How lawnmower mishaps can mow down your insurance

Gina Roberts-Grey

Many spring and summer activities - soccer, picnics, Frisbee - take place on freshly cut grass. But if you're mowing your lawn and the mower spits up a rock that hits your neighbor's window or car, mowing the lawn could result in a home insurance claim.

"The person doing the mowing would be the one found to be negligent even though it was likely accidental," says Billy Van Jura, an insurance broker in New York. And that person's homeowner's insurance policy would be hit for this kind of claim.

And if your mower shoots a rock through your window, Van Jura says, your homeowner's policy would cover the subsequent claim as well.

No matter whose window is broken, one claim can lead to higher premiums.

"Just one claim can have an effect on your rates and cause them to rise," Van Jura says. Even small claims can do financial damage. "I just saw a $268 claim which led to a $1,000 rate increase," he says.

Mowing health hazards

It's not just property damage that homeowners need to worry about. Every summer, lawnmowers cause thousands of serious injuries. Emergency room doctors and orthopedic surgeons dub summer "trauma season."

A lawnmower mishap can lead to costly health insurance co-pays and deductibles to treat related injuries -- no matter what the season.

Each year in the United States, about 9,400 children receive emergency care for lawnmower-related injuries. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 7 percent of these injuries require hospitalization. That's almost twice the hospitalization rate for consumer product-related injuries overall.

"One of the five most prevalent dangers to children is lawnmowers, which are the leading cause of traumatic amputations in children," says Dr. Matthew Denenberg, chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Michigan.

Dr. John Frino, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, says most of the lawnmower injuries treated at his hospital involve kids 2 to 8 years old.

"What usually happens is the child is out playing in the yard while a parent or grandparent is mowing," Frino says. "The child could slide on the freshly cut grass and slip under the blades. Or a child is riding on a mower with their parent or grandparent, falls off and gets) accidentally run over."

Mower mishaps and injuries don't discriminate by age, though.

"We see several adults injured by lawnmowers," Frino says. "They are severely cut while) sharpening blades, have riding mowers tip over onto them potentially crushing them, sever fingers and hands trying to unstick a jammed blade, and are injured not removing the collection bag properly."

Sharpening your safety skills

Rod Benson, product safety committee chairman at lawnmower maker Exmark Manufacturing, says most mower accidents and injuries are avoidable.

"The easiest way for you and your family to stay safe is by reading the operator's manual thoroughly," Benson says. "Re-read the manual before the start of each cutting season just to brush up on safety facts."

The following tips will help reduce the odds that you'll have to file a home or health insurance claim connected to your lawnmower.

Clean up. Clear the lawn of any loose objects, including toys and rocks. Tall grass can hide obstacles. "And don't mow across your driveway, sidewalk or path with the blade rotating because it can pick up and throw gravel or loose rocks," Benson says.

Know how to stop the mower quickly. You always should assume the blade is turning at an extremely high speed when the engine is running. "And if the blade-stopping feature found on the mower is not working properly, do not operate the mower -- have it repaired," Benson says.

Establish a kid- and pet-free zone. Frino says your yard should be clear of children under age 12 and all pets before the mower is even turned on. Stop the machine if anyone enters the area. And if you have a riding mower, never ride with a passenger - human or furry.

Set age limits. Denenberg says children who are under the age specified in the mower's manual typically 12 to 14) never should operate, clean or fill up the machine.

Never leave a running machine unattended. Always should turn off blades, engage the parking brake, stop the engine and remove the key before getting off the mower.

Keep clear of the discharge opening. "You should never try to clear the discharge area where the grass comes out) or mower blades unless the engine is stopped and the spark plug wire has been pulled off," Benson says.

Stay safe on slopes. Benson says slopes pose a major risk for loss control and tip-over accidents. Always reduce your speed and use extra caution on slopes whether you're operating a push or riding mower. "You shouldn't operate a riding mower on slopes greater than 15 degrees or a walk-behind mower on slopes greater than 20 degrees. And watch for ditches, holes, rocks, dips and rises that change the operating angle, as rough terrain could overturn the machine," he says.

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