you have completed your spring cleaning and are considering having a garage sale. But then, if you are like me, you are quickly reminded of how such events can draw out the worst in people.

(Photo from Creative Commons)

(Photo from Creative Commons)

Like the time I stepped around the side of my house and found a wayward shopper urinating behind my garbage cans. Or the time another bargain hunter spent 10 minutes haggling with me by offering a dollar for a $10 item, only to eventually offer him a dollar to please leave. Or the time I was awakened by early birds beating on the garage door at 6 a.m.

Such sales have become a staple in American culture; there never seems to be shortage of them. According to statisticbrain.com, there are a total of 165,000 garage sales a week in the United States, with nearly 5 million items being sold for a total of over $4 million in revenue each week.

Having a garage sale is a wonderful incentive to clean out your home and make a little extra pocket change in the process. Plus, they do our environment some good by providing a second life to items you no longer want or need. But your entrepreneurial and enterprising idea could get very expensive if someone gets hurt on your property and decides to sue you.

There are numerous stories in which garage sale shoppers have become injured while rummaging through items. There are even stories of customers staging an accident just to try to file a claim on the property owner’s insurance policy.

We live in a very litigious society, and if a bargain hunter slips and falls or otherwise injures himself, you could be held legally liable. Wen you consider that the most recent statistic available online shows that the average personal injury jury award was $806,505, and the average slip and fall personal injury award hovers north of $189,000, you may want to continue reading.

Before you open up that garage door to invite total strangers onto your property, check with your insurance agent to make sure you have adequate liability insurance. Both homeowner’s and renter’s insurance will provide liability protection that covers and protects you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that could occur during a garage sale. This coverage pays for both the cost of defending yourself in court and court awards up to whatever the limit is on your policy.

Most standard homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies will generally provide at least $100,000 of liability coverage, and additional limits liability can be added from $200,000 to $500,000. Most policy holders do not recognize that they have no-fault medical coverage as part of the liability protection in most standard homeowner’s or renter’s policies. This coverage allows anyone who gets injured on your property to simply submit his or her medical bills to your insurance company. The intent for this coverage is so that medical bills can be paid without resorting to a lawsuit. Most policies include about $1,000 to $5,000 worth of coverage.

If you feel more comfortable with more liability coverage to protect your family assets, you can also consider purchasing an umbrella or excess liability policy to supplement your homeowner’s policy. It provides broader coverage for claims involving libel and slander.

Should your insurance carrier determine that you were holding frequent garage or yard sales, there is a good chance that they will deny coverage and you could be covering that cost as an uninsured garage seller (a small business). If you fall under this category, you should contact your insurance agent to purchase a separate policy for business liability or an in-home business policy.

If you come together as a group or a neighborhood during a yard sale, your homeowner’s policy should cover any such claims. If you are holding a sale to raise money for your favorite charity, that too should be covered, but you still may want to check with your agent. To help transfer such risk away from you and your family, you could also contact the charity’s officials to see if they are willing to add your event as an additional insured on to their policy.

If you are a flea market swapper or even a first-time space renter to trade your junk at a swap meet or flea market, your homeowner liability coverage will not apply. You’ll need to purchase separate coverage, either through the organizers of the meet or your own insurer.

In addition to checking your insurance coverage, plan your sale with safety in mind, following these simple steps:

• Stage you your sale outside, away from your home on your driveway or in yard.

• Keep your pets indoors during the sale as some pets become very protective when strangers enter your property.

• When staging your sale, steer clear of drop-offs and elevated areas, raised concrete or sidewalks that could cause a slip, trip or fall.

• Repair loose railings and remove all trip hazards.

• Never invite people into your home, and section off the sales area to keep people away from potentially dangerous areas within your garage.

• Neatly place sale items so that there is enough space to move about without tripping.

• Keep a close eye on children, and remind their parents that they must be supervised while shopping.

• Keep sharp and dangerous objects out of reach of children.

• Make sure that sales tables and objects are stable so that they cannot fall over and injure someone.

• Do not sell items that you know are unsafe or hazardous, including recalled items such as car seats, cribs or any product that has been recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

• If someone does get injured, never admit fault and make sure that you get medical attention as soon as possible. But thoroughly investigate the incident and record witness statements, take pictures and collect any available evidence.

As for me, I have had my fill of garage sale bargain hunters over the years, and I now simply opt to give away my unwanted items to worthy and needy friends or family member. And if that’s not an option, then Goodwill can always use the items. Besides I work in the insurance business and I’m shell-shocked from all the different claims I see.

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 kmoore@roeding.com.


Click here to read more columns from Keven Moore.

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