Over the past several years, millions of people have begun writing weblogs (or “blogs,” as they are more commonly known.) There are as many reasons for blogs as there are blogs. Some people keep them as a journal to let distant friends and relatives know what’s happening in their lives. Others write about subjects that interest them, everything from gardening to NASCAR. Blogs often act as forums for people’s opinions or news reporting. These types of blogs invite controversy; in extreme cases, they may invite lawsuits if a person or organization takes offense at a particular post. If that happens, can the blog’s author count on his insurance coverage to pay for his legal defense and judgments?
Unfortunately, if he has a typical homeowner’s insurance policy, the answer is probably no. This policy pays amounts for which the policyholder (the insured) is legally liable, plus the costs of legal defense, for bodily injury or property damage done to someone else. The policy defines bodily injury as meaning bodily harm, sickness or disease; it defines property damage as injury to, destruction of, or loss of use of physical property. Neither of these definitions includes saying or publishing something that injures another’s reputation or feelings. Consequently, the policy is unlikely to cover a blog post. For example, if Joe writes in his blog that Bob sleeps with a teddy bear, and Bob sues him for invading his privacy, the homeowner’s insurance will not pay for Joe’s legal defense or for any judgment against him, because Bob suffered neither bodily injury nor property damage.
Insurance companies may offer special personal injury coverage that they can add to homeowner’s policies. This coverage pays for the insured’s liability for several offenses, including oral or written publication of material that violates someone’s privacy, and oral or written publication of material that disparages someone’s goods or services. For example, imagine that Joe writes in his blog that the meatloaf at Bob’s Diner tastes like gravy-covered roadkill. Bob suffers an immediate loss of business, and he sues Joe for libel. The court awards Bob $200,000. If Joe has personal injury coverage, his insurance will pay for his lawyers and the $200,000 judgment (or his limit of insurance, whichever is less.)
Another potential source of coverage is a personal umbrella policy. An umbrella provides additional insurance in situations where a loss has used up the amounts of liability insurance under homeowner’s or auto policies. It also covers some liability losses that those policies do not cover, such as personal injury losses. Umbrellas typically carry a deductible of $250 or $500. In the previous example, if Joe does not have personal injury coverage with his homeowner’s policy, but he does have an umbrella, the umbrella will pay for his defense and $199,750 of the judgment ($200,000 minus the $250 deductible.) If he does have the coverage on his homeowner’s policy, and the court awards Bob $1,000,000, the homeowner’s policy will pay until its limits of insurance are used up, and the umbrella will pay the rest.
Blogs are fun and interesting, and they can be informative. However, in a litigious society, it is very possible that something posted in a blog can result in a lawsuit against the writer. Everyone who writes a blog should consider that possibility and think about buying some extra insurance.