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Should You Carry Dog Bite Liability?

 

Most of us consider our dogs members of the family. They share our lives and our homes—but unfortunately, they may also leave us open to lawsuits. Even though it’s unlikely that your family pet will bite someone, it might be a good idea for you to make sure you have dog bite liability coverage, otherwise known as dog or animal liability.

 

In addition to dog bite claims, dog liability will also protect you if your dog knocks someone over, causes them to trip and fall, or damages their property. It will also protect you if your dog hurts another animal.

 

It used to be that your homeowners insurance policy covered you in the event that your dog injured someone. However, because of the rise in claims and litigation surrounding dog bites this is no longer a given. Florida ranks second behind California for the largest number of dog bite claims, and has the highest average cost per claim at $44,700. In fact, in 2017 dog bites and other dog-related injuries cost almost $700 million dollars and accounted for more than one third of all homeowners liability claim dollars paid out, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Some insurance companies exclude certain dog breeds, some exclude all animal liability, and others place limits on the amount they will cover. If you have a dog and are concerned about your liability, you should check with your homeowners insurance company or your L & M Insurance Group agent to make sure you have the coverage you need.

 

And it’s not only homeowners who should be aware of the necessity for this coverage. If you’re a renter, some landlords now require dog liability insurance before they will rent to you.

 

Please call your L & M Insurance Group agent at 813-672-4200 (or contact us by email) if you have any questions about whether or not your homeowners or renters insurance policy covers dog liability—or if you have any other questions about your insurance needs.

 

If You Need an FR-44, We Can Help

Florida FR-44 Insurance

If you’re in the difficult position of putting your life back together after a DUI conviction, we can help.

Since 2008, Florida has required that drivers who’ve been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs carry an FR-44.

 

What is an FR-44?

An FR-44 is a financial responsibility insurance certificate, similar to an SR-22. You’ll need to carry an FR-44 if you’ve been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Because of this, you’re considered a “high risk” driver and the state of Florida requires you to show financial responsibility by purchasing a car insurance policy with high limit bodily injury and property damage liability, in this case, limits of 100/300/50 ($100,000 bodily injury per person/$300,000 per accident, plus $50,000 property damage). In most cases, you must carry an FR-44 for three years.
As you can imagine, combining high limits with a driver considered high risk can make this type of coverage costly.

We can help

L & M Insurance Group is an independent agency and we have many quality insurance companies to choose from, including companies who can provide you with an auto insurance policy with the higher limits required for an FR-44 filing at a competitive rate. If you’re in Riverview or one of the surrounding communities such as Lithia, Gibsonton, or Wimauma, please give us a call at 813-672-4100, or contact us for a free, no-obligation quote. We’d love to help you make a difficult situation a little easier.

Buyer Beware—Could That Car Be Flood Damaged?

Watch out for used cars with floodwater damageIf you’re in the market for a used car, be aware that hundreds of thousands of flood-damaged vehicles were left behind by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. And many of these vehicles may have hit the used car market. These vehicles, often sold at auction, or on Craigslist or via private ad, should be avoided, even if they appear to run fine. Damage from floodwater can be unpredictable and your new-to-you car could prove extremely unreliable.

 

Flood Damaged Used Car Warning Signs

Don’t be sandbagged—watch for these signs of a flood-damaged vehicle:

 

  • Unusually low price compared with similar models. (Check out a vehicle’s fair market value at kbb.com.)
  • A damp, mildew-y smell, or conversely, a strong smell of cleaning products—used to cover up a musty smell
  • Water damage or marks on carpets, upholstery, seat belts, or ceiling fabric
  • Brand new carpets or other fabrics in an older model car
  • Visible water lines on the headlights or taillights
  • Sand or silt under floor mats or under the spare tire
  • Rust on the inside of the car where water would not normally reach
  • Mud or debris in hard-to-clean areas
  • Electrical components that don’t work, such as windows, blinkers, or the radio

 

Your best protection with any used car purchase is still to have a trusted mechanic thoroughly inspect the vehicle. In addition, if you have the vehicle’s VIN, use CARFAX’s free flood check tool, or check its flood history at the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINcheck. Flood history is usually a part of the information you receive in any complete vehicle history report you purchase as well.

 

Be sure to give L & M Insurance Group a call at 813-672-4100 (or contact us via email) whenever you buy a new or used car. We’ve been serving the insurance needs of Riverview, Brandon, Valrico, Dover, Gibsonton, Lithia, Apollo Beach, and surrounding areas for more than 10 years. As an independent agency, we specialize in providing quality insurance coverage at competitive prices.

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No Welcome Mat for Burglars—Try These Simple Home Security Tips

While you want your home to be welcoming to your family and friends, you also want it to be unattractive to burglars. A few simple home security measures can decrease the chance that your home will be broken into.

Burglars target homes that look like they’ll be easy to get in and out of quickly without being seen. If it takes a thief more than four or five minutes to break in, he’s likely to move on. In fact, “Time, sound, and visibility” are the three main factors you need to keep in mind when securing your home, according to safehome.org.

Time

Make it hard for a burglar to enter your home. Locks, doors, and windows are your first line of defense against intruders. To help keep a thief from kicking in a door, make sure all exterior doors are solid hardwood or metal, and that your locks are grade 1 or grade 2 deadbolts. Security experts also recommend installing a heavy-duty strike plate—the metal plate attached to the doorjamb that the bolt extends into—with three-inch screws that will penetrate to the doorframe stud.

If you have a sliding glass door, place a wooden dowel, stick, or safety bar in the interior track, or add a floor bolt.

Also be sure you close and lock every door and window when you leave home, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Sound

Burglars don’t want any attention drawn to their presence, so if you have a dog that barks when a stranger is around, you already have one method of deterring intruders. If you don’t have a dog, or the family pet is likely to welcome a burglar as a long-lost friend, you may want to invest in an alarm system. Be sure to display the alarm company’s sign and decals to notify thieves of the presence of an alarm.

(Before you invest in a home security system, call your L& M Insurance Group agent at 813-672-4100 about what features your system needs to qualify for a discount on your homeowners insurance.)

Visibility

Trim or remove plants or shrubs that offer a place for a criminal to hide. If you have a two-story home, make sure no tree limbs offer a way for a burglar to break into an upstairs window.

Make sure all entries to your home have good lighting, and consider installing motion-activated lights to illuminate the perimeter of your home.

Don’t leave easily stolen items like bikes or even that expensive grill out in the yard or driveway. And if you’ve recently bought a pricey new item, be discreet about how you dispose of the packaging. If a thief sees the box from a new big screen TV in your trash, he might decide to pay you a visit!

A few more tips

  • Keep your garage door closed unless you’re in the garage or nearby where you can keep an eye on it.
  • Don’t hide a spare house key outside your home. Leave one with a trusted neighbor, or invest in a combination lock box you can put in an out-of-the-way place.
  • If you park on the street or in your driveway, take all valuables inside with you, and lock the doors and roll up the windows. Don’t forget to take your garage door opener inside!
  • Get to know your neighbors. Even if you don’t participate in an official neighborhood watch program, you can still watch out for each other on an informal basis.
  • Walk around the outside of your home looking for possible modes of entry for a thief. Is that window always open a little bit? Does that door look like it could be easily forced? Think like a burglar—then take the home security measures to keep him out!

If you have any questions about your homeowners insurance, be sure to give us a call or contact us via email.

 

Need Auto Insurance and Have PIP Claims? L & M Insurance Group Has You Covered!

Multiple PIP claims can hurt your ability to get auto insurance. Florida Low rate auto insurance alternative for FAJUA quotes

Let’s say you’ve been hurt in an auto accident, and the other driver is at fault. Under current Florida requirements, all drivers must carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, and even though you weren’t at fault in the accident, in order to have your injuries covered, you make a claim on your PIP. (PIP pays for your injuries if you’re hurt in an accident, no matter who is at fault.) You make the claim and think no more about it.

 

But then later, you may find yourself in a predicament: your auto insurance company non-renews you, and other insurance companies don’t want to insure you. If you have more than one PIP claim, you may find it nearly impossible to get insurance.

 

Why PIP Claims can cost you

 

Unfortunately, PIP claims are associated with insurance fraud: “While PIP premium represents roughly two percent of Florida’s collected insurance premium, this issue accounts for nearly 50 percent of fraud referrals,” according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. Because of the high rate of fraud, many insurance companies now consider clients with PIP claims high risk—even if they were not at fault in an accident. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for clients with PIP claims on their records to buy car insurance.

Florida Auto Joint Underwriters Association (FAJUA) Low Rate Alternative

Until recently, clients with one or more PIP claims have been forced to rely on the Florida Auto Joint Underwriters Association (FAJUA). We’re happy to say that L & M Insurance Group now has an alternative to the high rates of the FAJUA. If you’ve had one or more PIP claims, please call us at 813-672-4100, or contact us via email for a free, no-obligation quote. We’ve been serving Riverview, Sun City Center, and surrounding communities in Florida for more than 10 years, and we’re here to help.

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Tips for First-time Home Buyers

Thinking of buying your first home? Buying a home is a big investment, so you want to make sure you understand the process and you’re ready to take the plunge. Doing your homework before starting to look for your dream home is one way to make sure you make a good decision rather than one entirely based on emotion.

 

Here are some tips to make your home-buying experience more enjoyable and less stressful:

  • Get pre-qualified for a loan before you begin house hunting—but carefully consider how much you actually want to spend for your mortgage each month. How do you know how much house you can afford? When figuring costs per month for your new home, remember you’ll be responsible for more than just a mortgage. Consider property taxes, homeowners insurance, homeowners association dues, maintenance, and possibly higher utilities.
  • Also take a hard look at your finances and consider your personal goals and the lifestyle you want to maintain. Do you want to travel? Have children? Pursue hobbies? Make sure you’ll still have the discretionary income to do those things after you buy your home.
  • Hire a buyer’s agent to protect your interests. Ask family and friends for recommendations to find a reputable agent. He or she should take the time to answer your questions, and help you understand the process of buying a home, as well as represent you in negotiations for your new home.
  • Don’t rush. Take time to research the real estate market in your desired area. Make a list of features you want and features that are deal-breakers. Be sure to communicate these to your agent so you don’t waste time looking at unsuitable properties.
  • Don’t spend all your savings on the down payment. There may be unexpected expenses once you close on your home, or you may want or need to make some changes or improvements to it. Also, now more than ever, you’ll need to keep funds on hand for emergencies.
  • Shop around for homeowners insurance. You can start with the company that carries your car insurance, but don’t stop there. They might not have the most competitive rate for you. Get several quotes, and be sure that each quote contains the same coverage types and limits. We recommend that you carry replacement cost coverage. (At L & M Insurance Group, we represent multiple homeowners companies, and we’d love the chance to give you a free, no-obligation quote on homeowners insurance.)
  • Be realistic in your expectations. Your new home doesn’t have to be perfect, but you should be aware of what repairs or cosmetic changes you’ll want to make. Be sure to have a home inspection so you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into.

Buying that first home can be one of the most exciting milestones in your life. Once you’ve found your dream home, be sure to protect your investment with the appropriate homeowners insurance coverage. We are independent agents with multiple homeowners insurance companies to choose from, as well as the expertise to find you the most cost effective policy while still insuring your home and its contents for the proper value.

Call us at 813-671-4200, or contact us for a homeowners insurance quote for your home in Hillsborough County or throughout Florida.

 

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Business Owner Policy (BOP) Basics

If you’re starting a small business, you have many decisions to make—including what sort of insurance coverage your new business needs to safeguard your assets and income. Don’t worry—at L & M Insurance Group, we’re here to help!

 

Let us introduce you to the insurance package with the catchy name “BOP”—which stands for Business Owner’s Policy. A BOP combines property and liability insurance into one policy, and can protect your business from the most common risks, such as fire, theft, lawsuits, or even the loss of income associated with an interruption to your business. It’s a convenient—and cost effective—way to protect your business.

 

You can also add additional coverages (see below) to customize insurance coverage for your particular needs. BOPs are great for any small to medium-sized business (100 employees or fewer) with a storefront and any business personal property.

 

Typically, a BOP includes:

Property insurance—protects the physical location of your business, whether you own or rent. Also provides coverage for your inventory, customer data, equipment, furnishings, and records and documents.

Liability insurance—provides coverage if you’re sued for an injury or property damage, even if you did nothing wrong. Also protects you from lawsuits if you injure someone’s reputation or infringe on someone’s copyright.

Business interruption insurance—provides coverage to replace lost income if you’re unable to do business due to a covered loss. It may also contain coverage for the expense of having to operate out of a temporary location.

 

Depending on your business, you may also need additional coverages not contained in a BOP—such as Worker’s Compensation, Professional Liability (Errors and Omissions), Data Breach, or Commercial Auto. (We can help you with those, too—just give us a call.)

 

Every business is different and has different needs. Let your L & M Insurance Group insurance specialist help you with your business insurance needs. We’ve been serving Riverview and surrounding communities for more than 10 years, and we’re here to help. Please call us at 813-672-4100, or contact us online.

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New to Florida? Here’s What You Need to Know About Auto Insurance

 

If you’ve just relocated to the Tampa Bay area, welcome! We’re glad to have you here. While you’re unpacking and checking out the beaches, remember that you’ll need to purchase auto insurance and tag your car in your new state—and Florida auto insurance can be a little confusing. Here are some things to be mindful of:

 

Minimum requirements

Florida is currently a no-fault state, though lawmakers are attempting to change this.

What this means for you: Your auto insurance policy will need to include Personal Injury Protection (PIP). If you’re injured in an accident, no matter whose fault it was, the first $10,000 of medical coverage will come from your own auto insurance policy.

In addition to PIP, to legally register your vehicle, you must also carry $10,000 Property Damage Liability (PD).

 

Do I need Bodily Injury Liability?

Even though you don’t have to carry Bodily Injury Liability (BI) to register your car, the Florida Financial Responsibility law “requires that any person at fault in a crash resulting in bodily injury and property damage to others must have in effect at the time of the crash full liability insurance coverage.” If you are at fault in an accident, BI will help to pay for the victims’ injuries, up to the policy limit. Florida’s minimum BI limit is $10,000 per person/$20,000 per accident.

What this means for you:   If you are at fault in an accident and you injure someone, you must be carrying at least $10,000 per person BI, in addition to PIP and PD coverage, at the time of the accident. If you don’t have Bodily Injury coverage, you’ll be forced to buy it, and you may have to carry an SR-22 (a certificate of financial responsibility) for three years.

Florida’s minimum limits are low, considering how much you could be liable for in an accident with serious injuries, or if more than one other vehicle is involved. When the liability limits are reached, you and your assets may be at risk if the injured party chooses to sue for the remainder of the damages. In general, the insurance industry recommends coverage of $100,000 per person/$300,000 per accident for BI, and at least $50,000 for Property Damage Liability.

 

What about Uninsured Motorist coverage?

Uninsured Motorist (UM) covers your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering after your $10,000 PIP coverage is used up. Even then, it only pays after the other driver has been declared at fault in the accident and it has been determined they are uninsured or underinsured. UM doesn’t pay to have your car fixed. The catch: you can’t buy UM unless you buy BI coverage, and only up to the same policy limits.

What this means for you: You may want to consider UM coverage since, unfortunately, many people in Florida are not adequately insured. (In fact, Florida has the highest percentage of uninsured motorists in the country—26.7 percent—according to the latest data available from the Insurance Research Council.)

 

Though some people look for the bare minimum of coverage they must carry to drive legally, that’s not usually a good idea. The purpose of auto insurance is to protect you, your assets, and your liability. At L & M Insurance Group, we represent more than 15 auto insurance companies, and we’ll be happy to help you look at your personal situation and find the best coverage at the best rate. Give us a call at 813-672-4100 or contact us. We’d love to help you—and welcome to the neighborhood!

 

For more information:

Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

 

Insuring Your Pricey Presents

isnuring pricey presents

When all the wrapping paper has been thrown away, and you bask in the glow of another happy holiday, the last thing you want to think about is whether or not your new gifts are covered by your insurance. We get it. But if Santa’s been extra good to you this year, you may want to put down that eggnog and check to see that you’d be covered if your new goodies were lost, stolen, or destroyed.

 

Even if you didn’t find a new car with a bow on top in your driveway on Christmas morning, you still might need to think about insuring your pricey presents. For instance:

 

Jewelry

Jewelry is covered under the contents portion of your homeowners or renters insurance policy, but only up to a certain limit (often $1,500). Items such as engagement rings, high-end watches, and tennis bracelets may go over your policy’s limits, leaving them unprotected. If so, you’ll need to raise your limits, or buy a special “rider” or “floater” policy to cover your new bling. Talk to your L & M Insurance Group agent about appropriate coverage, and what steps you’ll need to take to get it.

 

Stereo/flat-screen TV/computer

These items will likely be covered under the contents portion of your homeowners or renters policy, but you should review your policy to see if your limits are adequate for all your personal property, including your new gifts.

 

Artwork

If you receive a piece of fine art as a gift, you will likely need specialized fine art insurance. Most standard homeowners policies won’t provide enough coverage for high-value art.

 

Also remember to:

Make sure you keep receipts if you have them, and add your new property to your home inventory list.

 

Double check the type of coverage you carry, i.e., replacement cost or actual cash value.   “Replacement cost” covers the amount you would need to replace the item with a new, similar item, and actual cash value will cover the cost of replacing the item minus depreciation for that item. We almost always recommend replacement cost coverage.

 

Don’t assume your pricey presents are covered. Review your policy, or give your L & M Insurance Group agent a call at 813-672-4100 (or contact us) to be sure your holiday gifts are protected.

Five Simple Ways to Lower Your Auto Insurance Bill

5 simple ways to lower auto insurance rates

Money is always tight, especially during the holiday season. The last thing you want is to spend any more than you have to on your auto insurance. Aside from the obvious thing—maintaining a clean driving record—is there anything else you can do to lower your auto insurance bill without skimping on coverage?

Yes, there is! Here are five things you can do to make sure your auto insurance bill is the lowest it can be:

1. Keep your credit record spotless. Why does your insurance company care about your credit rating? Because according the Insurance Information Institute (III), research shows that people who effectively manage their credit have fewer claims—something insurance companies love!

If your credit rating could use some improvement, make it better by paying all your bills on time, and reducing the overall amount you owe. (Click here for more tips on improving your credit score.)

2. Choose your vehicle wisely. If you’re in the market for a new car—or even just one that’s new to you—check with your insurance agent before you sign on the dotted line. Some of our clients have been unpleasantly surprised at how much insurance for their new ride cost them. Auto insurance premiums are calculated by using a number of factors, including how safe a vehicle is, how much it costs to repair it, and how likely it is to be stolen.

3. Ask about discounts. Be sure to ask your L & M Insurance Group agent about all applicable discounts. In addition to discounts for safety features like anti-lock brakes and air bags, some companies offer discounts if you’ve taken a defensive driving course, if you drive a lower number of miles than average per year, or if your teen driver is a good student or has taken a driver’s education course. Every little bit helps.

4. Consider raising your deductibles. If you have a claim, your deductible is what you pay before your insurance policy does. Raising your deductibles can reduce the cost of your comprehensive and collision coverage, but you’ll want to be sure you have enough money saved to pay that higher deductible if you have a claim.

5. Shop around. This is where an independent agency like L & M Insurance Group really shines. We represent more than 15 auto insurance companies, our staff has served the insurance needs of the Brandon, Riverview, and Valrico area for more than 25 years, and we’re committed to finding the best deal for your situation. Give us a call at (813) 672-4100, or email us for a free, no obligation quote.