Archive for April, 2015

NEW MOTOR VEHICLE LIGHT LAW IN EFFECT

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wet cars

If you have day time running lights…manually turn your lights on to avoid a ticket or surcharge.

Massachusetts has a new law for all drivers to remember.  The law involves the use of both head and rear lights whenever the use of the wipers is needed.  As of April 7, 2015 you can be stopped for non-compliance and ticketed.  Although the ticket amount is nominal, it is a surchargeable violation that will impact your insurance premiums for up to six years. The law is intended to increase safety and visibility of vehicles on the Commonwealth’s roadways.

Mass General Law Chapter 85, Section 15, signed into law in January, requires that front and rear motor vehicle lights be activated in all of the following conditions:

  • When windshield wipers are on;
  • When low light or weather conditions prevent other vehicles or persons from being seen at 500 feet; or
  • From ½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise.
  • Relying on daytime running lights for these conditions is not sufficient under the law.

The law is fairly easy to comply with; just turn on your wipers and lights during the appropriate situations.  It may be a bit trickier if you have daytime running lights.  Typically, running lights do not activate your rear lights, just the headlights. You will have to check to make sure that both the front and rear lights are ON if you intend on relying on your daytime lights.  Check with your car manual, vehicle manufacturer, or maybe easiest of all, with a friend who can see the back of your vehicle as you drive and be able to tell you if the rear lights are on when the daylight running lights are activated.  If they are not, then to comply with this new law, you will have to manually turn on your lights so that both the front and back lights are lit.

 

 

Be Prepared For Volatile Spring Weather With a Home Emergency Kit

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Heavy rains, floods, hurricanes and tornados can all threaten your home and family this spring. While no amount of preparation prevents volatile spring weather, a home emergency kit helps you prepare to be safe and survive.

Survival Essentials

A warm blanket, spare set of clothes and matches could make the difference in your survival. Pack these and all other essential supplies you might need in an airtight container that’s easily accessible.

Food and Water

The Red Cross suggests families store two weeks’ worth of food and water, which means you’ll need one gallon of water per person per day and a variety of easily prepared, non-perishable foods. Don’t forget to stock baby and pet food if necessary, too.

First Aid

Minor bumps and bruises can occur as your family rushes to safety. Your first aid kit should include basic first aid supplies like bandages, antibacterial cream, burn cream and pain reliever. Pack prescription medications, hearing aid batteries and other specialized medications if needed.

Hygiene Items

Toilet paper, toothbrushes and diapers are essential. Hand sanitizer and bleach should also be included in your emergency kit.

Stay Connected

You’ll want to stay connected to the outside world and signal for help, so include a battery-powered radio, extra batteries, your cell phone and chargers in your emergency kit. A flashlight and whistle for each person is also a good idea.

Tools

Whether you have to dig out of the basement or open a soup can, tools come in handy. Stock a multipurpose tool, work gloves, scissors, shovel, screwdriver set, hammer and manual can opener in your kit.

Important Papers

In the rush of an evacuation, you may forget to grab your purse or wallet. Copy important papers like your driver’s license, birth certificate, insurance policies and medical information. Store them, extra cash and your family’s emergency contact information in a waterproof bag to keep them safe.

This home emergency kit will play a big role in keeping you safe when volatile spring weather strikes. Update your insurance policies, too, as you stay protected and prepared.

Five Effective Landscaping Tricks That Protect Your Home From Burglars

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Roughly two million burglaries occur each year. Protect your home and family when you implement five landscaping tricks that don’t compromise your home’s exterior appearance or value.

1. Place Hostile Plants by Entryways Burglars typically target easily accessible windows and doors. By placing hostile plants loaded with thorns, briars and brambles near these entryways, you discourage potential burglars. Several hostile plants to consider include roses, holly, raspberries, bird’s nest spruces, needle bushes and Spanish bayonet.

2. Trim Shrubbery Near the House Overgrown shrubs, bushes and flowering plants look untidy, and they give burglars plenty of places to hide. They also prevent neighbors and anyone on the street from seeing suspicious behavior near your home. Protect your home when you keep shrubbery trimmed to lower than three feet tall all along the exterior of your home. Remember to trim plants away from the sides of your home too.

3. Use Noisy Ground Cover Burglars try to be as quiet as possible, but noisy ground cover around your windows and doors alerts you to their every move. Pea gravel or other crunching stones do the trick, and you can find these burglar deterrents in colors that match your existing landscaping.

4. Install Short Privacy Fencing Tall fences and tree barriers increase privacy, but they also obscure burglars. Install short fencing with an open design instead. If you already planted trees or shrubs, trim them so that the canopy starts at eight feet or higher off the ground.

5. Turn on the Lights Most outdoor landscaping includes lighting of some sort. Opt for strategically placed motion-activated lighting as you reduce your chances of being burglarized. Place these lights near all your doors and windows and along pathways. They frighten burglars away and warn you when someone walks near your home.

Your home’s landscaping adds beauty and value to your property. It also deters burglars. Talk to your insurance agent today and discuss additional landscaping tricks that deter burglars and protect your home.

Why is Life Insurance So Important?

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You probably don’t sit around with your friends and discuss life insurance, but it’s an important part of your financial portfolio. Learn why as you decide whether life insurance is right for you.

What is Life Insurance?

A life insurance policy provides a financial payout to your survivors if you die. It’s a valuable tool in your estate planning portfolio since it protects your loved ones from financial stress or devastation after your death.

What Does Life Insurance Cover?

Purchase a life insurance policy, and your surviving beneficiary can use the money for a variety of purposes.

1. Cover funeral expenses. The average funeral cost $7,045 in 2012, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Reduce your survivors’ financial strain with life insurance funds that cover this necessary expense.

2. Replace income. Because your survivors depend on your income for basic living expenses, they’re at risk of losing their home, vehicle and other assets after your death. Your life insurance policy can provide your survivors with financial stability.

3. Repay debt. Student loans, credit cards, vehicles, mortgages and other debts can burden  your survivors. Purchase life insurance, and the policy can repay debt and reduce the financial strain your survivors feel.

4. Pay estate taxes. After your death, your survivors will owe estate taxes on any assets you own. Instead of affecting their budget, they can use your life insurance funds to pay this expense.

5. Save for the future. Fund your children’s college education, help your partner start a business or support your parents’ retirement. Your life insurance policy can fund these and other future plans.

Who Needs Life Insurance?

Many people think life insurance is necessary only for parents of young children. After all, those survivors could face severe financial strain without adequate resources to provide for their basic needs. In reality, anyone who’s single, married, young or old benefits from the financial peace of mind a life insurance policy provides.

How Much Life Insurance do you Need?

Everyone’s life insurance needs differ, so you’ll want to evaluate your finances and situation as you decide how much life insurance to purchase. Consider what your life insurance funds will cover, how much money your survivors need to live comfortably and the premium amount you can afford. Your insurance agent can work through these details with you to ensure you have adequate protection that secures your loved ones’ futures and gives you peace of mind.

Why Each Roommate Needs a Renters Insurance Policy

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You and your apartment, dorm or house mate might share living expenses, but you each need your own renters insurance policy. It’s an investment that replaces your possessions if they’re damaged, stolen or lost. Learn why this $15 per month policy is an important part of your living arrangement.

Be an Individual

Whether you and your roommates are strangers, best friends or cousins, purchase separate policies. Most renters insurance companies won’t include two or more unrelated people on a policy, so be an individual and purchase your own policy.

Cover Deliberate Damage

Maybe you and your roommate get along great until you have a big fight and he or she deliberately damages your valuables. If that happens and you and your roommate share a policy, you won’t receive a payout to replace the damaged item.

Protect Your Future Insurability

Let’s say your roommate’s car is vandalized. Your combined policy pays the claim, but since your name is also on the policy, your ability to purchase affordable insurance is negatively affected for the next three to seven years. Separate policies protects your future insurability.

Keep the Payout

Joint insurance policies include payout checks made out to both parties. So when your valuable electronic equipment is stolen, both you and your roommate have to sign the check. Purchase separate coverage to ensure you receive the full amount you’re due.

Cover Liability

When a visitor trips or falls and decides to sue you, renters insurance can cover the liability. Slander and libel may also be covered. Have your own policy to cover your liability.

Know the Limits

Despite purchasing separate policies, your renters insurance might include financial limits. Discuss coverage caps with your insurance agent to ensure your vintage guitar or art collection is covered.

Purchase Adequate Coverage

You don’t know how much your possessions are worth until you create an inventory list. Then, purchase replacement value coverage. Although it costs about 10 percent more than cash value coverage, it allows you to replace the damaged, lost or stolen item at its current cost rather than the purchase price minus depreciation.

The decision to share living space with an apartment means you share expenses too. Make sure each roommate purchases a separate renters insurance policy, though, as you protect your possessions.

Fitts Insurance Celebrates With First Congregational Church of Stoneham

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1st StonehamFitts Insurance is a leader in church insurance and the exclusive agent for the Insurance Board Plan for United Church of Christ, Presbyterian USA and Disciples of Christ denominations in our region.  Currently the Insurance Board is celebrating their 30th Anniversary and has invited churches in those denominations to share what milestones they will be celebrating this year.  The Insurance Board will pick 30 churches from those who share to celebrate with in some form and acknowledge their accomplishment with all the churches in this national program.  The First Congregational Church of Stoneham is the first of Fitts’ churches to be selected and honored.

First Congregational Church of Stoneham, MA is turning 175!!  This church played a significant role in the development of the town and is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Their main celebration event will be a commemorative worship service, planned for October 18 of this year. The children will ring the church bell during the hour before our 10 a.m service–175 times!  There will be musical events, historical exhibits, and tours of the “old town,” etc.

The church embarked on a new roof campaign at the beginning of this year.  To acknowledge and help them celebrate, the Insurance Board has donated $1000 towards their new roof fund.  Fitts’ Senior Vice-President George Hulme had the honor of telling the church the good news and then presenting them with the check.

Pictured from left to right: church member Ben Jacques, Insurance Board agent George Hulme, Rev. Meredith A. Allen and church trustee Bea Griffin.

PROTECTING A BUSINESS FROM SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAWSUITS

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By now, employers should all realize and understand that sexual harassment is illegal. However, what employers might not be aware of is that the U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings in June of 1998 that expanded what is termed sexual harassment; expanded the responsibility that employers have to provide a work environment that’s non-hostile; and did away with harassed employees having to prove that their company holds some responsibility or that their career suffered from lack of promotion, firing, demotion, or such. Employers are now directly responsible for employee behavior, thereby giving harassed employees more recourse in bringing about legal actions against employers. Work-related harassment and discrimination cases have been climbing steadily since the Civil Rights Act of 1991 allowed for trial by jury, compensatory damages, and punitive damages in legal cases involving discrimination. In fact, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the amount of annual employment harassment and discrimination cases being filed grew by more than 13% between 1997 and 2009.

Any employer that’s ever been involved in a sexual harassment suit can attest that the cost to settle or defend a sexual harassment lawsuit can be jaw dropping. The average award for damages in these types of lawsuits is around $650,000, and that isn’t even including the secondary cost from workplace disruption, bad publicity, and those involved in the suit being absent from work.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

The first step in protection is understanding what is defined as sexual harassment. State and federal law prohibits behavior that involves an employee in authority basing professional expectations or decisions regarding a subordinate employee being willing or unwilling to exchange sexual acts. The following are examples of such behavior:

  • Altering expectations of job performance when a subordinate repeatedly refuses advances for a date or sexual encounter.
  • A superior demanding sexual acts in order for a subordinate to receive a raise or promotion.
  • Disciplinary action, including termination, of a subordinate that refuses sexual advances or ends an existing romantic relationship.

However, sexual harassment doesn’t always involve a subordinate/authority figure relationship. An offender can be anyone from a coworker to a customer or business vendor. The offender can be male or female, as can the victim. Furthermore, the victim doesn’t even need to be the employee actually harassed. Anyone that’s affected by the harassing or offensive behavior can be termed a victim; for example, an employee that overhears two other employees discussing a taboo subject. The two employees directly involved might not be offended, but if the overhearing employee is offended, then it can constitute sexual harassment.

Verbal, visual, physical, or written behavior that causes another employee to view the work environment as hostile, are unwanted, or focus on the sexuality or gender of another person may constitute as sexual harassment. Specific examples of such would be teasing, suggestive objects or pictures being displayed, and repetitively requesting sexual acts or dates verbally or in writing.

Protection with Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI).

After knowing what constitutes sexual harassment, businesses can further financially protect themselves with Employment Practices Liability insurance (EPLI). This is an insurance to protect employers when an employee makes the claim that their legal rights have been violated. Although policies vary, EPLI generally doesn’t cover criminal or civil penalties and punitive damages. EPLI does generally cover settlements, judgments, and incurred legal costs arising from an array of incidences – wrongful termination, employment contract breaches, employment and promotion failures, wrongful disciplinary actions, wrongful emotional distress infliction, negligent employee evaluations, employee benefit plan mismanagement, discrimination, and sexual harassment.

Coverage is specific. So, before purchasing a policy, decide who should be covered. For example, should full and part-time employees, contracted persons, supervisors, department heads, subsidiaries, company divisions, and so forth be covered or not? One other note about EPLI is that it’s mandatory for employers to report incidents within a reasonable amount of time. Some policies might feature an ERP (extended reporting period) or prior acts. The length, cost, and availability vary by carrier.

Purchasing EPLI has been challenging for small companies in the past. However, the 2004 rate increases have somewhat plateaued. Some rates have even decreased. Keep in mind that EPLI cost is figured based on the business type, employee numbers, and past lawsuits associated with the business.

Prevention of Harassment Lawsuits.

Prevention is the cornerstone in decreasing the risk of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Prevention steps include the following key elements:

  • If the business has EPLI, any incident should be reported immediately.
  • Create, communicate, and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for workplace sexual harassment.
  • Have an effective harassment complaint process in place and take immediate, consistent, and appropriate action when a complaint is made.
  • Thoroughly document all complaints and the following investigation and actions.

Employment Practices Liability: The Coming Plague

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EPL articleEmployment Practices Liability (EPL) differs from other professional and management coverage since it protects the company from acts which violate the employees’ legal rights of employment.

What are these rights?

1. Sexual Harassment

2. Discrimination (sex, race, national origin, age religion or color)

3. Wrongful Termination

4. Constructive Discharge

5. Infliction of Emotional Distress

6. Violation of the Family Leave Act

The meaning of the laws regarding these rights and insurance coverage for these acts is fairly well established.  Policy language and court cases have hammered out some of the conflict.

From a risk management perspective, sensitivity training and the development and implementation of strict behavioral guidelines greatly reduces the risk of claims.

Three factors in this risk change almost daily and must be addressed.  State laws may expand the protected classes (sexual orientation) covered by employment law.  These suits are massively expensive to litigate.  Thirdly, outsiders like contractors, customers, and suppliers are now claiming under this tort.

Although States regulate insurance, insurance companies tend to be regional and national; therefore, policy language does not always represent state law or the conditions under which the laws apply.

Have your state-licensed insurance agent read policy language to assure proper coverage in each state your company operates.

The policy limit includes litigation costs and claim payouts.  Legal fees are not add-ons as in other liability policies.  So, as the insurance company lawyer negotiates at length, your available funds to settle dwindle.  This process can become a very dangerous game of chicken for your assets.  Increase limits accordingly and keep informed as to the progress of any negotiations.

Customers, suppliers and contract labor are beginning to avail themselves of this course of action.  Train all employees and implement strict behavioral protocols at all levels and duties.

Most important, assure your managers spot poor or reckless behavior early, and correct it.  Zero tolerance policies work in this area.  You wouldn’t want to work in a truly hostile environment.  Don’t turn your back on these behaviors.