Image: Leather portfolio with insurance papers © Janet Kimber, Photodisc, Getty Images

If you took an ax to your kitchen floor, the damage typically wouldn't be covered by your homeowners insurance. Insurers generally don't cover intentional damage, and whacking a floor with an ax is considered pretty intentional.

Except when the blows are inflicted in the course of dispatching a rattlesnake that slithered into your kitchen, threatening your wife and 3-year-old child.

That's what happened a few years ago to a friend of Bill Sirola, a retired former spokesman for insurer State Farm, and the friend's insurer paid up without a murmur.

"It took him five or six good whacks to kill the thing," Sirola said.

There are plenty of things that insurance won't pay for. But in writing about insurance over the years, I've stumbled across some unexpected things that are covered. Some are pretty esoteric, like actresses insuring their legs or policies that pay out in case of alien abduction. But others are fairly common, and I've picked my 11 favorites among them, starting with my No. 1 of all time:

Waterbed liability

Cue the rotating disco ball and the 1970s funk music, because many renters and condo insurance policies provide coverage if your bodacious berth bursts.

Liz Weston

Liz Weston

The insurance applies regardless of what caused the leakage, as long as you didn't intentionally break the bed.

Sometimes the coverage is built in; in other cases, you may need to pay a little extra for a waterbed-liability endorsement. But once you have it, you're covered for damage to your own pad as well as whatever you inflict on your downstairs neighbor.

Tombstone damage

If a vandal destroys or carries off a loved one's headstone, it might be covered under your homeowners insurance. The damage would be subject to the same restrictions that apply to other coverage, meaning the destruction:

  • Exceeds your deductible.
  • Is a covered loss.

Theft and vandalism damage are typically covered losses, but natural disasters often aren't.

Massage

It turns out that you can get your shiatsu subsidized, depending on your coverage and the circumstances. Your doctor can prescribe massage to help you recover from a car accident or an on-the-job injury, for example. If your insurance covers chiropractic care, it may also cover massage ordered by the chiropractor.

Check your policy for details or talk to your employer's human-resources department.

Weight control

Run-of-the-mill weight-loss programs aren't covered by most insurance policies, according to the National Institutes of Health, but your insurer may cover prescription weight-control medications and weight-loss surgery.

The latter typically costs $25,000 to $30,000, so coverage is a really big deal. To qualify, though, you have to be morbidly obese -- usually defined as 20% or more above your ideal body weight or with a body mass index of 40 or higher. You may also qualify if you're not quite that heavy but you have a serious weight-related condition, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or severe apnea.

Even if your weight-loss program isn't covered by insurance, you may still be able to defray the cost if it's prescribed by a doctor. In that case, you can use the pretax money you've put in your flexible-spending account at work to pay for it. Flexible-spending plans allow you to pay for a host of other medical expenses that may not be covered by insurance, including smoking-cessation programs, birth control, fertility treatments, orthodontia and (if prescribed by a doctor) over-the-counter medications, including aspirin.

Drunken guests

A friend leaves your Super Bowl party, hops into his car and promptly plows into another vehicle. Everybody in the other car winds up in a hospital, and you get sued for serving alcohol to your friend.

There's plenty of variation in state laws, regional court cases and insurer policies, but in general the liability portion of your homeowners insurance can help pay your defense and any damages awarded, up to the limits of your policy.

And there's the rub, because many homeowners policies limit liability protection to $300,000 or so. You'd be smart to investigate getting at least a $1 million personal liability or umbrella policy if you're a homeowner.

Also, your coverage may depend on you not doing something egregiously stupid, like serving a minor or continuing to serve someone who is already drunk.

For details, talk to your insurance agent.

Stupid kids

Parents in most states can be held financially responsible for damage caused by their minor children. Fortunately, many homeowners insurance policies will help pay the bill -- depending on the child's age, the circumstances and the policy language.

A big exception: Insurance policies won't pay for damage resulting from "intentional," "malicious" or "illegal" acts.

If your little Sally accidentally knocks a baseball through the neighbor's plate-glass window, your homeowners insurance may kick in. If she hurls a brick through the same window, though, you're on your own for the costs of the replacement -- and for the therapy she so desperately needs.