As I was walking to catch a train here in Chicago the other day, I saw numerous billboard advertisements throughout the station for Allstate insurance. Each advertisement posed an insurance question and told the reader to ask an Allstate insurance agent, thus suggesting the agent would know the answer.

I was amused to say the least. In my 30-plus years in representing policyholders in property insurance claims and lawsuits, rarely have I encountered an insurance agent who understands insurance coverage and, more importantly, is willing to advocate a coverage position for his or her policyholder. Unfortunately, most insurance agents are nothing more than what I like to call a “pizza order taker.” You ask for a cheese and sausage pizza, that is all you are going to get; no inquiry is made as to whether you want additional toppings or sides such as a salad.

Below are some of the questions on the Allstate billboards and how I would answer them based on my reading of Allstate Insurance Company’s Deluxe Plus Homeowners Policy (Form AP337). Ask your Allstate agent these same questions (or even an insurance agent for State Farm, Farmers, Country Mutual, American Family, etc.) and compare them to my answers, assuming the agent agrees to answer them.

  • I dropped my camera in Belmont Harbor. Am I covered? No. A camera is personal property, which is covered if it is owned or used by an insured person anywhere in the world. The form covers a sudden and accidental direct physical loss to personal property caused by specific perils. But, none of the 16 named perils in the form involve loss caused by dropping a camera in a lake. Even if there was coverage for this peril, recovery would be limited to $200 if the camera was used or intended for use in a business. An agent who truly understands personal property coverage would advise a policyholder to schedule valuable personal property like a camera, wedding ring, and antiques or collectibles, as scheduled personal property provides broader protection than unscheduled personal property.
  • I left my curling iron on. Am I covered? Assuming the question means am I covered if there is an ensuing fire to my home, the answer is yes, unless Allstate believes leaving the curling iron on was an intentional act designed to cause a loss. That an insured is negligent in leaving a curling iron on does not preclude coverage if an insured dwelling burns down as a result.
  • My toilet overflowed. Am I covered? Yes. The form covers a sudden and accidental direct physical loss to the insured dwelling unless limited or excluded. There is no exclusion for a toilet overflow caused by a clog in the toilet trap or drain pipe, which typically happens when too much toilet paper is used. Additionally, the form covers a sudden and accidental direct physical loss to personal property caused by water that escapes from a plumbing system, which would include water overflowing from a plumbing fixture like a toilet.
  •  Frozen pipes burst while I was away for the weekend. Am I covered? Yes. The form excludes discharge of water from a plumbing system caused by freezing while the insured dwelling is vacant or unoccupied unless reasonable care is used to maintain heat in the dwelling. At first blush, the exclusion would appear to apply, as the dwelling was unoccupied over the weekend. But, courts have concluded that a temporary absence from it with an intent to return does not render a dwelling unoccupied. As far as the exception to the exclusion, what constitutes reasonable care to maintain heat depends on the facts and circumstances, though setting the thermostat at 55 degrees or above is usually enough to satisfy the exception.
  • A raccoon is in my attic? Am I covered? It depends on the nature of the damage. The form excludes loss to an insured dwelling consisting of or caused by “rodents.” A raccoon is neither a rodent nor vermin. Thus, raccoon damage to the dwelling structure is covered. However, none of the 16 named perils in the form involve loss to personal property caused by a raccoon. Thus, if a raccoon gnaws through a wedding dress stored in the attic, there is no coverage for the dress. That Allstate covers raccoon damage to the insured dwelling is evident from its “Mayhem” commercial which can be accessed on YouTube, which shows the character named Mayhem playing a raccoon damaging the roof and attic of a home.