Treehouses & Trampolines: What’s Insured in Your Outdoor Space
Backyard fun may come at a cost, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid splurge purchases like trampolines and treehouses altogether. Ultimately, it’s a family decision, partly based on feedback from your pediatrician on risk vs. benefit, and partly based on whether your spirit for adventure outweighs your concern for a potential accident. It’s also a decision that could impact you financially, should your children or a guest get hurt on your property.
First, know that when you own a trampoline, it’s impossible for you to file a homeowner’s insurance claim for an injury if it’s an injury sustained by someone who lives in your household. This would become a medical insurance claim instead, and if medical insurance coverage is denied, you’ll be paying out of pocket. Anyone else who is injured on your property would be covered by your homeowner’s insurance–but only if your policy covers trampolines. It’s possible that your policy will only cover injuries if your trampoline has a safety net, is built over a sand pit or wood chips, isn’t being used while wet, isn’t being used by more than one child at a time, etc. You’ll need to know the details of your coverage before you and your children begin to bounce. In some cases, homeowners insurance explicitly denies coverage to any “loss, damage, cost, claim expense, bodily injury, property damage or medical payments” related to trampolines. This is why it’s important to consult your insurance company before any purchase of a trampoline. If it’s considered enough of a risk, your insurance company could cancel your coverage or refuse to renew, and you’ll need to decide if a change in insurance altogether is worth the trouble. Changing insurance companies would mean a new inspection on your home, so if you’ve got some lingering repairs or potential red-flags that would show up on an inspection, it may be more costly than you expect.
About 2,800 children per year are injured playing in a treehouse, and most of those injuries fractures, cuts, and bruises that happen when a child either falls or jumps willingly from the treehouse. Similar to trampolines, you’ll have to start with a health insurance claim if someone who lives in your home experiences a fall. If it’s a guest, you’re on the hook for liability. If you want to insure your treehouse in the same way you would insure a gazebo, for example, because it’s an added asset to your home, you’ll need to contact your insurance agent and ask for coverage as an “accessory structure” and be ready to report its full value (or replacement cost). Similarly to acquiring a trampoline, however, you need to speak to your insurance agent about your policy before adding a treehouse to your yard to find out whether the addition will raise your premiums and make sure your policy doesn’t prohibit it explicitly. If not prohibited, make sure your treehouse is named specifically on your policy in order for accidents to be covered. When preparing to communicate with your insurance agent, know that being able to communicate effectively that your treehouse will be built safely will help. For example, you should select a tree that doesn’t need to be pruned, that hasn’t dried out and become fragile. The lower to the ground your plan, the better. Anything over 10 feet in the air is likely to be considered too dangerous. You also may want to research how to use an artificial limb system under the treehouse for basic support. A fence around your yard to keep out uninvited children is also in your best interest.
In insurance speak, trampolines and treehouses are called an “attractive nuisance” because they are completely attractive to children and yet undesirable to many due to the risk of serious injury. Having either in your backyard is something that must never be hidden from an insurance company. In fact, it must be specifically disclosed, as omission of the information is just as problematic as an out-right lie. The reason is this: should you lose your home to a fire or sustain another type of damage that needs to be covered by your homeowner’s insurance, then your insurer realizes you were dishonest about an “attractive nuisance” in the backyard, the insurer has grounds for denying any claim. The insurer simply has to state that they would have denied you coverage completely had you disclosed your backyard purchase, which means any claim you are trying to file would have never been covered to begin with.