Smart locks that let retailers deliver packages inside houses or apartments with a digital code while you are away raise liability questions and could raise home insurance rates, experts said. Amazon's system is being tested in Detroit, Miami and Silicon Valley. Wal-Mart is testing similar systems in Silicon Valley and Miami.
"There are a lot of questions," said Kenneth Cantor, an attorney and the owner of Cantor Insurance Group in Southfield, Mich. "When you have homeowner's insurance, it covers you for your property and liability. If you invite someone on your property and they steal something or knock a candle over and the house burns down, would your policy cover it?" As technology advances, he said, policies will have to catch up, and that could mean rates will go up.
"It's a new development, so we don't have a lot of current experience with this," said Jim Whittle, assistant general counsel of the American Insurance Association in Washington. "Does it make the house more risky? Does it make the house less risky?"
The AIA is a property-casualty insurance trade organization representing about 320 insurers that write more than $125 billion in policies annually.
Whittle said that as more people adopt the smart-locks, and people are able to enter their homes when the owners or tenants are not there, carriers have many liability questions:
• What if someone gets injured-slips on a wet floor-while delivering?
• What if a pet gets out or violently attacks the delivery person?
• What if the front door doesn't get closed, or the system is hacked?
"In any of those situations, will Amazon be held liable or will the homeowner be at fault?" said Michael Macauley, CEO of Pleasanton, Calif.-based Quadrant. "Amazon Key is still in the early stages. There are so many questions surrounding liability if a problem were to occur during delivery."
Quadrant offers pricing analytics for property and casualty insurance carriers.
Amazon said its service allows customers to set the frequency and length of time for friends and family to access their homes using smart locks. It also plans to release a service making it possible to schedule access for other providers, such as house cleaners and dog walkers.
"It answers the question: What do I do with packages on my doorstep?" Macauley said of the Amazon service. "But I can't imagine what kind of litigation we'll have. The better insured, the more likely you are to get sued."
Macauley said that as people start to use these services, insurance companies are likely start to write policies that exclude coverage for accidents or other incidents involving the deliveries. He predicted they will charge as much as 20 percent more for coverage.
Macauley suggested that people who use the in-home delivery services call their insurance agents to make sure they are covered.
But, to avoid problems entirely, he said, just avoid the service.
"Frankly, I wouldn't do it," he said. "To spare having packages stolen from your doorstep, have them delivered to you at work. Just don't have them delivered to your home. That seems like the obvious choice."