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General Liability Insurance For Contractors – 4 Tips to Avoid Coverage Surprises
General liability insurance is one of the first types of policies you will need if you are starting a new business. At Clinard Insurance, we see many small business startups. Starting your own company is popular these days with the layoffs we are seeing in our economy. The best choice is often to pursue something you love to do and so we see many people starting new businesses around their construction skills. But just because you like to build things doesn’t mean you know the best way to protect yourself and your company from lawsuits.
Here are some tips for pitfalls you should avoid when buying general liability insurance.
Choose the right agent. The first place people usually go for their business insurance is the insurance agency that handles their home and auto insurance. In some cases, this works well. But the risk is that your current agent may be licensed to sell general liability insurance on your new company, while they really have very little experience in evaluating the dangers and risks of your specific type of company. I would suggest that you go there and look for an agent who specializes in insuring other small businesses like yours. Ask your competitors what they used. At Clinard Insurance we have a niche specialty in small business owners and we speak their language and understand their needs. If your agent does not specialize in your business, I suggest you find one who does.
Claims Made or Type of Occurrence Policy: Construction claims made policies became popular in the mid-1980s and have been ever since. The promise of these policies were lower rates, but to what long-term damage? In some cases, there is no cost savings. Claims policies for a contractor are the worst possible policy you can buy. Let me explain: claims made policies allow you to make claims on your policy only during the year they are in effect. Contractors have claims to the road, not always only in the same year that the project is built! Also, if you want to leave that company and go to another company, you have to buy additional insurance to cover you for the next 10 years…that’s right, 10 years! Why? Because the law allows customers to file a lawsuit for construction problems up to 10 years after the end of the project.
You build a new room addition, everything goes well and you and your client are very happy with the final result… 4 years later, your client calls you and says that the roof is leaking and water has come into the house and ruined his new $25,000. grand piano. He expected to fix the roof, the drywall, the wallpaper, the carpets and, of course, replace the piano….
A claims made policy will not allow you to file a claim 4 years later unless you have been with the same company the entire time. If you intend to change companies after having a claims policy made, you must make a decision. If you want to have protection for any claim that hasn’t happened yet, but in the future, you have to buy “tail” coverage. This coverage will extend the time in which you can file a claim. And tail coverage isn’t cheap.
If you decide not to buy the “tail” you will not be able to file a claim against the claims made policy. And to make matters worse, some companies don’t offer the 10-year extension.
So…. When your claims policy comes up for renewal, you must decide:
- Leave the company and pay additional insurance for coverage for the next 10 years, or go without protection.
- Do I stay with the same company? Their prices on the new year can stay the same or go up a lot.
- Do I switch to another company that has better rates and coverage?
This limits the market available to you, and makes it more difficult to accept a better offer from another insurance company. Claims policies may work in other industries, but for Contractors they are a disaster. Take the time after reading this report to see if your current policy is an occurrence form or a claims form…..
Insurance Company ValuationIt is up to you to do your due diligence and ask your agent about the financial health of the company from which you are purchasing your general liability insurance. As the previous suggestion implied, sometimes claims can be very delayed and you need to know that your company can pay a claim for you 10 years from now. Only use insurance companies rated A or higher to protect your business.
Exclusions, state them clearlyBe sure to take the time to ask your agent about policy exclusions and what they may mean for you. Here are some exclusions that contractors should consider when purchasing a general liability insurance policy:
Pesticide, Herbicide and Fungicide Disclaimer, Employment Practices Disclaimer, XCU Disclaimer, Contractors Warranty Disclaimer, Professional Liability Disclaimer, Asbestos, Independent Contractors. If you don’t know exactly what they mean for you on your policy, contact your agent and get the help you need to understand them clearly. This can change the way you run your business.
SubcontractorsMake sure you understand how your policy treats subcontractors. Are they covered if they have no or insufficient insurance for the loss? How much coverage should you ask your subcontractors for? How often should you get insurance certificates? How can you be sure that the insurance certificate is legitimate. (I have seen fraudulent certificates for sale on eBay before). If you are not clear about the answers to these questions vis-à-vis your business and your general liability policy, you should call your agent immediately and get the answers you need to sleep well at night.
As you can see, buying general liability insurance is not as simple as calling your agent and asking for a quote. You need an experienced professional who understands policy forms and your business. At Clinard Insurance we specialize in helping small business owners navigate the dangerous waters of the insurance world. If we can be of further assistance, or if you would like more information about Clinard Insurance Group, please visit our website.
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