Halloween is the scariest holiday, but not just because of the horror movies and chilling costumes. The biggest fright of all would be if you got injured, sustained (or caused) property damage or you were a victim of vandalism – and you found out that you didn’t have adequate insurance.
All types of Halloween activities and decorations, including trick-or-treating in the dark, candle-lit pumpkins and Halloween pranks, increase the chances of a mishap, experts say.
“There is an increased risk of hazards because there is just more activity, and more unpredictable activity,” says Rosanne Placey, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department.
Spending Halloween at a hospital
Kids masquerading as Batman or Iron Man don’t have the superpowers to fend off dangers that can cause minor injuries such as cuts and bruises, or more serious injuries, such as a broken wrist.
An estimated 74,631 children were taken to emergency rooms around Halloween in 2011, according to data released in October by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). These visits can result in forking over money for deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses.
“If it is more serious, and the child is transported via ambulance and has to visit the emergency room, that could be more of an expense,” says Erin Whitton, manager of injury prevention and community outreach at ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital in Ohio.
The most common injuries are cuts caused by falling or by using sharp carving tools, says Dr. Edward Akelman, a Rhode Island orthopedic surgeon and spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The academy report, which looked at emergency room visits around Halloween, found that 22 percent of children age 18 and younger suffered cuts from 2007 through 2011.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons survey, which analyzed data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, also found:
- Males sustained the greater proportion of injuries (63 percent).
- Children ages 10 to14 sustained the greatest proportion of injuries (29 percent).
- Head injuries represented the greatest proportion of all injuries involving children (17 percent).
And on Halloween night, many more kids and cars are on the streets. More than twice as many children are killed in pedestrian-car collisions between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Halloween compared with the same hours on other days, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Even on sidewalks, kids can trip over their costumes. Fallen leaves can create slippery sidewalks or can conceal tree roots, causing falls, Whitton says. Another factor is coping with the weight of costumes and their accessories while lugging around heavy bags of candy.
Halloween mishaps at home
On Halloween, minor damage could be caused by kids toilet-papering your house. But real disaster could strike if a candle in a pumpkin starts a fire, or an outdoor fireplace or fire pit blazes out of control.
An estimated 1,240 home fires from 2003 through 2007 were ignited by decorations, which caused $20 million in direct property damage annually, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
The biggest Halloween-related homeowner’s insurance claim involves fire, while smaller claims include broken windows caused by vandals, says Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.
A typical homeowner’s policy provides coverage for Halloween-related claims from vandalism, once you pay the deductible. Halloween is a big holiday for ghouls of another type: Halloween had the second-highest number of thefts (2,325) in 2010, second to New Year’s Day, according to the FBI.
If a trick-or-treater or parent gets hurt on your property and wants you to pay for their medical bills, the liability coverage on your homeowner’s insurance could kick in. If you’re sued, a basic homeowner’s policy includes liability insurance (most properties have a minimum of $100,000), but it’s a good idea to carry $300,000 or more, Worters says.
If you’re hosting even an informal Halloween party or haunted house, you may want to ask your insurer for additional liability coverage so that you’re protected in case someone is injured, Placey says.
Creepy car claims
On Halloween night, pranksters could egg your car, damaging the paintwork. Or the higher pedestrian and vehicle traffic could result in you getting into a collision. In these cases, your auto insurance would kick in, depending on your policy and coverage.
A typical auto insurance policy will provide coverage for claims by people who are injured in an accident or whose property is damaged in an accident you cause (minimums for personal injury protection typically are $15,000 per person).
Collision coverage, which is optional, covers the cost of your injuries, if you get into an accident. Comprehensive coverage, which also is optional, covers your vehicle if it is damaged in an accident, or even egged or vandalized.
Even a Halloween auto accident not involving you or your vehicle could come back to haunt you.
Extra liability coverage also may be necessary if you serve alcoholic beverages at a party. If you provide liquor to a guest (a minor or adult) who is involved in a drunk driving accident, you could face civil or criminal fines, monetary damages or imprisonment under so-called “social host liability,” according to the Insurance Information Institute. Social host liability laws vary by state.
Six tips for reducing Halloween-related risks
1. Limit the potential for danger.
Remove lawn tools or items that can cause people to trip and get injured, and keep your home well lit on Halloween night. Consider keeping your dog away from the front door to keep trick-or-treaters from being bitten or injured.
2. Be a safe pedestrian.
Have children use sidewalks and designated crosswalks. Do not cut across yards or driveways. Carry flashlights to see and be seen.
3. Choose the costume wisely.
Make sure that costumes fit properly (to avoid tripping), and that masks, hats and face paint don’t block vision. Have children wear sturdy, slip-resistant shoes to avoid falls.
4. Reduce fire risk.
Costumes should be flame-retardant. Use non-flammable light sources, like glow sticks and artificial lights, in pumpkins. Keep an eye on lit candles in pumpkins, on porches and inside the home.
5. Carve carefully.
Use a pumpkin-carving kit, and let children use carving devices designed for kids – with parental supervision.
6. Watch the temperature.
Avoid skimpy costumes – no matter how cool or cute – if Halloween is going to feel less like fall and more like winter. In 2011, a surprise snowstorm hit the Northeast the weekend before Halloween, causing temperatures to fall. This year, if temperatures are expected to drop in your town, bundle up to avoid hypothermia or frostbite.