Chronicles of a writer abroad

Insurance against soapy disaster


In preparation for our move this coming weekend, I’ve been packing and taking care of some administrative details. Amid all the address changes and transfer-of-services, I got to thinking about insurance. When we moved here, several people told us that we should get household and private liability insurance. Since this wasn’t mandatory, however (unlike health insurance, which the government continues to hound you about until you have signed up), we let the issue slide and become buried underneath more pressing matters in our new life.

Now that we have a new apartment and a second chance to do things right, I started looking into it again. I quickly decided that I was not interested in household (or contents) insurance, since nothing among my apartment’s furnishings is of high value. Some things have sentimental value, of course, but insurance can’t do much about that if these things were to be ruined.

I moved on to private liability insurance, or, to use the elegant German word, Privathaftpflichtversicherung. This at first sounded like it could be useful, insofar as it would cover us for damage that we might do to our new apartment. But then it seemed that this didn’t really cover accidental damage, or damage due to negligence…or anything much at all, except maybe a broken windowpane here or there, which is something I’ve never dealt with in any of my previous four apartments.

Nevertheless, I decided to get a quote from an insurance company, thinking that if they sent me an offer, I could read through all of the terms before deciding whether or not to sign up. But surprise, surprise: the person on the phone told me that they couldn’t approve us due to our L-permit. He told me to try calling another company who might underwrite the policy, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to reply, “Oh, that’s okay. If your company [Zürich Insurance] doesn’t want to give it to us, it can’t be that important.”

“Oh, but it is!” he protested. “You might hit someone on your bicycle.”

Right…but somehow I lived with this possibility my entire life in Canada, without having insurance against it.

After hanging up, and before putting the issue completely to bed, I decided to check the expat bible, a book called Living and Working in Switzerland. This book is known for its useful advice, its occasionally histrionic tone, and its warning that expats will have to get used to not flushing the toilet after 10pm. I thought it might be able to scare me into trying harder to get this insurance. But here’s what it had to say about private liability:

To take an everyday example, if your soap slips out of your hand and flies out of the window while you’re taking a shower, and your neighbour slips on it and breaks his neck, he (or his widow) will sue you for millions of francs.

Well, I just can’t count the number of times my soap has gone flying out the window. But since my new washroom doesn’t even have a window, I guess I no longer have to worry about living on the edge of soapy disaster here in Switzerland.

Anyone have further insights into private liability insurance and its importance?


4 thoughts on “Insurance against soapy disaster

  1. In Canada homeowners generally have insurance against structural damage (fire, flood, earthquake etc.) and against liability claims on their property (someone slips coming up your icy front steps etc.) As a renter, I have never opted for insurance on the contents of my apartment.

    It’s interesting that the liability appears to pass (at least to some extent) from the homeowners to the renters in Switzerland, but I suppose that makes sense in a setting where so many people rent their apartments for life.

    If the private liability insurance covers you outside your apartment it might be a good investment (you inadvertently cause a traffic accident by jaywalking, you accidentally hurt someone with a heavy basket in a crowded supermarket). Insurance is for the events you can’t imagine, not for the ones that you can.

    • Those are good points. But the thing I find strange is that this is not mandatory. So if someone injures me (with their bike, or in some other way), I just have to hope that they opted for insurance? What if they didn’t? And isn’t pretty much everyone in most other countries not covered for these kinds of accidents? Same with liability in the rental setting…if it’s not required in the contract, I become suspicious about why it is needed.

  2. I agree with Leah, dear. Certainly in Canada, liability insurance protects you against claims by other people. It appears not to be specially appropriate in your case, unless you propose to hit someone deliberately with your non-existent bike :). As for damage to the apartment, don’t we usually fix our own messes as they occur?

    Anyway, we will be thinking of you this weekend and hope all goes smoothly. Enjoy the elevator! I think you have paid your penance for the past two years of four flights up and four flights down.

  3. What if you overflow the bath?

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