Does my liability insurance cover me for injuries that happen on the sidewalk in front of my house?

Q:

I have a tree in my front yard with some branches that hang over the sidewalk. If one of the branches breaks off and hurts a pedestrian, will my liability insurance cover me even though it's not on my property?

A:

Personal liability insurance provides the insured with financial protection when they are found legally responsible for causing bodily injury or property damage to a third party. This type of insurance is usually baked into your standard homeowner's insurance policy, and this is where the confusion begins.

You might be asking yourself, "If it's a home insurance policy, won't it only cover things that happen in my home or on my premises? Like, if I spilled some water and it caused a guest to slip down the stairs?" That's true for the property coverage section of the policy, but the personal liability coverage is global. That means that even though it is part of your home insurance policy, it covers liability for damages that arise out of personal activities (i.e. not business-related) anywhere in the world (for business-related liability coverage, see 4 Essential Types of Liability Insurance Every Business Should Have).

Now, in the scenario outlined in the original question, you would be liable for a branch breaking off and hurting a pedestrian even though it occurred on the sidewalk. This is because the tree belongs to you and you are ultimately liable for any damages caused by it. This is doubly true if you were negligent in your duty to maintaining the tree and left it in a dangerous condition by failing to trim it or ignored a heavy branch with a dangerous crack in it.

Interestingly, the same duty applies to the condition of the sidewalk in front of your house as well. Many homeowners assume that the sidewalk is public property and, therefore, not their responsibility. But many states have pushed the legal responsibility for things like sidewalk snow and ice clearing to the homeowner whose property is adjacent to it. This means that if someone slips on an icy patch of sidewalk in front of your house, you can be found liable for that injury if you failed to follow the state's legal requirement, such as shoveling the snow within 24 hours of a storm.

If you are found responsible for an incident that takes place away from your property, your insurance will kick in and defend you, even if it's bundled up with your home insurance (to learn about the different parts of your policy, see Breaking Down Your Homeowner's Insurance Policy, from Coverage A to Coverage E).

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Written by Jacques Wong
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Jacques grew up around the insurance industry and began actively participating in 2013. Since then, he has gotten a Level 2 license, won an Insurance Council of BC award in 2015 for academic excellence in the insurance licensing courses and educates insurance professionals through PNC Learning.   Full Bio