Parents May Be Liable for Junior’s Harmful Tweet or Vine

February 28, 2014

Constant connectivity to the internet has increased social interaction, but it has also given people another forum to harass and bully. In fact, nearly half of teens and young adults claim they had at least one incident with some kind of electronic harassment in 2013. Before Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, incidents were generally limited to the playground. Now, a hurtful comment on Facebook or a tweet can go viral immediately and spread across the country in seconds.

The recent increase in online bullying has led to lawsuits against the parents of cyber bullies, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and negligent supervision.

People may assume injuries resulting from cyber-bullying are covered under their homeowner’s policy. Most homeowner’s policies have a personal liability provision that protects the homeowners against certain personal injuries. Personal liability protects homeowners from claims for injuries and property damage that occur on their property, such as if your dog bites a neighbor or someone slips and falls on your stairs. It also covers costs for legal defense in the event you are sued.

It generally does not, however, cover losses caused by intentional acts or failures to act. Thus, parents should be concerned about their kids’ online activities because they may subject the family to expensive lawsuits that may not be covered by insurance.

The insurance industry has recently addressed the issue of cyber-bullying. Two insurance advisory groups, the AAIS, American Association of Insurance Services, and the ISO, Insurance Services Office, have both made updates to deal with this growing trend. The AAIS has excluded cyber-bullying or “electronic aggression” as an offense under revised personal umbrella policy forms. The ISO, on the other hand, has provided insurance companies with an optional home insurance endorsement that would provide customers with personal injury coverage within an aggregate limit. The endorsement would provide personal injury coverage to insureds for personal injury arising from specified offenses including oral or written publication. Such an endorsement may cover injuries from cyber-bullying.

Bottom line

Parents must be mindful of the potential exposure of their children being active on social media sites. Parents should monitor their children’s online activity and teach them digital etiquette.

If concerned about insurance coverage, parents should review liability coverage with their insurance agent. Ask whether your current policy would cover a cyber-bullying claim and/or whether additional endorsements are available to provide coverage.

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