Obtaining Business Insurance

Think of business insurance as the copper solder that fuses a plumbing joint together; if the joint leaks, there can be major ramifications. The same holds true with business insurance; if you don’t have the coverage that a backflow prevention contractor business really needs – you’ll watch those profits flow right down the drain. You personally cannot control or eliminate every potential risk that threatens your livelihood, but business insurance can provide the added protection against these risks … if you carry the right kinds.

Choosing the right policy with all of the appropriate coverages can be a challenge when you are a backflow contractor/technician. Bob Smart, commercial lines director of Compass Insurance in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, states: “Everybody wants to lump each backflow contractor/tester/tech into the plumbing category, when in fact they are not all plumbers; that was my point of contention with the insurance carriers. I explained to Hartford [insurance carrier] that the backflow techs test the backflow apparatus – then they make a report on the valve they tested or they repair or replace the valve. They are not going in and tearing out water lines or sewer lines.

“What Hartford did…was to cover these backflow techs under an engineering class because it’s obviously more about reports and paperwork,” he continues. “I had over 30 backflow techs insured through Hartford under this engineering class and never had one claim.” Hartford has since modified this particular class of coverage with regards to backflow techs and currently does not cover backflow techs that work on fire lines, i.e., sprinkler systems, suppression systems; supplementary coverage is required or a different class should be selected.

Find an agent who understands your business.

A key component in selecting insurance coverage for a backflow contractor/technician/tester is to make sure that your agent fully understands what it is that you do and don’t do in the course of your work day. “If one agent wants to place you in the plumber class – which can cost upwards of five times the annual premium of let’s say an engineer class – find an agent who is willing to listen and really understand your business, “ says Smart. “If all you do is test backflow apparatus, then you shouldn’t be placed in a plumber class.”

Regrettably, insuring your business is not as simple as insuring your car. Because this business is unique, you’ll need to draft a package of insurance that meets your business needs and provides the level of protection you’re comfortable with.

Your first decision is to decide which types of insurance your business needs. Two types that all businesses need are property and liability insurance.

Property and Casualty Coverage

Property insurance protects the assets your business owns, including the building and equipment, from destruction or damage. Even if you run your business out of your home, you’ll need to protect your business assets with separate property insurance; your homeowner’s policy will not cover business equipment. There are two general types of property and casualty coverage: All Risk Coverage and Named Perils Coverage. As the names imply, “All Risk” will cover you for almost any type of loss whereas “named peril” coverage will only cover you for specific named causes of loss, such as fire. You need all perils coverage. Even with so called all peril coverage there will be exclusions. Make sure and review the exclusions in the policy. If there are exclusions in the policy that are important to you, you may want to try another insurance company or purchase specific coverage for the excluded situations.

Property insurance is also written as either replacement cost or actual cash value. The first will cover the actual cost necessary to replace the lost property (less the deductible). The actual cash value policy will only pay you the depreciated value of the property — almost never enough to replace what you have lost. Unless the cost is prohibitive, you should purchase replacement cost coverage. Even with replacement cost coverage you will need to make sure you have purchased a high enough limit. If your building and contents are worth $1.5 million and you only have $1 million in insurance, a total loss would still leave you $500 thousand in the hole.

To determine how much property insurance you’ll need, create an itemized list of your business’ assets and their individual dollar values. Then decide which assets you actually want to insure and for what value, which will determine the insurance premium. In some cases, you may decide against insuring a particular asset, because it just doesn’t warrant the cost of the premium. In other cases, the premium may be well worth paying.

General Liability

Liability insurance is the other kind of insurance no business should be without. General liability is just that — very general in nature and protects your business from liability arising from negligence on your part that may cause injury to others, such as a customer or employee. It also protects your company if someone is injured as a result of using your service. When you consider that the legal expenses, settlement or judgment expenses of a single lawsuit could drive your business into bankruptcy, you’ll see why this kind of insurance is considered a “must-have”. Also check whether or not your general liability insurance policy also covers product liability for the valves you may be replacing. If not, you’ll want to add this type of specific liability insurance to your package. You should include “Errors and Omissions” coverage which protects you in the event you are sued as a result of a mistake in your work.

What limits of General Liability should you purchase? According to the Insurance Industry at-large, the absolute minimum in this day and age should be $1 million; most businesses should consider increasing this to $2 or $3 million. The good news is that insurance is not priced on a straight line basis. Since smaller claims are much more likely than large ones, the first $1 million in coverage will cost the most; an additional $1 to $2 million will not cost double or triple the amount.

Different types of liability coverage have developed over the years do address specific business needs. When buying a liability policy, you should be aware that there are two types of coverage, occurrence coverage and claims-made coverage. Occurrence coverage is more expensive but covers you based on when the loss happened, even if it was many years ago. Claims-made coverage only covers you while the policy is in force and the claim is made. With occurrence coverage, as long as you always have some policy in force, you will not have gaps in coverage. With a claims-made policy, it is possible to have gaps when you have not coverage in force.

Commercial Auto Coverage

If you use any vehicles in your business, you need commercial auto coverage. Personal auto policies generally exclude coverage if the vehicle is used in business; be sure to read your policy or ask your agent. Otherwise, vehicles used in business need business auto coverage. The good news is that commercial auto coverage is usually very competitive and can even be cheaper in some cases than personal auto coverage. As is the case with General Liability, you should purchase at least $1 million in limits.

Worker’s Compensation

If you are a backflow contractor that employs other backflow techs in your business, Worker’s Compensation is insurance you will want to carry. It is surprising that this is often the most misunderstood business insurance coverage since it covers exactly what it says. This coverage reimburses workers who are injured on the job for lost wages, medical and rehabilitation costs. It is required by law in virtually every state. Generally, there are two aspects of this coverage: the first covers the lost wages and medical costs of the injured employee; the second covers the employer’s liability should the injured employee or his family decide to sue. In most states the worker’s compensation system is the sole remedy for an injured worker. As a small business owner you will likely have the option of excluding yourself from worker’s compensation coverage in exchange for a reduction in your premium. Weigh this option carefully in light of your personal medical insurance, which may have an exclusion for job-related injuries.

Business Interruption Insurance

Additionally there is insurance business owners may also want to purchase to protect their businesses from incurring the kinds of losses that can close their doors: Hurricane Katrina is just one example of an unforeseen natural disaster that could force you to suspend your business operations; floods, tornadoes, and wild fires are other examples. Or, on a more commonplace level, your business could be the victim of vandalism or theft. Business Interruption insurance protects you from the loss of revenue incurred when you’re forced to close down. It usually has an interesting deductible based on the number of days you are out of business rather than a dollar amount and will generally only kick in after your business has been down X number of days. The premium for this coverage will be based on your business income and reimbursement will be made according to your average of income.

Umbrella Insurance

Is it actually possible for you to buy an insurance policy that can save you money on other insurance policies? It is and an umbrella policy is a great example. An umbrella policy is a type of liability coverage that protects you if there is a judgment against you that is larger than your limits of coverage in your General Liability or Commercial Auto policy. The good news is that since the umbrella policy is secondary, the premium can be very inexpensive. What is even better, it may be possible for you to lower your limits on your General Liability or auto policy to something less than $1 million, purchase a $2 to $3 million umbrella policy and save money overall.

Disability Insurance

Since you’re a business owner, you should also carry some kind of disability insurance. There are various kinds of disability insurance available that are tailored to the needs of business owners. All of them involve paying premiums now to cover your lost income if you become disabled or unable to carry on your business. If your business is dependent upon the expertise or knowledge of particular people in your company, you should also consider key person insurance. This type of plan helps to compensate a business for financial losses due to the death or long term disability of a key person. The insurance provides additional funds to the business until the key person can be replaced, or until he or she returns to work.

Business Owner’s Policy

Properly covering your business is a complex task, involving multiple policies each of which has its own limits and exclusions. Many small business owners can satisfy many of these through a package policy known as a Business Owner’s Policy or BOP. Often the BOP policy is priced very competitively and allows some level of customization through purchasing of additional limits and coverages. It is only available for businesses up to a certain size – ideal for a small backflow contractor — and varies from carrier to carrier. You should ask your agent.

Reading an insurance policy contract can be a daunting task. Their structure can be very confusing and they are loaded with special definitions. Despite this, it is critical that you understand your coverages; your agent can help. However, when all is said and done, just like everything else in your business, the final responsibility rests with you, the owner.

Being a successful business person means being able to anticipate events and plan for the future. Business insurance is one way of ensuring that you’re in control of your future rather than being controlled by it. Unfortunately, there is no generic plan that will meet every small business person’s needs. You’ll need to shop around, just as you would for any product, to get the business insurance that’s most suited to you as a backflow contractor.

Disclaimer

This article is intended to provide general information on commercial insurance for educational purposes only. The material here is not intended to provide specific recommendations for any individual business or type of business. Insurance is regulated in each state by that state’s Department of Insurance. Only a licensed Insurance Agent or Insurance Broker in your state is qualified to provide you with advice on your specific business insurance needs.