Are You Covered If You Damage Someone’s Reputation?

reputationEarly in our nation’s history the sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr, shot and killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in a duel that began over political disagreements that turned personal and escalated to a war of words and character attacks in letters and newspapers.  In the early 19th century issues of defamation of character were settled through a complicated “code of honor,” that brought Burr and Hamilton to Weehawken, New Jersey and pistols at dawn. Today, issues of defamation of character are often settled through lawsuits, and if you’re ever caught up in such a situation, it’s important to know that you may be able to turn to your insurance coverage instead of a dueling pistol.

How could you be sued?

Today social media sites are more likely to be the forum for the kinds of offenses that lead to the Burr-Hamilton Duel, and there are two potential areas where you might find yourself at risk: Damaging someone else’s reputation or the publication of private facts. Standard homeowners and renters policies include liability protection for bodily injury or property damage, which would pay for the costs to cover medical bills or repair/replacement costs if you were to injure a friend in a pick-up basketball game or if you were at your bosses house and accidentally spilled red wine on a $13,000 oriental rug, subject you your policy’s deductible.

But what if you were to post rumors about someone online, a co-worker or another parent from the PTA that implied drug use, promiscuity, or other information that could damage that person’s reputation? With employers beginning to look up applicants on social networking sites, rumors and gossip have the very serious potential to damage someone’s ability to find a job. Or if you were to “out” someone’s private medical condition, there’s the potential that someone could pursue legal action under a type of defamation known as publication of private facts. Finally, invasion of privacy is another common exposure, especially for people who live in close proximity, with claims of “peeping tom” activity. Interestingly, a standard homeowners or renters policy would not cover these instances.

Get a Personal Injury Endorsement

In order to cover claims from the kinds of situations above, homeowners and renters policies must have what is called an endorsement- extra language that is inserted into the policy to expand coverage- in order to have your liability protection extended to cover “personal injury.” Your Insurance Agent should be able to tell you if your current insurance policy already has this personal injury endorsement by reviewing it, and if it doesn’t, they would be able to help you get one. You may be surprised to find that this expanded coverage may not cost you much additional premium. A personal injury endorsement will pay the costs up to the limits of your policy to defend you, pay a judgment or settle a case when legal action is brought against you for defamation.

And it has the added benefit of not being shot at…


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