Does Your Homeowners Policy Cover You for Cyberbullying?

Posted in: Personal Insurance

Most people count on liability insurance to protect their personal assets from third party injury claims. The most common incidences include bodily injury (e.g. slips and falls on your property) and property damage (e.g. backing into someone’s fence). However, there is a less common, but emerging liability, which can have an even more serious impact on your family, and it is often not covered by your liability insurance. Many parents are not aware that they could be found legally responsible for their teen’s intentional or unwitting cyberbullying activity.

The proliferation of social networking sites and the widespread use of internet enabled devices among adolescence allowed cyberbullying to flourish, which is a quickly emerging and costly risk that can be detrimental to a family’s finances and well-being. Unfortunately, the legal system is still lagging in creating laws against cyberbullying, and insurance coverage is often ambiguous and outdated in existing policies. Hence, many victims resort to filing civil suits against parents of bullies.

If you are thinking, “It is highly unlikely that I would be sued for cyberbullying-related injuries caused by any of my family members,” you might want to consider that 73 percent  of young people feel they have been bullied in their lifetime, and 44 say it’s happened in the last 30 days.

In light of these statistics, you might be at risk, especially if your teenager is an active social media user. So what can you do to protect your family? Read on to learn about cyberbullying prevention best practices as well as the coverage you need, under your homeowners or umbrella policies.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying – or “electronic aggression” – is bullying someone online or using electronic technology to harm or harass someone in a hostile manner or spread false rumors, humiliating videos and pictures. It can take place through social media sites, text messages, chat, email and websites.

Effects of cyberbullying

Some courts prosecuting cyberbullying cases have considered the attacks even more harmful than face-to-face bullying for the following reasons:

  • Difficult to delete: The insults and humiliating posts or images can be permanently saved in cyberspace, which can continue to taunt the victim 24/7 or for a life time.
  • Spreads quickly to a large audience: Like wild fire, the written insults can go viral in a matter of minutes, which makes it easy to reach a large number of people and become even more humiliating to a victim than schoolyard bullying where maybe only few children are involved. The Internet allows a much larger size of the audience to be involved either as an offender or a bystander.

Consequences of cyberbullying

Adolescent cyberbullying is a growing concern for parents, not only because of the emotional and physical damages, but also due to the financial costs of a resulting lawsuit. GenRe Research found that in 2012 alone, $87 million were awarded to victims in 36 cases, which can typically range from hundreds of thousands to few million dollars in damages per case.

How to protect yourself and your family?

It is highly recommended you take a two-prong approach – prevent cyberbullying, and discuss your insurance coverage options with your broker.

Prevention

  • Talk to your kids. Help your adolescent be internet savvy by talking to them about cyberbullying and its repercussions. Explain to them that you will not tolerate them being bullied or being the bully and enforce consequences if the rules are broken to help them develop better online behavior. Encourage open communication to make them feel comfortable to come to you if they witness or become a victim of bullying.
  • Know what they are doing online. Although this is often a controversial subject, you might consider monitoring their online activities by installing parental control software on your computers and asking for their log-in information. Also ask about their friends and online activities in general. It is smart to keep your computers in the busy areas of your house and learn about other devices they are using.
  • Report cyberbullying incidents. Depending on the severity of each case, you should always notify the appropriate parties – school, network administrators, other parents, or authorities – to stop cyberbullying.

These are just few practical steps you can take. To learn more about how to prevent and handle cyberbullying, you can visit a number of valuable resources including Cyberbullying.org, a Guide to Cyberbullying and Stopbullying.gov.

Insurance coverage

Most people assume cyberbullying is covered by their standard homeowners policy; however, often it is not, as it is a fairly new and rapidly evolving risk. Insurance carriers are still struggling to find the best way to mitigate this risk. Therefore, they often limit their exposure by eliminating coverage for “electronic aggression” and “expected or intended” losses, which is often the case with cyberbullying.

Hence, it is prudent to discuss the terms of your homeowners and umbrella policies with your agent to make sure coverage language is included. In case you don’t have umbrella, you may want to consider purchasing it, since the costs of a cyberbullying lawsuit can quickly exceed the limit of your standard homeowners coverage. If neither of these policies incorporate protection against cyberbullying, then negotiate to add Personal Injury insurance, containing the necessary coverage, as a rider to the liability sections of your homeowner’s and umbrella policies. This also insures you against other common forms of personal injury claims, including slander and invasion of privacy.

While the insurance industry continues to seek the most appropriate solution, the burden remains with you to find the best personal risk management option for your needs. If you’d like to discuss available coverages for cyberbullying, please contact me at dreeve@psafinancial.com.

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