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Ranting and raving: Insurance for bad word choices

personal injury insuranceIf you rant and rave when you're angry, your words can come back to haunt you.

And if your rant gets a wide audience — through YouTube videos, blogs or personal Web pages — the situation can turn ugly rather quickly. Online media is fertile ground for zinging a friend, grinding an ax or seeking revenge.

A MySpace page rant could accuse a friend of salacious or illegal behavior. Someone may blog about the horrible job a contractor did on their house. That embarrassing video of your friend at last week's party could turn up on YouTube, much to her dismay.

Then the lawsuits begin.

The Media Law Resource Center tracks cases brought against bloggers and others. Staff attorney Eric Robinson says that when lawsuits arise, it's usually because "there's much animosity between these parties, and it's been going on for years. Most of these cases are people who know each other, so there's always a back-story."

If you've ranted online, a standard home insurance policy won't help you for claims of libel, slander or defamation of character: If someone sues you for what you've said, that's a personal injury claim. Some HO-5 home insurance policies (for high-end homes) include coverage for personal injury. Otherwise, if you want your insurance company to rescue you, you'll need one of the following:

  1. A personal injury endorsement to your home insurance policy
  2. An umbrella policy that includes personal injury
  3. An excess liability policy that includes personal injury

But even with a personal injury endorsement or other coverage in hand, you can't act with impunity in online rants. A personal injury endorsement from the Insurance Services Office (ISO), which is used by many insurers, outlines specific exclusions for personal injury coverage:

  • You won't be covered for problems that are business-related. (But your employer's insurance might cover you, depending on the situation.) So if you're running a blog that's related to your profession, this may be excluded. Peter Moraga of the Insurance Information Network of California says you don't necessarily have to make money on the blog for it to be business-related, and the point where you cross from blogging hobby to profession is not defined.

  • You won't be covered if you've posted or published material that you knew was false. That's intentional and malicious, and not covered. Moraga compares it to burning down your own house intentionally: That's not covered either. But what if you spread hurtful gossip online without knowing for sure whether it's accurate? Now you've entered a gray zone.

  • You won't be covered for material you posted before the beginning of the policy period, or for claims that commence after the policy period. If you buy a one-year policy and someone sues you on the day after it expired, you're not covered.

  • You won't be covered for criminal acts.

Successful claims don't necessarily have to prove you caused economic loss, such as a job loss because of an alarming YouTube video you posted. Peter Moraga of the Insurance Information Network of California says, "When you're talking about 'defamation of character,' you're not talking about a bruised body part, you're talking about a bruised ego. If you say something about Joe Blow, who's nobody, how much damage is that going to do?" Joe Blow will decide when he serves you with legal papers.

personal injury insurance

Then there's an unknown but possibly giant exposure at home: The teen upstairs in her bedroom, logged on and busy typing. You likely have no idea what's going out when she clicks the Send button. Could it be cyber-bullying of another student? Or a vicious rumor about the biology teacher that, once viewed by 300 others, will cause him to lose his job . . . and seek compensation from you?

Insurance for personal injury due to online communication is not going to break the bank. For example, State Farm home insurance customers can buy a personal injury endorsement for about $10 a year for $100,000 in coverage, or about $24 a year for $1 million in coverage.

If you're a typical homeowner, you probably don't know if your policy covers personal injury. Read the policy carefully! says Moraga.

More from Amy Danise here

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