Small Business Insurance Basics
Insurers often combine a number of insurance coverages into a package that is sold as a single contract. The most common policy for small businesses is the Businessowners Policy (BOP).
The BOP combines coverage for all major property and liability insurance risks as well as many additional coverages into one package policy suitable for most small businesses. The term “BOP” specifically refers to insurance policy language developed (and revised as needed) by experts at ISO. ISO provides sample insurance policy language, research and a variety of other products to insurance companies.
The BOP includes business income insurance, sometimes called business interruption insurance. This compensates a business owner for income lost following a disaster. Disasters typically disrupt operations and may force a business to vacate its premises. Business income insurance also covers the extra expense that may be incurred if a business must operate out of a temporary location.
To cover specific risks associated with a business, a variety of additional coverages may be added to the basic BOP. For example, if a business has an outdoor sign, the BOP doesn’t cover it unless coverage is specifically added for an additional premium. If a business relies on electronic commerce, the owner can add coverage for lost income and extra expenses in the event the ability of the business to conduct e-commerce is slowed down or stopped due to a computer virus or hacker.
Only small- to medium-sized businesses that meet certain criteria are eligible for a BOP. Factors insurers consider include the size of the premises, the required limits of liability, the type of business and the extent of offsite activity. Premiums for BOP policies are based on those factors plus business location, financial stability, building construction, security features and fire hazards.
Most small businesses need to purchase at least the following four types of insurance.
1. Property Insurance
Property insurance compensates a business if the property used in the business is lost or damaged as the result of various types of common perils, such as fire or theft. Property insurance covers not just a building or structure but also what insurers refer to as personal property, meaning office furnishings, inventory, raw materials, machinery, computers and other items vital to a business’s operations. Depending on the type of policy, property insurance may include coverage for equipment breakdown, removal of debris after a fire or other destructive event, some types of water damage and other losses.
2. Liability Insurance
Any enterprise can be sued. Customers may claim that the business caused them harm as the result of, for example, a defective product, an error in a service or disregard for another person’s property. Or a claimant may allege that the business created a hazardous environment. Liability insurance pays damages for which the business is found liable, up to the policy limits, as well as attorneys’ fees and other legal defense expenses. It also pays the medical bills of any people injured by, or on the premises of, the business.
3. Business Auto Insurance
A business auto policy provides coverage for autos owned by a business. The insurance pays any costs to third parties resulting from bodily injury or property damage for which the business is legally liable, up to the policy limits.
4. Workers Compensation Insurance
In all states but Texas an employer must have workers compensation insurance when there are more than a certain number of employees, varying from three to five, depending on the state. Workers comp insurance, as this coverage is generally called, pays for medical care and replaces a portion of lost wages for an employee who is injured in the course of employment, regardless of who was at fault for the injury. When a worker dies as a result of injuries sustained while working, the insurance provides compensation to the employee’s family. An extremely small business, such as one operated by one or two people out of a home, may not need workers compensation insurance. But it often needs more property and liability insurance than is provided in a typical homeowners policy.
Other Types of Business Coverages
1. Errors and Omissions Insurance/Professional Liability
Some businesses involve services such as giving advice, making recommendations, designing things, providing physical care or representing the needs of others, which can lead to being sued by customers, clients or patients claiming that the business’s failure to perform a job properly has injured them. Errors and omissions or professional liability insurance covers these situations. The policy will pay any judgment for which the insured is legally liable, up to the policy limit. It also provides legal defense costs, even when there has been no wrongdoing.
2. Employment Practices Liability Insurance
Employment practices liability insurance covers (up to the policy limits) damages for which an employer is legally liable such as violating an employee’s civil or other legal rights. In addition to paying a judgment for which the insured is liable, it also provides legal defense costs, which can be substantial even when there has been no wrongdoing.
3. Directors and Officers Liability Insurance
Directors and officers liability insurance protects directors and officers of corporations or not-for-profit organizations if there is a lawsuit claiming they managed the business or organization without proper regard for the rights of others. The policy will pay any judgment for which the insured is legally liable, up to the policy limit. It also provides for legal defense costs, even where there has been no wrongdoing.
4. Key Employee Insurance
Life or disability income insurance can compensate a business when certain key employees die or become disabled. These coverages cushion some of the adverse financial impact that results from losing a key employee’s participation.
5. Umbrella Policies
As the name implies, an umbrella liability policy provides coverage over and above a business’s other liability coverages. It is designed to protect against unusually high losses. It provides protection when the policy limits of one of the underlying policies have been used up. For a typical business, the umbrella policy would provide protection beyond the general liability and auto liability policies. If a company has employment practices liability insurance, directors and officers liability, or other types of liability insurance, the umbrella could provide protection beyond those policy limits as well.
What Does a Businessowners Policy (BOP) Cover?
Insurance companies selling business insurance offer policies that combine protection from all major property and liability risks in one package. (They also sell coverages separately.) One package purchased by small and mid-sized businesses is the businessowners policy (BOP). Package policies are created for businesses that generally face the same kind and degree of risk. Larger companies might purchase a commercial package policy or customize their policies to meet the special risks they face.
- Property insurance for buildings and contents owned by the company — there are two different forms, standard and special, which provides more comprehensive coverage.
- Business interruption insurance, which covers the loss of income resulting from a fire or other catastrophe that disrupts the operation of the business. It can also include the extra expense of operating out of a temporary location.
- Liability protection, which covers your company’s legal responsibility for the harm it may cause to others. This harm is a result of things that you and your employees do or fail to do in your business operations that may cause bodily injury or property damage due to defective products, faulty installations and errors in services provided.
BOPs do NOT cover professional liability, auto insurance, worker’s compensation or health and disability insurance. You’ll need separate insurance policies to cover professional services, vehicles and your employees.
How can I save money on my business insurance?
Here are five ways to save money on business insurance:
- Shop around.
Prices vary from company to company, so it pays to shop around. Get the names of companies or brokers who specialize in your type of business. Call several so that you can compare prices and get a feel for the types of services they would provide.It’s also important to pick a company that is financially stable. Check the financial health of insurers with rating companies such as A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s and consult consumer magazines.
- Choose a higher deductible.
Deductibles represent the amount of money you pay before your insurance policy kicks in. The higher the deductible, the less you will pay for the policy.
- Buy a package policy.
It can sometimes be cheaper to purchase a package policy, such as a Businessowners Policy (BOP), rather than individual coverages. A package policy provides standard coverages and limits of liability that are appropriate for typical small-to-medium-sized businesses.
- Work closely with your agent or broker.
Your insurance professional can provide invaluable advice to help protect your business from unexpected disasters. But you need to keep him or her informed about any major changes in your business. This includes major purchases, expansions or changes in hiring or the nature of your operation. Also, get your agent’s advice in terms of disaster planning. Ask what you can do to both reduce risks like fire or work-related accidents, as well as the procedures that should be in place in case your business does suffer a major catastrophe.Having the right coverage and a well thought out disaster plan can save you money in the long run. It may even save your business from going under.
- Ask about ways to prevent losses.
You may be able to reduce your premium for certain coverages by following your insurer’s recommendations. These can include workplace safety, disaster preparation, and human resource intervention.
How do I file a business insurance claim?
When a fire, accident or theft occurs at your business:
- Contact your insurance agent and company right away. Any burglaries or theft should also be reported to the police immediately.
- Read your insurance policy so that you know what your responsibilities are to your insurance company after a loss.
- After a disaster, take steps to protect your property from further damage by making temporary repairs. If immediate repairs to equipment are necessary, save the damaged parts in case the claims adjuster is interested in examining them.
- Get at least two bids on the cost to repair or replace damaged property.
When filing a business interruption claim, be able to show the income the business was generating both before and after the loss. Keep detailed records of business activity and the extra expenses of keeping your business operating in a temporary location during the interruption period. If you are forced to close down, include expenses that continue during the time that the business is closed, such as advertising and the cost of utilities.
If you are unhappy with how your claim was handled:
- Talk to your insurance agent or claims manager to explain your point of view.
- Call the consumer affairs or complaint department of your insurance company and tell them your story and why you think you deserve a larger settlement.
- Contact your state department of insurance about your problem.
- If you’ve tried all other options, consult an attorney who specializes in insurance matters to see if he thinks you have a valid claim that is worth a lawsuit. Provide the lawyer with all relevant documents and a copy of your insurance policy. Tell your attorney about any settlements offered by your insurance company and the attorney will judge whether you have a legitimate case that might result in a much larger settlement if brought to trial. Attorneys work on an hourly basis or on a contingency basis in which case they receive a portion of whatever settlement you ultimately receive. Get your lawyer’s fee structure in writing before you pursue your case, and make sure you are kept current on the status of the case as it progresses. You must agree to any settlement reached between your attorney and the insurance company before it is made final.