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Planning a risk-free Thanksgiving

By Jay MacDonald ·
Friday, November 22, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

Somewhere amid the pre-turkey shopping, the Norman Rockwell family dinner, and that festive hops-fest that often accompanies the TV gridiron clash between cross-state collegiate rivals, save a helping of Thanksgiving for the insurance coverage that watches your back when you're not watching.

What, you may wonder, could possibly go wrong on Thanksgiving, surely one of the most peaceful, non-fireworks holidays of the year? To use the term that describes many a holiday spread: plenty.

Be thankful -- and careful

"Big I," the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, chimes in at this time of year to remind us that wonderful Thanksgiving over-consumption can come with an expensive hangover. Unlike the first Thanksgiving back in 1621, when a group of pilgrims invited their New World neighbors over for a three-day bash, today's festivities carry financial risks if you serve dangerous fare from a deli or caterer or over-serve inebriated party animals.

"All hosts should be aware that if someone drives drunk or becomes sick after consuming food at a holiday party, the host could actually be liable," according to Big I president and CEO Robert Rusbuldt. "In fact, a casserole could bring just as many risks as a cocktail."

According to a Big I survey, three-fourths of U.S. homeowners, or 111 million Americans, opened themselves to lawsuits last year by serving food prepared by others. Kinda lends new meaning to Aunt Marge's "killer casserole," doesn't it?

On the beverage front, Big I reminds us that many states hold hosts liable for damage caused by a guest who was over-served and allowed to depart drunk from their party. The hosts could be stuck with bills ranging from medical and auto repairs to lost time from work -- and, worst case, may even face wrongful death litigation -- should one of their celebrants cause injury or property damage to others.

Keep liability off the table

Keep your Thanksgiving on the right track with these tips from Big I:

  • Review your state's laws and the liability section in your homeowners or renters insurance policy with your agent, to make sure you're covered for hosting calamities.
  • Don't serve guests who appear drunk, do close the bar at least one hour before the party ends, and provide safe transport home via cab or designated driver for guests who over-imbibe, or invite them to stay and sleep it off.
  • Inspect all food before serving, discard items that appear to be undercooked, spoiled or contaminated, and follow proper heating, cooling and storage recommendations.
  • Consider throwing your holiday bash at a licensed bar or restaurant, and let it assume the liability.

Beyond that, you know the rules: no more than two helpings of mashed potatoes and gravy, always help with the dishes and don't pick on your siblings.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus.

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