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Civil Wars: Homeowners blamed

NBC's Anne Thompson reports on what every homeowner needs to know to prevent landing in court due to a frivolous lawsuit. Specifically, ways to lower the risk of liability around your house.
/ Source: NBC News

A beautiful tree-lined street - a sight repeated in nearly every town, city and hamlet across the country.  But, what danger lurks down those streets?  One New England homeowner found out -- the hard way.

When a motorcyclist crashed on the heavily traveled street in Tewksbury, Massachusetts where Dawn Cobb lives, she wasn't surprised, "This street has had a lot of accidents on it."   But she never dreamed that she'd end up being sued: "Why would I think I'd be responsible for an accident?" she added.

The reason?  The driver claimed the trees on her property obstructed his view.
Cobb added: "How could they possibly blame me for something that - you know - God planted some of these bushes?  These bushes have been here for years and years.  It isn't something that was just plucked out of the sky and dropped there.

Homeowners, even when they least expect it, are prime targets for lawsuits.  Carl Parks of the National Association of Independent Insurers said: "Given the litigious society that we live in, today it seems like everybody is looking for somebody to blame everything."

In fact, according to the Insurance Information Institute, total dollar claims against homeowner have jumped from $3.4 billion in 1997 to $4.8 billion in 2002

What can you do to prevent an unwelcome court appearance?  There is no clear cut solution but many experts advise giving your home a legal checkup. 

Among the things you can do:

  • Keep any pets leashed and contained
  • Fence off swimming pools and trampolines
  • Maintain driveways and sidewalks

And, consider an umbrella liability insurance policy to supplement your regular homeowners insurance.  You're typically going to get $500,000, a million, several million dollars in liability coverage for a relatively very low premium," Parks added.

After 2 long years of hassle and anxiety the case against Dawn Cobb was finally dismissed.  She hopes no other legal surprises will stir up trouble in her life.