It comes in all shapes and sizes and seems to make the world go ’round in the way that lawsuits do in America. In contrast to the sue-happy American culture, the insurance-addicted German culture makes things possible here that aren’t there (say, sending your child to school with a peanut butter sandwich for lunch).
Of course, we have your garden-variety health and auto insurances here. Both are required. In fact, we cannot legally live in Germany without health insurance. And auto insurance is a whole ‘nother ball game – a separate post for a rainy day.
But, the flavor of insurance I find most interesting – and applicable to families with children – is the personal liability insurance, or Haftpflichtversicherung.
We found out about this insurance several months after we moved here. The policy provides protection in the incidence of all kinds of personal accidents: throwing a ball through a neighbor’s window, tripping an old lady, bicycle collisions, and any other “oops” moments that involve damages.
I’d never heard of such thing before moving to Germany, and I assumed it had to be expensive. Wrong. It’s actually quite cheap. We have a family plan that costs something like 7 euros per month for a gazillion euros of coverage. It’s the one kind of policy us non-insurance crazed foreigners really should have.
When Doc Sci finally went to purchase a policy (after we lived an entire year here without it – eek!), the agent told him that one of her clients rode his bike in front of a tram and somehow got the bike stuck in the tram track. The tram driver slammed on the brakes, and passengers went flying. Some of the elderly ones sustained injuries requiring hospitalization. The guy riding the bike was responsible for the whole thing – but lucky for him, his insurance paid for it all. Had he been without a personal liability policy, he would’ve had to pay out of pocket for all injuries and damages.
(By the way, the story wasn’t a sales pitch; Doc Sci had already signed on the dotted line.)
I recently learned that some landlords will not rent to tenants without this personal liability insurance. In the US, renter’s insurance will cover the tenants’ belongings as well as any accidental damage to the property. In Germany, renter’s insurance only provides protection for the stuff. We aren’t required to carry this kind of policy where we live, but most likely we’ll need it when/if we move.
Before we had this oh-so-German insurance, I was on the edge of a freakout whenever my kids got a stick or a rock anywhere near someone else’s car. Or rode a bike too close to an elderly person in the park. Or visited a new friend’s house (especially if said friend had no children).
Now that we have the policy, I still maintain a level of caution, but at least that caution is several steps down from the former paranoia. I hope we never have to make a claim, but at least if we do, we’ll be covered.