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No Laughing Matter: When Your April Fools' Prank Results in an Insurance Claim

It’s all fun and games until there’s a hoofed animal in your house with a full bladder.

Hilarious as the concept of an April Fools' prank may be, it often ends in a gross mess — and sometimes worse. But who pays for damages is a complex question.

In many cases, damage to your house or car by pranksters is covered by your homeowner's insurance under property damage, says Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president and chief communications officer for the New York City-based Insurance Information Institute. 

“If you have some crazy neighbors, and they hatch some sort of prank  even if the intent was light-hearted  and they've done serious damage, you're covered under a homeowner's policy because you are covered by vandalism  as long as it's not you who did it, and not any member of your family,” she says.

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Intentional acts  those that the policyholder knew about  aren't covered, she says.

“If you come to my house and I decide to play a prank on you and you get hurt, my homeowner's policy will not pay to defend me simply because I intended to trick you,”  Salvatore explains. “If you come to my house, trip and break your leg, you can file a claim and that would be covered up to the limits of my policy. But if I say, 'Let me jump out of these bushes and scare her, that's an intentional act and that's not going to be covered under most circumstances.”

So, you may need to rethink that bear costume.

When pranksters strike, though, it is also advisable to step back and consider whether more damage has been done to your property or your pride. Only your property is covered by insurance. 

“If you've got toilet paper on the lawn, well, you just need to clean it up," Salvatore says.

Unless, of course, you want to shell out your deductible amount for wet Charmin.

Pranks coverd by auto and home insurance

Homes aren't the only target of April Fools' pranksters. A well-placed potato in a tailpipe or sugar in a gas tank may be hilarious for onlookers. Car owners, not so much. 

Again, says Kevin Lynch, assistant professor of insurance at The American College in Pennsylvania, consider the real harm done.

“Only pranks that actually result in damage to your automobile would be eligible for consideration for a claim.”

Sometimes it's hard to see that line between prank and vandalism.

Eggs and shaving cream may wash off  or they may not. If it ruins the paint, it's considered vandalism.

“If you don't know who pulled the prank, the damage would be covered under vandalism or 'malicious mischief' under the comprehensive portion of your car insurance policy,” says Ryan Hanley, an insurance agent at Murray Group Insurance Services in New York.

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Should you file this type of claim, you'll likely be required to file a report with your local police department. That's certainly never a barrel of laughs.

If you know who the culprit is, you can file a claim with that person's company  if you can't work out anything between yourselves.

It should be noted that comprehensive coverage is optional. If you don't have it, you'll be paying for that egg-damaged paint out of your pocket. If you do have it, consider the deductible, which can be $250 to $1,000, depending on what you selected when your purchased your policy. This might be a good time to shop around for better coverage at a lower price.

If you do end up filing an auto, homeowner's or renter's insurance claim because of an April Fools' prank, keep in mind that your premiums should not go up, because you're the innocent victim, Hanley says. If it becomes a chronic situation, you'll probably be on the financial hook. 

Online pranks and personal umbrella policies

All the shenanigans mentioned above fall under "old school" pranks, but this is the 21st century and modern pranks have a whole new playground thanks to the interent. Social media sure sounds like the perfect place for an online joke or trick. It's not.

Facebook and the like have their own set of pitfalls. If your embarrassing post goes viral or the victim didn't find it that laughable, then you could be in some unfunny trouble. Slandering someone or defaming his or her character is not often looked upon with a chuckle.

And may not be covered under your current insurance plan.

Your standard homeowners or auto policy will provide you with some liability coverage if you are sued and may pay for judgments against you and your attorney's fees, up to a limit set in the policy.

An epic prank could come with an epic liability cost well beyond that limit. That's where a personal umbrella liability policy comes in.

An umbrella policy kicks in when you reach the limit on the underlying liability coverage in a homeowner's, renter's or automobile policy. It will also cover you for things such as defamation and slander.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, it costs about $150 to $300 per year for a $1 million personal umbrella liability policy. The next million will cost about $75, and about $50 for every million after that.

Because the personal umbrella policy goes into effect after the underlying coverage is exhausted, there are certain limits that must be met before purchasing this coverage. Expect insurers to want you to have about $250,000 of liability insurance on your auto policy and $300,000 of liability insurance on your homeowner's policy before selling an umbrella liability policy for $1 million of additional coverage.

If your potential prank needs to be covered under this, then you might want to tone it down a bit.

When a prank becomes criminal

If the damage is extensive or the prankster fails to pay, you may have to take the jokester to court, Hanley says.

An example of a prank involving potentially extensive damage: Draining a car's transmission fluid, preventing the car from shifting into gear.

"If your mechanic finds the problem immediately, it may be fixed for under $100. But it could cost you $3,000 or more if the entire transmission requires replacing," says Dave Riccio, owner of Tri-City Transmission in Arizona.

In a case like that, it'll be up to your insurance company (or the prankster's) to decide whether the damage is covered, says Roger Redden, a Farmers Insurance agent in California.

If the prank involves stealing something inside your car, such as a laptop computer, you'd need to file a claim with your homeowner's or renter's insurance company. Auto insurance does not cover personal property inside your car.

Sound like a lot of information to process before having a little fun?

Maybe it is, but just remember, the funniest April Fools' pranks are the ones that don't involve your insurance company.

Linda Melone contributed to this story

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