Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Can bloggers get insurance? Should they? Another look


A few times in the past, I’ve discussed the issue of liability insurance for bloggers.  Back in 2001, I carried a policy arranged by the National Writers Union for six months, and then was denied an extension because of the “controversial aspect” of my writing, and a rather brazen email from the underwriting company used that language as explaining “the declination”.
  
In 2008, the Media Bloggers Association mentioned another policy plan that seemed to be available.  Shortly thereafter the national financial crisis ensued and the whole topic got forgotten.
In the past, various financial professionals have recommended that people buy “umbrella” policies with their auto and homeowner’s policies in order to cover such risks. 
  
It is credible that someday there will be calls to make insurance mandatory, because the harm that has come to some families has been so devastating.  But such a suggestion would probably be accompanied by the idea that such coverage should come from homeowner’s or auto policies.
  
I think that’s a bad idea.  As far back as 2000, I looked at expanding my auto liability coverage above the standard $300,000.  At the time, umbrella policies were being offered but were newer.  I was told that such a policy could not be sold to someone who “is an entertainer.” 
  
Such terminology shows a surprising lack of grasp of what is going on.  As a self-published book author and now blogger, am I an “entertainer”?  I’m no Justin Bieber.  And I’m no drag queen performing regularly at a club.  And I’ve never hosted SNL.  I can imagine winding up in the movies, as a narrator or in a dramatic role of some kind.  Is Anderson Cooper, who hosts his own news analysis shows, an “entertainer”?  I guess so, since he’s been in “Live with Kelly”.   So what is an “entertainer”?
  
I’ve looked at “extra liability coverage” with auto insurance more recently.  Generally, that’s what you need to go above the $300,000 liability limit, and generally they cover incidental libel and slander, concepts which normally have nothing to do with one’s driving record or accidents.  Sounds like apples and oranges, still.  But now they typically don’t cover libel resulting in the course of “business”, only incidental personal use of the Internet.
  
That means, defamation that occurs in the middle of genuinely “social” use of social media (like trying to get dates) as in the film “Men, Women & Children”, would be covered.  But organized self-publication might not.
  
I suppose my activity would be “business” since the books are sold in commerce (as on Amazon) and the blogs accept ads.  The self-publication has become my “second career” (or “second life”) in retirement, to the fact that I couldn’t go out and peddle life insurance, Medicare Advantage, long term care, or tax preparation in retirement, as callers have tried to urge me to do, without creating a “conflict of interest”.  Indeed, it you do that, you are no longer yourself on social media, you are what you sell or peddle.  It sounds demeaning.
  
In any case, it would sound to me that the risk of libel or other litigation as a result of personal Internet use would be hard to underwrite and hard to estimate.  “Social” use, like self-publishing, comes with some risks, not the least of which could be (especially in a social context, and perhaps especially for females) attracting stalkers or enemies, which would also present a peril hard to quantify, especially during more recent times. It does seem that such policies could probably cover lawsuits by merchants on customers for bad reviews on sites like Angies's List or Yelp, since these are the result of personal and not self-promotional or business activity.  

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