Social media could become legal nightmare!
A junior high school aged boy posts a picture of a female classmate in a provocative pose. 2 hours later, the photo has 450 “likes” and half again as many “comments”. The “friend requests” of the boy are rolling in like a tsunami. This kind of popularity has a cost: moral and legal. Let’s focus on the legal, but 1st some interesting facts:
- the average age a child is given a smart phone: 9 years old
- 69% of teenagers communicate with strangers online
- 52% of high school students have bullied online
- 52% of high schools students have been bullied by others online to
Social media has become so ingrained in our society but the insurance industry is still evaluating if and how to cover homeowners for the liability it creates. If you are the parent of that junior high school aged boy and called your homeowners insurance agent stating that you are being sued by the parents of the young lady, and asking if your homeowners insurance covers you, your agent would probably respond “that depends”. Not the answer you were hoping to hear. There are several facets to this potential claim. Most homeowners liability policies cover liability that results in physical injury or property damage because of your negligence. Defamation of character or emotional distress is not physical injury but injury (in a legal sense) still. Personal injury liability, an optional coverage on most homeowners insurance policies, provides coverage for libel, slander, defamation of character, and wrongful eviction. If you have personal injury liability on your homeowners policy, there is a possibility that this claim would be covered. However; homeowners insurance does not cover injury resulting from intentional acts of household members over a certain age. You can see how it would be against public policy if you struck your neighbor or lit his house on fire and your homeowners insurance covered you for that. The age of competency (when your insurance company will not pay for liability arising out of your intentional acts) varies by insurance company. So what is the parent of adolescent children to do?
Here’s the bottom line:
- Make sure your homeowners insurance has personally injury liability coverage. Call your agent/company to confirm this. Also, get an umbrella policy although those “intentional act exclusions” are usually tighter than the homeowners policy wording.
- Set rules with your children regarding use and content of social media. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
- Check for parental tools such as SocialScout, which helps parents monitor their children’s social networking.
As the insurance industry evolves to contemplate these new liability claims which social media can bring, we will keep you posted on that evolution and how it could benefit you.