Occurrence: Insurance definition

An event that causes damage or physical injury to a third party and triggers a claim on an insurance policy

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What is an occurrence in insurance?

Most people understand that an occurrence is a thing that happens, like bumping into an old friend or losing your wallet. But occurrence has an insurance definition, too. In insurance, an occurrence is an incident you're responsible for that leads to damages for someone who is not covered by your policy. When you have an occurrence while your homeowners insurance is active, then you need to alert your insurance company so it can help you pay for the damages.

Only occurrences that happen during the policy term are covered by your insurance company. Any accidents outside of that period are your responsibility, and you have to pay to fix whatever has been damaged out of your own pocket.

Examples of common occurrences insurance covers

Accidents and incidents happen in homes every day. As long as your home insurance is active, common occurrences like these are generally covered:

  • A child falls off your porch and breaks their arm
  • A branch from your tree falls on your neighbor’s car
  • A delivery driver slips on your icy walkway
  • Your dog gets loose and bites your guest

Each of these are examples of occurrences happening to a third party (i.e., someone who isn’t covered by your home insurance). When that happens, your personal liability coverage kicks in to help pay for their injuries or property damage as well as your legal costs if they sue. Your home insurance may also have medical payments coverage to help you pay for the injured person’s immediate medical bills and reduce the chance of a lawsuit.

For an occurrence to be covered, it has to be an accident. Insurance companies aren’t in the business of paying for your bad behavior. The same goes for certain negligent acts. You want to act as a reasonable person would in a given situation to avoid having your claim denied for negligence.

What to do after an occurrence

The first thing you should do after any occurrence is to make sure the people involved are okay. Provide first aid to an injured person or get them to the emergency room if you need to. If there’s been property damage, let the property owner know so they can mitigate their damages.

At this time you may want to document the occurrence. Note what happened and when, and if there are any witnesses to the event. You might want to take pictures of the damages and ask for copies of any police reports or immediate medical bills.

Next, you need to file a claim with your insurance company. This usually has to be in writing, and many companies have online forms to make this process easier. If your insurance company doesn’t have an online form, then you may have to call it or your agent to get the ball rolling.

Most insurance companies generally want to know:

  • Your policy number.
  • Your name.
  • The time, place, and circumstances of the occurrence.
  • The injured party’s name and address.
  • Any witnesses’ names and addresses.

As an insured, you have a duty to assist your insurance company with its investigation into the occurrence as well as your defense if you’re sued. This can include:

  • Providing information about the occurrence.
  • Being available for interviews and depositions.
  • Attending hearings or trials.
  • Forwarding all notices, summons, or demands to your insurer.

Remember that your insurance company is acting on your behalf, so you want to provide them with as much information as possible. Keep good records of anything related to the occurrence and work with your claims representative to make sure the claim is processed quickly.

Does every occurrence require an insurance claim?

You may not want to file a claim after every occurrence, particularly if the damage is minor and you’d rather pay the bill out of pocket.

Let’s say, for example, you have $100,000 of personal liability in your personal liability coverage. Unfortunately, your dog bites a child. The average cost of a dog bite in the US is $64,555, so then you may want to file a claim with your insurer and have it paid. But what if the child only needs a doctor’s visit, a bandage, and an antibiotic? In that case, you might choose to cover the costs.

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