Cover Your Asset!

Ollie Bland

Wayne Winton has made a lot of new friends since he moved into his Spanish-style home alongside the 13th hole at Marbella Country Club in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., 14 years ago.

He just wishes the employees at his local hardware store weren't among them. Winton knows the staff on a first-name basis because he's replaced 70 windows in his home — at $100 a pop, that's $7,000 — thanks to errant golf balls.

"My wife and I have had so many near misses that we barbecue at night when the golfers have gone home," he says. "We've found balls all around the house. One flew over the house and ricocheted into a room. A two-fer went in one window and out another."

So who should be paying for Wayne's new windows? While the law varies from state to state — and from case to case — it's rarely the offending golfer who is responsible for the damage. If you live on a golf course, you assume risk. But there are several ways you can protect yourself from getting clocked in the pocketbook.

Remember: Right is wrong
"Buyers can get so emotionally charged up about living on a golf course that they don't do the research," says Matt Mardon, an attorney who covers liability issues for the Addison Law Firm in Dallas, Texas. "Before you buy, look at where the house is in relation to the hole. If the home is behind the tee box, it's unlikely to get hit. But it's going to get hit all the time if it's 150 yards out on the right." Why the right? Because most bad golfers are habitual slicers.

Do an impact study
Quiz the developer about the materials used to build your home. Mardon once saw a golf home in Arizona that looked like a firing-range target. "You can't have a plate-glass window next to a course and expect it not to get broken,"he says. "The builder has a duty to use impact-resistant materials."

Get it in writing
Ask the developer or seller to document in writing any issues they've had with errant golf balls. Have an attorney review any clauses that might release the golf club or developer from liability. "In states like Florida, California and New York, it's against public policy to ask someone to waive your negligence. If balls keep raining down, the club has a duty to do something about it," says Dennis Hillier, an attorney in Boca Raton, Fla. "Sometimes it's a case of the tee boxes not being oriented properly, and if the course lines them up it solves the problem."

Check your coverage
Know what your insurance covers, including the deductible for broken windows and liability protection. "The worst that can happen is someone gets hurt," says industry expert Jeanne Salvatore. "But if they sue, you're covered in most instances."

Insurance Basics Visit the Insurance Information Institute's web site to find a list of insurance providers around the U.S., including State Farm, Liberty Mutual, MetLife, Allstate and Nationwide. iii.org.
What will it cost me? Average coverage is $500 to $600 annually.
What is covered? Damage to the home and personal belongings, no-fault emergency medical care for injured guests, liability protection from injuries and living expenses after a fire or other disaster. What's the deductible? From $250 to $500 per claim.

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