“What happens if someone gets badly hurt? What if the liner rips and I flood my neighbor’s finished basement? What if my kid rips a shot through the picture window and right into my prized Picasso?”
All valid questions, and until now, questions I never really had a good answer to. I’d tell them that I had never heard of someone suing over a rink injury, and that for the most part, I considered rinks akin to swimming pools and swingsets, neither of which require specialized insurance. But in the back of my mind, I really didn’t know.
Curious whether or not I was alone, I posed two questions on our Facebook page back in January: do you have extra insurance to cover your rink, and does your insurance company know about your rink? The responses were overwhelmingly lopsided.
“I don’t have extra insurance for a rink. Never really thought about it.”
“No additional insurance and no they don’t know about it. Never really thought to give them a call.”
“No and no.”
“Nope and never looked into it. I have not informed my insurance company that I have a rink.”
In all, of 24 replies, only four mentioned obtaining additional insurance to cover their rink.
So I set off to find out what we should be doing, reaching out to nearly a dozen insurance agents and brokers in attempt to hear, from their perspective, what we rinkbuilders should do to protect ourselves. One of first agents to reply, as it turns out, is a local (NH) hockey legend. Rene LeClerc played high school hockey in Berlin NH, captained the then-named New Hampshire College hockey team for two seasons, and went on to become a D1 official and hockey coach, spending 11 years at the helm of Manchester HS Central and eight seasons at Southern NH University. He was inducted into the NH Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007. And, conveniently enough for us, he also runs his own State Farm insurance agency.
His expertise in both realms cemented, I asked Rene the same two questions I asked on my Facebook page. He said that specific backyard rink insurance didn’t exist, but that there was another solution to put the rinkbuilder’s mind at ease.
“I always recommend to clients that they should have a Personal Umbrella Liability Policy (PLUP), which will provide them with usually $1,000,000 of liability coverage over and above the coverage from their homeowner policy.”
While you must request an additional PLUP, the policy actually sits on top of your existing auto and home insurance coverage and supplements it should you ever need the additional coverage. So let’s say someone is skating on your rink and seriously injures themselves because you had a ground stake sticking up or a piece of your boards weren’t installed correctly. While the act of skating carries with it an assumption of risk, you could be liable for damages due to due negligence. And if you’re sued, your normal homeowners’ insurance may not cover all the damages. Enter the Umbrella policy. Like any insurance, the hope is that you never need it, but fortunately, relative to other insurance products, it is very affordable.
“The cost varies but a good example would be in the $150 to $300 range,” says LeClerc.
Upon hearing this, I contacted my insurance rep. Sure enough, my homeowner’s insurance only covered up to $500,000 for liability. My auto policy covered the same amount. To increase these to $1mil would cost just $216 per year, or a mere $18 per month. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
And while I had my rep on the phone, I did something else I had never done before: I told him about the rink. And guess what? He didn’t care. He already knew about the swingset and swimming pool, and while he noted my policy, he said it wouldn’t impact rates and wouldn’t lead to widespread hysteria in his office and an immediate cancellation of my policy. I was relieved at his indifference.
Mr LeClerc is the one who unknowingly urged me to spill the beans: “Insuredâ€™s should never withhold information as it relates to these things. The agent is there to counsel the insured to help protect what they have and if they fail to tell their agents it would not necessarily negate the policy but the coverage may be too little in the event of a major lawsuit.”
Christopher Gouveia, VP of Charles River Insurance, agrees: “As far as risk of cancellation, although all homeowners’ applications inquire about swimming pools, none that I am aware of inquire about backyard rinks, which tells me that as of now they don’t consider them a factor when determining your insurability. I have never seen a homeowners’ policy cancelled for one, so call your agent and make sure your coverage aligns with your needs without the fear of being cancelled.”
In other words, there’s nothing stopping you from hiding the rink from your insurance company. But wouldn’t you rather find out that you don’t have enough coverage for your rink (or that they won’t cover it at all) when you’re on the phone with them in June? Or when you’re staring at lawsuit paperwork in February and it’s too late? Some companies may frown upon things like rinks or trampolines (which insurance companies particularly despise), but again, weigh the risks of withholding information. Maybe they won’t cover your rink, and you’ll have to go through the hassle of having to switch to a company that will support you and your backyard recreation. But isn’t that preferable to rolling the dice with your rink-unaware insurer and hoping they’ll be there for you when the crap hits the fan?
In the end, you need to do what’s best for your family and finances. If only your immediate family skates on your rink, you might be fine. If you’re hosting weekly neighborhood skating parties, you may want to check on your liability coverage. We rinkbuilders often love to go it alone, from the DIY nature of our rinks to the solo flooding sessions under the moonlight. But when it comes to keeping your family and property safe, an umbrella policy is a no-brainer. And heck, it’s cheaper than my liner.
Full disclosure: my day job is in IT/Finance at a major insurance company, and I buy all my insurance products from them, but did not contact anyone at my company for this article.
Just an FYI that there are exclusions that would preclude coverage for backyard ice rink injuries/resulting property damage especially if the yard is not fully fenced to keep uninvited guests off of it. While a person’s policy might not be canceled and the limits are arguably adequate in the event of someone being injured on the rink, you still stand a pretty good chance the claim would be denied. Agents and underwriters really can’t tell you whether such a claim would be covered because it is a fact-specific determination made by a claims adjuster.