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AOB Abuse and Fraud Help to Drive the High Cost of Insurance

If you’ve purchased or renewed homeowners insurance lately, you know that premiums are skyrocketing. While there are several factors driving Florida’s insurance crisis, our high insurance prices are, in part, due to fraud and assignment of benefits abuse.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s happening.

What is Assignment of Benefits (AOB)?

Assignment of benefits (AOB) is a legal agreement between a policyholder and a third party in which the policyholder gives (“assigns”) some of his or her rights and benefits under the policy to that third party. Under certain circumstances, this works well, such as when preapproved health care service providers bill your health insurance company directly for covered benefits. However, in the world of homeowners (and auto insurance), AOB abuse has become rampant, adding more strain to an already stressed insurance market. Most AOB abuse claims stem from homeowners insurance (primarily related to roofing scams or water losses), PIP claims, and damaged windshields. This article will address AOB abuse related to homeowners insurance claims.

What does AOB abuse entail?

In Florida, two things are at play. First, unscrupulous companies are submitting inflated or fraudulent homeowners insurance claims. One common scenario involves roofing companies canvassing a neighborhood after a storm, offering “free roof replacement” after they look for damage that may or may not exist or be caused by that storm. In this and other situations, fraudulent contractors also may do unnecessary repairs, overcharge for repairs, or in some cases, charge for repairs they don’t make.

Second, when an insurance company balks at paying an inflated claim, the fraudulent contractors are hiring attorneys to file excessive lawsuits alleging breach of contract or bad faith. In some cases, lawsuits have been filed even before the insurance company has been notified of the claim!

As we noted in a previous article, “Florida has, by far, the largest number of lawsuits related to homeowners insurance claims. For instance, in 2019, only 8.15 percent of all homeowners claims in the U.S. were filed in Florida, but more than 76 percent of property claim lawsuits were filed here. And what’s worse: only eight percent of the fifteen billion dollars that property insurance companies paid out in claims costs between 2013 and 2020 went to consumers. Seventy-one percent went to attorneys!”

Of course, not every claim is inflated, nor is every lawsuit unwarranted. But Florida currently has an environment of abuse.

AOB abuse “acts like a tax”

Put plainly, even if you’ve never had an insurance claim, AOB abuse and fraud are costing you money. Insurance companies have no choice but to pass legal costs to defend AOB lawsuits as well as the costs of inflated claims to all insurance consumers. According to the Insurance Information Institute (iii.org), “…had legal costs tracked nationwide averages, the cumulative total savings for Florida homeowners insurers (and their policyholders) would have been nearly $1.6 billion.” This statistic only refers to legal costs themselves, not the amount of money paid out in inflated claims settlements. “AOB abuse acts like a tax on Florida consumers,” according to iii.org.

If you have a claim

If you have a homeowners insurance claim, contact your insurance company as soon as you can. Most have 24/7 claims service, either by phone or online. Insurance company representatives will be happy to walk you through the claims process. Don’t allow a contractor or water remediation company to contact your insurance company for you. You don’t need to sign an AOB to have your claim paid.

(For more information, see “Demolish Contractor Fraud.”)

L & M Insurance Group—your source for insurance

We hope this has helped you understand one of the major factors driving the skyrocketing costs of insurance in Florida. Please remember that reputable insurance companies, like the ones L & M Insurance Group represents, will be there for you if you have a claim. If you need a quote for personal auto, homeowners, renters, or business insurance, we partner with multiple insurance companies, and our agents are experts at finding the right match for your individual situation. Please call 813-672-4100 or click here to contact us online.

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Three Things You Should Know About Water Damage

When you think of Florida, you probably also think of water. We’re lucky to have gorgeous rivers, lakes, and the ocean practically right on our doorstep. Unfortunately, we also have the ever-present threat of water damage—whether from leaks, flooding, or sewer backup.

Florida residents file thousands of water damage claims every year. Water damage claims are second only to wind and hail claims in frequency. The high cost of water damage claims is one of the factors contributing to higher insurance premiums for everyone, and because of this, most homeowners insurance companies now put restrictions and limits on water damage coverage.

Here are three things you should know about water damage.

Water damage is expensive

The average home insurance claim for water damage is $11,098, and nationwide household water damage claims cost up to $20 billion each year. One inch of water can cause more than $25,000 worth of damage.

Water damage isn’t always covered by homeowners insurance

Water damage causes include burst pipes, leaks (either plumbing or roof), appliance failures, sewer backup, and flooding. Homeowners policies generally cover the “sudden and accidental discharge of water,” such as from a burst pipe, accidental overflow of an appliance or fixture, or water damage done in the course of putting out a fire. They won’t cover water damage caused by maintenance issues or failure to make repairs. Frequently, there is no coverage for water damage if mold is present or it is clear that the damage has been in existence for 14 days or more without being fixed. The key is that the problem must be sudden and accidental, not an ongoing maintenance/repair issue.

Sewer backup isn’t covered by most Florida homeowners policies, but you can add coverage via endorsement for a nominal amount of money.

What about water damage from flooding? Flood damage is not covered under a Florida homeowners insurance policy, regardless of the cause of the flooding. If you need flood coverage, you can buy a separate flood insurance policy.

When shopping for homeowners insurance, be sure to read your potential policy carefully, and ask your agent to explain any water damage exclusions or restrictions if you have questions.

You can help prevent water damage

There are some home maintenance tasks you should do to minimize significant water damage to your home, including:

  • Inspect your roof for missing or damaged shingles and make repairs if necessary.
  • Caulk and seal windows.
  • Inspect and maintain your plumbing system.
  • Know the location of the main water shut-off valve to your home. Being able to shut off the water quickly can minimize damage if a pipe or hose bursts.
  • Replace your traditional water heater every 10 years.
  • Shut off the water supply to your washing machine when you go out of town.
  • Don’t leave the house when the dishwasher or washing machine are running.
  • Check that gutters and downspouts are clear, and that water drains away from your foundation.
  • Install a humidity sensor in areas where a leak might occur, such as near a washing machine or dishwasher.
  • Install a wireless water valve—these monitor water flow and usage and can potentially alert you to a leak.

Let L & M Insurance Group help

If you’re in the market for a new homeowners insurance policy, you want to know that you have the appropriate coverage for your needs, including water damage coverage. We know sorting through insurance information can be confusing. That’s where we can help. Please consider independent insurance agency L & M Insurance Group for all your insurance needs, including homeowners insurance. We have many years of experience serving the communities of Tampa Bay, Riverview, Brandon, Valrico, and surrounding areas. Give us a call at 813-672-4100, or click here to contact us online.

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Florida Home and Auto Premiums Are Skyrocketing—Is There Anything You Can Do?

Almost every day we receive calls or emails from upset clients whose insurance premiums are going up, even when they’ve never made a claim. Some policies are going up by hundreds of dollars per year—what is happening?

The Florida insurance market is in crisis, particularly the homeowners and auto insurance sectors. A perfect storm of factors is contributing to today’s skyrocketing premiums and a market in which it’s getting harder to find insurance at all. In addition to rate increases, insurance companies are pulling out of Florida and tightening their underwriting guidelines. Florida consumers are facing insurance premium sticker shock and are finding it harder and harder to get the insurance coverage they need at a price they can afford.

Why insurance premiums are skyrocketing

As a locally-owned, independent insurance agency, L & M Insurance Group is committed to helping you find insurance that fits your needs and that you can afford. We also want to help you understand the factors contributing to this crisis. Here are the main reasons Florida insurance is seeing such steep increases:

Catastrophic losses. In 2020, Florida insurers lost nearly $1.6 billion dollars, and are reporting even greater losses in 2021. These losses mainly stem from litigation and reinsurance costs (see below), as well as continued payouts for hurricanes Irma and Michael.

Reinsurance costs. It might seem odd that wildfires in California or Australia would affect the price of insurance in Florida, but they can. That’s because disasters all over the world affect the cost of reinsurance for everyone. Reinsurance is “insurance for insurers”—a way for insurance companies to limit the extent of their own losses in case of disaster. The cost of reinsurance has been rising, and experts expect it to continue going up.

Skyrocketing construction and repair expenses. With the price of everything from car parts to lumber going up, it costs more than it did in past years to repair your vehicle or rebuild your house in case of a loss.

In addition, the value of vehicles and homes is also going up, which means in order for you to receive replacement cost in case of a loss, your insurance company will have to pay out more. It follows that if a covered item is worth more, then the cost of insuring it will be more.

Labor shortages are also affecting the price of construction, home, and auto repair. (Read more about how supply chain issues and labor shortages are affecting car insurance premiums.)

Lawsuits and fraud. For years, bad actors have exploited both policyholders and property insurers. Homeowners have been talked into filing claims and lawsuits by third parties like attorneys, contractors, or water remediation firms. Often times, homeowners don’t understand the claims process, or are relieved to have someone else take over. Unfortunately, every insurance consumer in Florida is paying the price for inflated or fraudulent claims and lawsuits.

Florida has, by far, the largest number of lawsuits related to homeowners insurance claims. For instance, in 2019, only 8.15 percent of all homeowners claims in the U.S. were filed in Florida, but more than 76 percent of property claim lawsuits were filed here. And what’s worse: only eight percent of the fifteen billion dollars that property insurance companies paid out in claims costs between 2013 and 2020 went to consumers. Seventy-one percent went to attorneys!

What can you do?

Much of what is happening in the insurance industry is out of individuals’ control, but here are three things you can do:

Review your insurance needs with an L & M Insurance Group agent. We can help you make sure you have the appropriate coverage for your situation, and that you’re taking advantage of all discounts available to you. We can also discuss whether or not an option such as switching to a higher deductible to lower your insurance premium is right for you.

If you have a claim, be sure to contact your insurance agent and/or your insurance company yourself. Do not sign anything without talking to your insurance agent or directly to your insurance company.

Contact your elected officials and tell them that continued insurance reform is still needed. Though recent legislation has helped to reduce assignment of benefits lawsuits, other types of lawsuits are still going up, at a cost to all of us.

We at L & M Insurance Group understand your worries and frustrations about the cost of home and auto insurance. We promise we will do the best we can under these difficult circumstances to provide you with the best coverage at the most cost-effective price. Please call us at 813-672-4100 if you need to discuss your insurance options. If you prefer, you may also contact us online.

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Simple Ways to Avoid Holiday Hazards

The holidays are almost here! You’re probably looking forward to spending time with family and friends, enjoying delicious meals, and giving and receiving gifts. Maybe you’re even going to travel to spend a holiday with far off loved ones.

As you prepare to travel or host festivities for family or friends, L & M Insurance Group would like to remind you to take a few simple precautions so you can have a safe and crime-free holiday season.

Safe at home

Hosting meals and decorating the house for holiday cheer doesn’t seem risky, but it is! Falls and fires are two of the most common holiday hazards to watch out for. In fact, home fires are the most frequent disaster in the US, according to the American Red Cross, and many of them take place during the holiday season. Cooking fires peak on Thanksgiving Day, with Christmas Day not far behind. Stay in the kitchen when something is cooking, and be sure no decorations are near the stove where they could catch fire.

Christmas trees, candles, and holiday lights can be the cause of a fire, so take precautions. Keep real trees well watered, and all decorations at least three feet from heat sources. And don’t forget fireplace safety. Make sure the flue is open before lighting a fire, and keep all decorations and Christmas stockings well away from it. Also, don’t burn wrapping paper—it can flare up dangerously. Store matches and lighters up high in a locked cupboard to keep them out of children’s hands.

Click here for holiday decoration safety tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Click here for more holiday fire safety tips.

In addition to fires, injuries from falls are another holiday hazard to watch out for. If you need to climb a ladder to hang lights or other decorations, make sure you position it properly and keep three points of contact on it at all times (two feet and one hand, for example). Also keep doorways and walkways clear of extension cords, decorations, bags, toys, and gifts—anything that could cause someone to trip and fall.

Don’t be a crime victim

Criminals often take advantage of the extra shopping (both in person and online) and packages being delivered. Reduce the chances of being victimized with these tips from the Florida Sheriff’s Association:

  • Carry your purse close to your body or your wallet inside a coat or front trouser pocket.
  • Park in a well-lighted area and be sure to lock your car doors.
  • Have your keys in hand when approaching your vehicle.
  • Check the back seat and around the car before getting in.
  • Avoid carrying cash if at all possible. Use credit cards instead.
  • Double check that you have your credit cards and wallet after you pay for your items.
  • Save all receipts. Print and save all confirmations from your online purchases.
  • If you are shopping with your children, talk to them ahead of time about what to do if they get lost in the crowd.
  • When shopping online use secure websites for purchases. Look for the icon of a locked padlock at the bottom of the screen or “https” in the URL address.
  • Beware of online “bargains” from companies with whom you are unfamiliar—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

At home, don’t advertise your gifts by leaving them in plain sight, or by putting the boxes they came in out for garbage collection. Break down the boxes and put them in your recycling bin or inside a trash bag.

Leaving home?

Don’t let your home become a target of thieves. Package thefts and home break-ins spike between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. If you plan to travel this holiday season, don’t announce your plans on social media. Make your home look “lived in” while you’re gone. Set some lights on a timer (including outdoor lights), and perhaps ask a neighbor to park a car in your driveway. Have mail and newspapers held, or ask friend or neighbor to pick them up for you. Make sure all doors and windows are locked, and trim back any landscaping around your home so thieves have nowhere to hide. Leave a key and a contact number with a friend or neighbor, but don’t hide one outside. Thieves are familiar with all the best hiding spots.

Protect your valuables

Taking precautions to avoid holiday hazards such as fires, falls, and crime can help you have a much happier and safer holiday season. Another way to protect your valuables is to carry insurance tailor-made for your situation. If you need an auto policy, homeowners insurance, or umbrella policy to cover some of those new Christmas gifts, please consider giving L & M Insurance Group a call. We represent dozens of financially stable insurance companies for all your personal and business insurance needs. Please call 813-672-4100, or click here to contact us online—and have a very happy (and safe) holiday season!

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Fall Maintenance for Your Florida Home

Florida homeowners may not have to prepare for cold weather the same way our northern neighbors do—but fall is still a great time to perform some important home maintenance tasks. Keeping your home in good shape will save you money by preventing expensive home repairs later, and is more likely to help your home withstand Florida’s extreme weather.

Fall is the perfect time to address some of these tasks—since hurricane season is over and the temperatures and humidity have eased. Some of the following maintenance tasks you can do yourself. For others, look for a reputable professional company to do the inspections or repairs. And remember, homeowners insurance is for unexpected damage to your home, not routine maintenance.

As any homeowner knows, there are many necessary home maintenance tasks, but for now, we’ll concentrate on ones that relate to two of your home’s biggest enemies: fire and water.

Fire prevention                                                                                                                

Did you know that during the approaching holiday season, the risk of a home fire rises? Be prepared by making sure your fire extinguisher is full and properly pressurized, and that you know how to use it. You should also test your smoke detectors and replace batteries as necessary.

Even in Florida, it’s nice to sit around a cozy fireplace. Before you light that first fire, ensure your fireplace flue and gas line are in good condition. You may need a professional to inspect your chimney, and to clean it and remove any blockages. A blocked chimney can send toxic gasses and smoke into your home, or even start a fire.

Gutters and downspouts

Gutters and downspouts serve an important purpose by channeling water away from your home’s foundation. Blocked or damaged gutters allow water to drip and pool around your home, possibly causing flooding or roof leaks, or damaging your foundation. Clear out leaves or other debris or blockages in your gutters, and repair any damage to gutters and downspouts. And check that water drains away from the house, not toward it.

Roof

Your roof is your home’s first line of defense against rain and wind. Though we had a relatively mild storm season, fall is a great time to check your roof for any damage. Look for popped nails, broken, or damaged shingles, and check flashing around skylights, pipes, and chimneys. Keeping your roof in good repair keeps water from entering your home, damaging the structure or causing mold growth. Tip: Try using a pair of binoculars to examine your roof—no ladder climbing necessary.

Windows and door seals

Another area to inspect and fix to keep moisture out: the seals around windows and doors. A well-sealed home also helps to keep cool or warm air in and rodents, and insects out. Re-caulk or re-weatherstrip any holes or gaps you find near windows, doors, or baseboards.

The role of homeowners insurance

Homeowners insurance is another important way to protect your home. The right policy will help you rebuild your home and replace your belongings should they be damaged or destroyed by a covered peril. That’s where L & M Insurance Group can help! We represent multiple homeowners insurance companies, and our agents will be happy to help you find the coverage that’s best for you. Please give us a call at 813-672-4100 (or click here to request a quote online). As a local, independently-owned insurance agency (based in the Brandon/Riverview area), we’re experts in the complicated Florida homeowners insurance market.

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Yes, We Can Insure Your E-bike!

The popularity of electric bicycles, or e-bikes, has soared over the past couple of years—sales were up 145 percent between 2019 and 2020, according to market research firm NPD Group. If you’re one of the many people zipping around for fun, or even commuting to work with a little help from an e-bike, you might wonder if you need insurance for your new toy.

Do I really need insurance for my e-bike?

While Florida doesn’t require insurance for e-bikes as long as they’re not capable of going more than 28 miles per hour, it’s not a bad idea to carry it. Here’s why:

The main reason is that while your homeowners or renters insurance policy may provide some coverage for an electric bike under personal property (be sure to check with your insurance company for details), that coverage will likely be limited and subject to your deductible. In addition, you’ll need to make sure you have adequate coverage for your injuries if you’re hurt while riding, and for protection for your liability if you injure someone or damage property while riding your e-bike.

Since e-bikes are heavier and more complex machines, and they travel faster than a pedal-only bike, the potential for injury (to rider or pedestrian) and property damage is greater. And since e-bikes are more expensive than standard bikes, if yours is stolen or damaged, you may find it a financial hardship to replace it. Quality e-bikes often cost thousands of dollars.

What does e-bike insurance cover?

The good news is that a standalone e-bike policy is usually inexpensive—policies start at around $100 a year. Cost depends on the coverage you choose, the value of your e-bike, and your deductible.

Basic bike policy coverages include:

  • Physical damage to your bike if you hit something—another vehicle, a curb, a tree, and so on.
  • Liability if you’re at fault and you injure someone or damage property.
  • Theft and vandalism—coverage to repair or replace your bike if it’s stolen or vandalized.
  • Uninsured motorist—coverage that pays for your injuries if you’re hit by an uninsured driver (and unfortunately, we have many of those in Florida).

Whether you use your e-bike to commute or just for recreation, protect your investment and your personal liability with a standalone electric bicycle insurance policy. Give L & M Financial Group a call at 813-672-4100, or contact us online for a quote. Happy riding!

We can insure your e-bike!

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Protect Your Vacant Investment Properties

Property investors who own rental properties, or who buy, renovate and resell homes, may occasionally find they have vacant properties on their hands. If your property is vacant, it could be a magnet for trouble, attracting thieves, vandals, squatters, even neighborhood kids looking for a place to hang out. Here are seven steps to take to protect your vacant investment properties:

1. Secure the property

Make it hard to get in by ensuring doors and windows have sturdy locks, and keep them locked! If a tenant has recently moved out, have the locks changed or re-keyed. You may also consider reinforcing exterior doors with metal doorjamb or hinge shields in case someone tries to kick down the door.

2. Monitor and maintain the exterior

Check on your vacant property frequently to make sure it’s secure. Keep landscaping tidy by pruning shrubs and keeping lawns mowed. Make sure plants and trees don’t provide hiding spots or cover for thieves or vandals. Remove any mail or newspapers that arrive—nothing says no one is home more quickly than a stack of newspapers in a driveway or an overflowing mailbox.

To guard against fire, remove any flammable debris around the structure, including construction materials, dead vegetation, paper, cardboard, and so on.

3. Light the property at night

To deter thieves and vandals, make sure your property has working exterior lighting, either on a motion sensor or a timer. In addition, have a few lights on timers inside the property to help it make it look like someone is there. These simple measures can make a casual thief or vandal think the property is occupied.

4. Set up an alarm system

In some cases, you may want to set up security cameras or an alarm system to protect your investment property. Even if you don’t have an alarm system, simply placing a sign or sticker saying you do may help to deter thieves.

5. Make friends with the neighbors

If possible, become friendly with the neighbors near your property. They can act as an extra set of eyes and ears when you’re not around. Give them contact information, yours or your property manager’s, to call regarding any suspicious activity.

6. Advertise wisely

While you want potential buyers or renters to know your property is available, you should be careful about how you share information. Don’t share too much with people calling or inquiring online. Some professional thieves locate vacant properties to hit this way. You’ll probably want to leave a For Sale sign up, but you might consider whether leaving a For Rent sign at your vacant property may attract unwanted attention.

7. Carry insurance

Vacant properties and properties being renovated still need insurance coverage, to protect the structures themselves, and your liability as a property owner. You may need a builder’s risk policy that provides coverage for damage to the insured structure and liability coverage during renovation. Or perhaps you need a vacant dwelling policy, which covers properties that do not meet the requirements for a builder’s risk policy, properties that are between tenants, or those waiting for a buyer. If you have any questions about what type of insurance you need…

We can help!

The agents at L & M Insurance Group have years of experience working with property investors, and we’re familiar with the insurance requirements of properties purchased in the name of an entity such as a land trust, LLC, or corporation. We are proud to partner with companies that also understand your needs—like REInsurePro, an insurance program specifically designed with real estate investors in mind.

Please allow us to help you with all your insurance needs including protecting your vacant property. You may reach us by phone (813-672-4100) or contact us online by clicking here. For more than 30 years, L & M Insurance Group has been serving the personal and commercial insurance needs of Riverview, Brandon, Tampa, Apollo Beach, Gibsonton and surrounding communities.

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L & M Insurance Group Combines Personalized Service with Insurance Companies You Can Trust

Independent insurance agencies like L & M Insurance Group, offer many advantages to insurance consumers. One of the main ones is that we are independent—we represent many different insurance carriers, and therefore are able to offer our clients a choice of tailor-made policies. Part of our commitment to you is that we’re always trying to find new and better markets for our clients.

Many clients turn to an independent insurance agency to save money. But just because you go the independent route doesn’t mean you’ll have to scrimp on service or sign up with an insurance company you’ve never heard of. While it’s true that we do represent some smaller, lesser-known companies, here are a few of our partner companies that you might not realize we work with:

Did you know?

We now represent Allstate, a company that historically has only sold policies through their own captive agents. Allstate may or may not be a good fit for you, but they are well known for their leadership and expertise in personal lines, claims and customer service, as well as their financial stability.

We also represent Nationwide Insurance. The Ohio-based insurance carrier provides a range of insurance and financial services, including auto, home insurance, and commercial policies.

Travelers has been around for more than 165 years and is a top-10 writer of personal insurance in the U.S. In addition to personal lines, they also write landlord policies and commercial policies for many types of businesses.

Mercury Insurance has been named one of “America’s Most Trustworthy Companies” by Forbes Magazine several times. They offer auto, home, condo, renters, and business insurance. We’ve found that Mercury is a good fit for families with young drivers.

The Hartford offers a full line of personal and commercial policies. They also have special programs for drivers over 50, and The Hartford is the only direct auto and home insurance program endorsed by the AARP for their members. 

In addition to the companies listed above, we also represent Progressive, Safeco, GMAC, and many other financially stable insurance carriers. Whether you need insurance for your home, car, motorcycle, boat/personal watercraft, or you need commercial insurance for your business, we can get you covered.

Personalized service

So if you want to combine the personalized service of an independent agency with the benefits of a big-name insurance company, look no further than L & M Insurance Group. We will be happy to compare insurance rates of both well-known insurance companies (like Allstate) with our lesser-known carriers, and explain the benefits and drawbacks of your options. Give us the chance to serve you—please call us at 813-672-4100 if you’d like a quote, or get things started online by clicking below for an auto or homeowners insurance quote.

Home insurance

Auto insurance

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Don’t Let Your Holiday Go Up in Flames!

The holiday season is upon us—finally something to celebrate in this challenging year! Most of us are decorating the house, wrapping or mailing gifts for loved ones, and planning (cautious) holiday meals. Unfortunately, the holiday season is also a season of accidents, fires, and other mishaps. Just because you’re celebrating, don’t neglect safety precautions. No one wants to have to file a homeowners insurance claim in the middle of their holiday celebrations.

Holiday Fire Prevention Tips

One of the major and most devastating holiday risks is a house fire. Here are some holiday fire safety reminders from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the American Red Cross:

Christmas trees

  • If you have a live tree, make sure you keep it watered. A dried out Christmas tree can catch fire and burn in an instant (click here to see a video).
  • Even if your tree is artificial, be sure to turn off the lights on your tree before going to bed or leaving the house.

Electrical

  • Make sure holiday light strings are in good condition, with no loose or damaged wires or connections that could shock you or start a fire.
  • Don’t overload electrical outlets or connect more than three strings of incandescent lights together—use a power strip if you need more than three strings of lights.
  • Don’t pinch cords or force them into small spaces, put them under rugs, or use staples or nails to position them. Keep all cords away from heat sources.
  • Make sure you hang light strings where they’re intended—some are only for use indoors or outdoors, not both.

Fires and candles

Flickering candles and firelight are certainly beautiful and festive, but they can also lead to home fires.

  • Make sure all open flames are at least three feet away from anything that could catch fire—two out of every five decoration fires happen because decorations are too close to an open flame.
  • Don’t leave candles or fires burning when you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Make sure children and pets are not left unattended in a room where there is a fire or burning candles.
  • If you’re celebrating with a menorah or kinara that uses candles, make sure to keep all flammable items at least three feet away, and place it on a non-flammable surface, like a tray covered in aluminum foil.
  • Consider using battery-operated candles, since candles cause more than a third of home decoration fires.
  • If you have a fire in the fireplace, use a fire screen to keep sparks from flying out and starting a fire. Keep clothes, wrapping paper, and decorations at least three feet away.
  • Keep matches and lighters up high and locked away to keep little ones safe.

Cooking

Historically, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have been two of the three leading days for home fires caused by cooking (Thanksgiving is number one).

  • Stay in the kitchen when you’re cooking on the stovetop.
  • Turn pot handles toward the back to help keep kids from grabbing them.
  • Make sure all flammable items are kept well away from the stove.

One more thing…

Remember to make sure your smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are in good working order. And if you have one, review your emergency fire escape plan with your family.

No matter how you celebrate this year, we hope you have a very happy and safe holiday season. And remember that if you’re in need of insurance, L & M Insurance Group is here for you. Give us a call at 813-672-4100 or contact us online. Happy holidays!

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Hurricane Preparation in the Age of COVID-19

The 2020 hurricane season started June 1, and we’ve already seen Tropical Storm Cristobal impact Louisiana and beyond. Even though many of us are already feeling stressed and anxious about the COVID-19 coronavirus, this is not the year to be blasé about preparing for a hurricane. This year more than ever before, it’s crucial to be as prepared as possible. Here are some suggestions for preparing for a hurricane in the age of COVID-19.

Emergency supplies

If you haven’t already done so, check your emergency supplies and use up or donate any items that will expire in the next few months. Take an inventory to be sure you have enough food, water, medicine, and other essential supplies (like toilet paper!) to keep your household going for at least three to seven days—and possibly more. (Click here for a list of items to have on hand.)

Allow more time than usual to collect your emergency supplies of food, water, and medicines. We are just now beginning to see grocery shelves refilling as we cautiously begin to go about our business in a more normal fashion. With social distancing measures in place, and some businesses closed or working reduced hours or at reduced capacity, we should not take for granted our ability to find what we need to shelter in place if a storm comes through the Tampa Bay area. At the same time, only buy what your family needs, so that others who are preparing will also be able to find what they need.

While you’re collecting your emergency supplies, minimize your possible exposure to the coronavirus by opting for at-home delivery or curbside pickup whenever possible. If you need or prefer to do your shopping in person, be sure to follow social distancing and other precautions recommended by the CDC. When collecting medications or prescriptions, limit in-person contacts in pharmacies by calling in your prescriptions, using the drive thru, or signing up for at-home delivery.

Collect copies of essential paperwork, such as medical records, insurance policy information, and personal identification. Keep them in a waterproof container, and remember to take them with you if you need to evacuate.

Will you need to evacuate?

Have several ways to receive weather alerts for approaching storms, and follow local authorities’ guidance about when and where to shelter. Find out whether or not you live in an evacuation zone, and if you do, begin planning where you will go if forced to evacuate. Designated shelters may have changed because of COVID-19, and if you plan to evacuate to a friend or family member’s home, be prepared to take special precautions to protect yourself and others from spreading the coronavirus. If you live in a well-built house not in an evacuation zone, your safest place is probably your home.

Remember to make a plan for your pets. Not all shelters accept animals. Make sure you have plenty of food and medications for your pets as well.

If you are planning to evacuate, be sure to include items to protect your family from catching or spreading the coronavirus in your “go kit.” These items include face masks (two per person), hand sanitizer, and bar or liquid soap. Remember, children under the age of 2 should not wear a face mask, nor should anyone who is experiencing difficulty breathing.

If you must go to a shelter, try to maintain social distance between yourself and non-household members. Wash hands often and follow shelter instructions regarding face coverings. Try to avoid touching high touch items, such as doorknobs or handrails.

We at L & M Insurance Group sincerely hope our clients will be stay safe during the 2020 hurricane season. We share this information in order to remind you not to be complacent, especially since community conditions are different this year. Please give our office a call at 813-672-4100 if you have any questions about your insurance coverage during hurricane season (or any time!).

For more information:

https://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/public-safety/emergency-management/find-evacuation-information