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Insurance iffy for trampolines

It seems that just about every family these days has a large trampoline in their backyard. So it was quite a surprise for Mercer Island residents Tim and Lori Stone to learn that their insurance company, CHUBB, wouldn’t insure them if they purchased one.

“We were going to get one for the kids for Christmas because it seemed a lot of their friends had them,” said Lori Stone. “My husband decided to call the insurance company just to double check, and they said ‘no way.’ They said it would be a big liability.”

The Stones’ broker, Doug Akiyoshi, CEO and broker of Quality Risk Management Service of Mercer Island, said he was amazed at how many trampolines he could see from the air during a flight over Tacoma last year.

“Probably every third house had a trampoline,” he said. “It blew me away. It’s a huge liability — most insurance companies won’t allow trampolines because it’s something they’ve had horrible experiences with.”

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 278,000 people, of whom 248,000 were children under age 20, were treated in 2004 due to trampoline-related injuries.

Mercer Island resident Dr. Donald Shifrin, who is with Pediatric Associates in Bellevue and is affiliated with the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that although newer trampolines with the mesh claim to be safer, the AAP recommends trampoline usage only under direct supervision by a trampoline or gym professional.

“We don’t recommend backyard trampolines at all,” said Shifrin. He said the reason is that it’s just too tempting for two children to go on at once.

“When two kids are on the trampoline, it’s not twice the injury potential, it’s probably 10 times,” he said.

Backyard trampolines are not recommended by either the American Academy of Pediatrics or the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons; both warn against recreational use of them.

“The potential for injury is higher than the potential for fun,” said Shifrin. “The amount of fun you’re going to have is going to be tempered by the fact that you will indeed at some point be injured.”

Shifrin said the fact that insurance companies will not cover homeowners with trampolines should “tell you something.” He said that he will not allow his two teenage children to play on trampolines.

Akiyoshi, whose firm represents a number of insurance companies including CHUBB, Progressive, Safeco and Allied, said once a carrier receives a claim involving the increased liability exposure (i.e. trampoline, pit bull, diving board, etc.), “They may or may not cover it. If they do pay it, they’re going to cancel you and you will have that black mark on your record.”

Many people think if they get dropped from their insurance company, they can just go somewhere else. “Good luck!” Akiyoshi said, adding that once you have a liability claim on your record, it stays there for three years.

Many insurance carriers won’t insure trampolines, but some will. Michael Erickson, Farmers Insurance agent, said the only rule they have is the trampoline must be set up in a fenced backyard with a locking gate to prevent uninvited guests.

Similarly, a PEMCO customer service agent, Lanae McDermott, said that although her company evaluates each claim separately by an adjuster, a new homeowner’s policy must meet trampoline requirements. The trampoline needs to be completely enclosed with a fence that is at least six feet tall and has a self-locking fence.

Woodinville resident Ben Hess said it never crossed his mind to call his insurance agent after he inherited a trampoline from a neighbor when they moved away. He said he figured health insurance would cover them if anything should happen.

According to Akiyoshi, this is a common misconception.

“Health insurance will pay up to a certain extent — until the limits are exhausted.”

He said in some cases you get a child with a broken neck or another very serious injury that is permanent. “Now you’ve got a lawsuit. Now you’ve got to hope you have enough liability coverage because you had two kids bouncing up and down and they’ve collided, and now they have got a compression fracture and have reached a growth plate,” Akiyoshi said.

“How do you put a monetary amount on that?” He said.

Akiyoshi suggests that homeowners call their agent whenever they make a big purchase or obtain something that could adversely affect their liability. “If you’re not sure,” he said, “go directly to your company.”

Tara Fuller is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.

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