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Insurance dollars may brighten wedding day blues


For more than a year, Patty Garrahan had been planning the perfect wedding: 130 guests, formal reception, $15,000 worth of food, music and flowers.

But when the big day finally arrived, the New York bride was not blushing but hospitalized. A ruptured ovarian cyst demanded surgery, so instead of gliding up the aisle and hokey-pokeying with friends, Ms. Garrahan married Neil Murphy from a stretcher in an emergency room. She borrowed a wedding band from the hospital attorney and was blessed by the attending chaplain.

It's marrying season for 2 million Americans, and though most happy couples will fill their scrapbooks with smiles, some are sure to suffer wedding disasters.

Now, from Fireman's Fund, comes reassurance for fearful fiances: a check in exchange for a wedding catastrophe. For the $129 standard policy, Weddingsurance will underwrite hurricanes, disappearing dresses, even brawls that break out over bouquets.

"There's a great need for Weddingsurance," says Fireman's Fund spokesman John Kozero. "There are so many complications that can cause the best-laid plans of bride and groom to go astray."

For example, when Ann and Victor Bahna of New York married during last December's wild storm, they scrambled to find a catering hall that had not lost power.

Angel Perrone's bash ended slightly early, and on a sad note, when Grandma collapsed on the dance floor. And in Little Falls, N.J., Kathy Pantel's best friend, Elaine, spent part of the reception wearing only the red-lace bodice of her bridesmaid's dress: The ill-fitting garment had ripped in mid-conga.

Last year, Bride's magazine estimated an average American wedding cost $16,000. Fireman's Fund, based in Novato, Calif., protects the nuptial investment by insuring wedding attire, photos, gifts and the reception that gets canceled due to acts beyond human control.

Weddingsurance will cover up to $3,000 worth of non-refundable cancellation costs that result from unforeseen catastrophes: accident or illness to bride or groom, fire or flood-damaged or bankrupt catering halls, a mysterious plague that quarantines all the ushers, the case of the missing tuxedo. Mr. Kozero says that $3,000 matches the average non-refundable wedding deposit.

Weddingsurance also underwrites other calamities. If a photographer loses those lovely shots of cake-cramming newlyweds -- or substitutes six rolls of his nude girlfriend for grandma and grandpa spatting in the gazebo -- Weddingsurance pays up to $1,500 to retake photos.

The new policy will pay as much as $1,000 to repair the seafoam-green satin bridesmaid's dress that "accidentally" singed on a radiator or to replace the his-and-hers Tupperware that a robber whisked off the gift table.

The clumsy Jewish groom who slices his foot on the wine glass or the distant cousin's date who vomits on the vicar's Persian rug can get help with their medical and legal bills -- as much as $500,000 for personal liability lawsuits and $1,000 for medical payments.

And if a hurricane drenches the dance floor, Weddingsurance will reimburse up to $750 for an extra tent.

To date, Fireman's Fund is the only U.S. company to offer wedding insurance -- though for more than five times the price, there's special-events coverage.

Fireman's Fund admits cribbing its newest insurance idea from a British associate, Cornhill, which has been soothing bridal and other special-event nightmares for years.

No tallies yet on how many pessimistic pairs take out policies before walking up the aisle. But since its inception in January, Weddingsurance's toll-free number ([800] 428-1419) has averaged 50 calls a day.

Of course, Weddingsurance is not for everyone. Not covered under the new policy: the entertainment that never shows, the collapsed 10-tier cake, the extra-chewy chicken.

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