5 Ways Going Green Can Keep Your Commercial Insurance Premiums in Check

29. April 2016 08:12

business people in the woods

Inspired to make your company eco-friendly? Give yourself a pat on the back. Your efforts are helping make a greener Earth and that alone makes them worthwhile.

But for those of you hesitant to take up the environment’s cause, here’s a bonus for you: going green can also help you save some green – including on your commercial insurance premiums.

Here are five ways doing good for the world is good for your budget.

Go Green, Save Green Tip #1: Upgrade Your Lights

Switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs is an easy upgrade that can reduce your risk of a Workers’ Compensation Insurance claim. How? CFLs last longer than other lightbulbs, which means you can change them less often. Fewer employees climbing ladders means fewer opportunities for them to fall.

This change is wallet-friendly. Energy Star reports CFLs use 70 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs.

Go Green, Save Green Tip #2: Eliminate Pipe Leaks

Americans waste nearly one trillion gallons of water a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program (@EPAwatersense). Finding and fixing your leaky pipes can help reduce that waste and the liability issues that come with them.

Think about it this way: what happens when you ignore even a small leak? At best, you’ve got a mess on your hands. At worst, a customer could have a slip-and-fall that lands them in the hospital. If your pipes are tight, you could see fewer claims on your General Liability Insurance.

Go Green, Save Green Tip #3: Stop Offering Bottled Water

The health benefits of drinking water are well-documented, but what about the disadvantages of all those plastic bottles clogging up the landfills? Instead of buying bottled water for the office, ask employees to drink from the tap in reusable cups or bottles. Not only does that save a buck, but your workers also won’t strain their backs emptying the recycling bin, reducing the likelihood of a Workers’ Comp claim.

Added bonus? Less time taking about the trash means more time getting stuff done.

Go Green, Save Green Tip #4: Buy Secondhand Furniture

New office furniture can be more affordable, but that might be because it’s meant to be disposable. Cheaply built furniture isn’t a deal if your employees end up at the doctor’s office. The old stuff may look dated, but that’s a small price to pay for a greener planet and a safer workplace.

Avoid the cost of the headache of a Workers’ Compensation issue by purchasing sturdy secondhand office furniture.

Go Green, Save Green Tip #5: Use Energy Star Certified Products

The average commercial building wastes 30 percent of the energy it consumes, according to Energy Star. Even if you don’t own your building, the waste impacts your utility bills.

Instead of tossing money out the window, look through this list of Energy Star certified products. The savings could make it easier for you to afford a lower deductible on your commercial insurance policies. Cheaper utility bills and less money spent for insurance claims – why wouldn’t you?

Think going green is too much hassle for your small business? See how JVM Design does it in our “Small Business Spotlight: Going Green with JVM Design.”

How to Prevent Professional Liability Lawsuits

28. April 2016 07:58

gavel and old law books

No knock against Professional Liability Insurance, but some of your best risk management strategies have nothing to do with insurance. That’s not to say you should drop your coverage. In fact, the point is quite the opposite.

Taking steps to stay out of a courtroom actually enhances your liability policy’s protection. Instead of simply relying on your Professional Liability to do all the work, you have two lines of defense to keep your assets safe. Here are some risk management strategies you can use to prevent professional liability claims.

Professional Liability Lawsuit Prevention Tip #1: Document Everything

Attorney and founder of SJS Law Firm Shavon J. Smith (@TheSJSLawFirm) says, “The biggest mistake small-business owners make is failing to have complete documentation related to the claim. Small businesses have a lot to juggle, and many tasks, such as thorough recordkeeping, go by the wayside.”

In truth, no piece of paper can stop someone from suing you; however, it may cut them off at the pass. If your evidence demonstrates that a claim lacks merit, your client’s lawyer may advise them to call off the suit. Moreover, your records might help keep everyone on the same page so your client has less reason to sue.

To that end, you may want to use…

  • Written contracts. “All parties entering into an agreement need to be clear about both their expectations and what they intend to contribute," says Gina Bongiovi (@LawyerGina), founder of the Bongiovi Law Firm. Getting those details in writing gives everyone a record of the original purpose of the arrangement.
  • Complaint resolution forms. A written procedure may spur you to act promptly on client complaints and provide evidence that you tried to fix the situation. Just be sure to record the steps you took and your communications with the client.
  • Confirmation emails. A handshake after a meeting doesn’t always mean everyone agrees or that everyone will remember what they agreed to. Follow up any verbal communication with an email restating the conversation to keep all parties on the same page.

While you can create much of your documentation on your own, Robert Stetson of Bernkopf Goodman LLP (@BernkopfGoodman) suggests hiring an attorney. “Most small business disputes center around a legal document, such as a contract, lease, or insurance policy,” says Stetson. “Often, they turn on a phrase which could have been crafted in a manner more conducive to the small-business owner’s needs and the realities of their business.”

Professional Liability Lawsuit Prevention Tip #2: Communicate Clearly

Proactive recordkeeping is important, but so is communication, especially if you have to warn your client about:

  • Budget overruns.
  • Shipment delays.
  • Timeline changes.
  • Errors in the project.

No one wants to tell a client that things aren't going well, but most people understand that challenges are often part of the project landscape. Notifying clients about complications gives them an opportunity to adjust their expectations, agree to new solutions, or negotiate an end to the contract. Any of those outcomes are better than ending up in court.

This post is part of an ongoing series on how small-business owners can navigate the professional liability claims process as smoothly as possible. Stayed tuned for upcoming posts about filing, preventing, and defending professional liability claims.

Cyber Liability Exposures for Work-at-Home Employees

27. April 2016 08:32

woman working on her computer in her kitchen

Telecommuting is an effective way for small businesses to go green. Even if you only let your employees work from home once a month, you’re helping to cut down commuter pollution. Plus, fewer employees in the office can mean maintaining a smaller space, which can reduce its carbon footprint.

There are drawbacks, though. For starters, telecommuters may be a data breach risk for your business. In order to minimize your business’s cyber liability exposures, an employee’s at-home setup needs to be as secure as what you use in the office.

Avoid Data Breaches by Maintaining Control over Tech

Company-issued hardware for remote employees helps manage who has access to the business’s network and information.

Ron Schlecht, Jr. (@btb_schlecht), founder and managing partner of BTB Security (@thebtbgroup), recommends giving a remote employee a wireless router that is set up for their work laptop. “They just have to go home and plug in the router,” he says. “Their work laptop will work as needed, and you’re ensured that it’s set up properly.”

Schlecht also suggests giving work-from-home employees a company computer, too. That way you can ensure it has adequate protection software and that it is encrypted and password protected. “If it’s stolen from home, it will be protected with encryption,” says Schlecht. “If it’s password protected, it will prevent prying eyes or use by unintended users.”

Those unintended users are often family and friends. But as Schlecht points out, if the computer belongs to the business, “it gives you a reason to tell employees that their family can’t work on the laptop as well.”

The takeaway: When you control the devices, you have a better chance of controlling the security. “If there’s justification in having people work from home, spend the money to do it correctly," says Schlecht.

For more tips on ensuring employees have a secure home network, review the National Security Agency’s “Best Practices for Keeping Your Home Network Secure” [PDF].

Reduce Cyber Risks with a VPN

If you can’t afford to give employees additional hardware, you can still let them work from home while protecting your data. Unfortunately, that can be hard to do if your employee enjoys their telecommute from the comfort of the neighborhood coffee shop.

Conducting business over a public Wi-Fi hotspot is risky, says Karen Mesoznik, inbound marketing manager at SaferVPN (@SaferVPN). These networks can be unsecure and susceptible to snoopers and hackers.

Mesoznik says the solution is to provide employees with easy-to-use virtual private network (VPN) software on all their devices. “Connecting to a VPN allows an employee to encrypt and secure their online traffic – no matter where they browse,” she says.

The takeaway: When employees use their own computers, you have to trust them to be savvy about security. A corporate VPN is one way you can ensure a secure connection for remote workers and give them access to company servers.

Take Proactive Cybersecurity Measures to Prevent Data Breaches

Cybersecurity doesn’t just happen. Take the time to create policies that check your specific cyber risks. Use the Federal Communications Commission’s “Cyberplanner” to customize data protection strategies for your business.

When it comes to data breaches, take Murphy’s Law to heart: “what can go wrong, will go wrong.” No matter how careful you are or how many plans you put in place, a data breach may happen anyway.

That's where Cyber Liability Insurance can help. If a hacker makes it through your firewall, Cyber Liability may help you pay for the fallout, such as…

  • Legal expenses.
  • Affected customer notification expenses.
  • Crisis management and public relations costs.
  • Credit monitoring fees.

Unfortunately, many small-business owners think other commercial insurance policies cover their cyber liability exposures. Take a look at “Why Your General Liability Policy Insurance Doesn’t Cover Data Breaches” to learn why that's not usually the case.

Small Business Insurance & Social Media: Are You Protected?

26. April 2016 08:20

people gathered and talking with social media likes overhead

Twenty years ago, social media consisted of chat rooms on America Online (AOL for the uninitiated) and linked webrings on Yahoo! GeoCities. Now you can hardly find a website that doesn’t have a string of buttons encouraging you to like, share, and tweet.

In a lot of ways, that’s a boon to your small business. Social media lets you stretch your advertising dollar further because it’s an easy way to:

  • Engage current customers.
  • Boost customer loyalty.
  • Increase brand awareness.
  • Find new clientele.

The flip side, however, is the possibility of a mistake. Post the wrong thing on social media and you could be sued for an advertising injury.

You can find plenty of in-depth information about protecting your business in our free eBook Tweet or Twibel: The Small-Business Owner’s Guide to Advertising Injury. But if you’re in a time-crunch, this post can serve as a primer on advertising injury and how you can avoid it.

What Is Advertising Injury?

Advertising injury is a type of third-party personal injury. Typically, you hear personal injury and think car accident or a slip-and-fall mishap. Just remember that for insurance, personal injury refers to damages that don’t cause bodily harm. For advertising injury, that may mean instances of:

  • Defamation (i.e., damaging someone’s reputation). A negative tweet about a competitor could turn into an accusation of libel, the written form of defamation.
  • Copyright infringement (i.e., using someone’s work without permission). Such as copy and pasting a copyrighted image to your blog.
  • Invasion of privacy (i.e., intruding on someone’s life without just cause). Misappropriation of someone’s likeness or name, say in your online advertisements, is a common way small-business owners might invade a person’s privacy.

Get more details about the different types of advertising injury in Chapter 2 of Tweet or Twibel.

How to Reduce Your Advertising Injury Risk

The more you use social media, the more chances you have of slipping up and posting a libelous tweet. But once you’ve drunk the Twitter Kool-Aid, how can you give it up? It helps make advertising so much simpler.

Chapter 7 of Tweet or Twibel provides tips for reducing the possibility of an advertising injury claim, including…

  • Creating a social media policy. You might want your policy to designate a point person, outline appropriate online behavior, and prohibit defamatory comments about your business. Remember to update the policy regularly.
  • Assuming materials are copyrighted. If you start with the presumption that the work you want to use belongs to someone else, you may be more likely to seek permission and less likely to infringe on a copyright.
  • Pausing before every post. Social media is so easy to use that many people forget to scrutinize their posts. Proofread and verify all your sources, and then ask yourself if it represents the way you want consumers to see your business.

These steps can reduce your risk, but nothing is a 100 percent effective. Luckily, most General Liability Insurance includes advertising injury protection. This coverage may pay for your legal defense should you face a lawsuit. Read through your General Liability policy with an insurance professional to see if you’re covered.

The Commercial Property Insurance Benefits of an Energy Audit

25. April 2016 07:48

person holding tiny wind turbines

Let’s face it. A healthy chunk of the population looks at “going green” as a good thing to do in an abstract way. We may even admire the people and businesses that make a real effort to conserve energy. But in our daily life, it’s difficult to justify all the renewing, reducing, and recycling without some hard evidence of the ROI.

And that’s where Michael Bigelow (@mobigelow) comes in. As a senior technical services consultant at Green Building Services (@GBSConsulting), Bigelow puts his background in mechanical engineering to work with in-depth expertise in energy efficient LEED design. He says an energy audit is an easy way to do the right thing that ultimately pays for itself.

How an Energy Audit Saves Your Small Business Money

According to Bigelow, a typical energy audit looks at everything that consumes energy in a building, from lights to air conditioners. “The goal is to find how efficient your building is and if it’s being used to meet your needs without waste,” he says. “The most transparent results come from a third party that focuses on energy audits without a set of solutions to sell.”

Typically, these businesses follow a strict standard of quality assurance created by ASHRAE, an organization dedicated to advancing human wellbeing through sustainable technology for the built environment. In a level 1 audit, an auditor…

  • Examines your last 12 months of utility bills.
  • Performs a walk through of your building to assess the systems.
  • Asks questions about when the building is occupied and what processes take place in it.
  • Identifies the energy efficiency measures (EEM) you might take.

Sounds easy enough, but let’s look at the numbers.

Bigelow says that an audit for a small business may take as little as an hour. A smaller building audit may cost around $2,500 and around a $14,000 range for larger ones. However, the results can offset the costs.

“Typically, audits find measures that, as a package, reduce the utility bill by up to 30 percent,” Bigelow says.

Sometimes the recommended upgrades have benefits that reach beyond the utility bill. Take, for example, a lighting upgrade. Switching to LEDs may cost $12,000 initially but save your business $2,500 a year in energy costs.

On top of that, improved lighting can translate to improved productivity. “Imagine an energy savings device that allowed employees to make five percent more sales or catch 30 percent more typos,” Bigelow says.

The Commercial Property Insurance Connection

While saving money on Commercial Property Insurance is not the primary goal of an energy audit, it could be another benefit that increases the return on your investment.

A professional performing a basic energy audit most likely would not have the tools for a thorough test of pipes, roofing, or insulation. However, Bigelow says that if there’s damage to the roof that’s apparent to the naked eye, the auditor will be able to note that for reference.

“I’ve been on rooftops getting photos of HVAC equipment and have spotted obvious roof damage which the building managers didn’t know was there simply because no one has looked in the last few years,” he adds.

Does simply spotting a damaged roof save you money on your small business insurance? No, but doing something about it might. An audit may give you the opportunity to:

  • Insulate pipes.
  • Fill cracks.
  • Mend roofs.

Taking care of this wear and tear may decrease your chances of having to make a Property Insurance claim in the future.

Need more ideas for easy ways to make your small business eco-friendly? Check out “5 Helpful Accounts to Follow for Small Businesses Going Green.”

About Michael Bigelow: Michael Bigelow, LEED AP BD+C, PE, is a senior technical services consultant at Green Building Services, a leading sustainability consulting firm dedicated to optimizing building performance. He can be reached by email.

Small Business Spotlight: Going Green with JVM Design

22. April 2016 08:03

JVM Design logo

Sherry Holub is creative director of Oregon-based JVM Design (@jvmediadesign). JVM provides businesses with handcrafted web and graphic design, and printing services.

We talked with Sherry Holub about JVM Design’s commitment to being a sustainable website design and marketing agency and the importance of eco-friendly business practices. Learn how small-business owners can easily make the commitment to go green, too. The transcript below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did JVM Design get its start?

My background is in the visual arts and photography. I have a degree in studio art from UCLA School of Art. I started freelancing while still in college doing graphic design. Once I graduated from college, instead of taking on a full-time position as a graphic designer, I decided to form my own small agency JV Media Design (now shortened to JVM Design).

As you can imagine, the Internet was very different back in 1995 when I formed JVM. Our original focus was more on the graphic design and printing end of things. However, we did launch our first website for a client in 1995, and I knew then that the Internet would pretty much change everything!

Custom website design soon became our main focus. Our clients have ranged from corporations as large as Nike to a family farm down the street from us, but we specialize in small business solutions.

What sets you apart from companies with a similar mission?

The thing we’ve always hung our hat on was custom design services. While competitors moved in directions such as utilizing templates or pre-made design, we knew that custom solutions would better meet our clients’ needs and goals.

We’ve stayed a small company all of these years with a genuine focus on helping clients through our design and marketing services. Our client retention is excellent – that very first client we created a website for back in 1995 is still a client today, and we have many more that have been with us seven or more years.

Why did you decide it was important for your business to be green?

I’ve been into natural health and alternative medicine for many years, so my first awareness of environmental issues came from that arena. It was probably around 2005 when I made a more conscious effort to make JVM as green as possible.

What were the first steps your business took to go green?

Instead of renting a secondary office space, JVM has operated from a home office. In this way, I always had more control over the actual office environment. Having a relatively small footprint and allowing most of our team to also work from their home was the first step I took.

In 2007 when we relocated to southern Oregon, I was able to create an awesome space with sustainable bamboo flooring, lots of natural light, and no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint. We’re also very big on recycling – any other paper, ink cartridges, and even old computers and electronic equipment get recycled.

We were also early adopters of using electronic agreements. In the early days, we had a double drawer filing cabinet full of client agreements and invoices. We were able to eliminate that by going paperless.

Did you set goals for your business or were you “all in” from day one?

I believe having a small company makes it a lot easier to accomplish the green goals. Once I knew I wanted to move in that direction, it didn't take very long to “fix” some of the main issues (such as eliminating a lot of the paper being generated). Other solutions came through research. For instance, purchasing renewable energy or carbon offsets.

Is being eco-friendly and green a selling point for your business?

I believe it is, but it’s also something I would do even if it weren’t a selling point! I think our customers appreciate that they have some sustainable / environmentally friendly options when working with us and that we’re also committed to that.

Is it more expensive to take a green approach to doing business?

Technically, it does cost more to purchase green power or carbon offsets. Some of the greener printing solutions do cost a little more than non-green options. I just see these as the cost of doing business the way I feel is right for JVM.

Why do you think businesses find it difficult to be eco-friendly?

I think some businesses may think that it might be difficult or complicated to “go green,” but in reality, it’s pretty easy! Even small choices, such as going paperless or choosing more eco-friendly solutions for business products and services can make a difference.

We also have a history of offering first-time small discounts to other green businesses. So it doesn’t necessarily have to cost more to be more to go green.

What advice would you offer other businesses interested in going green?

Every business is different, so the specific green solutions available might be a little different. It’s important to research what is available and how it can work for your own business.

As I mentioned, simple, more universal things such as going paperless or recycling are really available to everyone.

4 Ways JVM Design Keeps It Green

1. Green America (@GreenAmerica)

This nonprofit organization awards a Green Business Certification to companies and organizations that meet or exceed its rigorous standards for environmental and social responsibility.

To earn certification like JVM, check out Green America’s Green Business Standards.

2. Canvas Host (@CanvasHost)

A Certified B Corporation and EPA Green Power Partner, Canvas Host provides web hosting services to customers worldwide, purchases locally produced renewable wind energy, uses energy efficient servers, and employs conservation technology where possible.

JVM recommends Canvas Host’s green web hosting services to clients.

3. Blue Sky Renewable Energy

JVM purchases renewable energy from Blue Sky. It’s a local voluntary program that provides Pacific Power customers an easy way to support renewable energy in the region.

4. TerraPass (@TerraPass)

TerraPass carbon offsets support emission reduction projects (e.g., farm power, wind power, landfill gas capture, and water restoration) in communities around the United States.

JVM purchases a TerraPass for its company vehicle to make an investment in sustainability and to fight climate change.

Learn more about JVM’s commitment to being a sustainable website design and marketing agency.

3 Ways to Improve Your Chance of Winning a Professional Liability Lawsuit

21. April 2016 08:02

businessman holding scales of justice

The old saying “the best defense is a good offense” is really only useful in two scenarios: war and sports. If you can outgun your enemy in those situations, chances are you can come out ahead.

But if you're a small-business owner facing a professional liability lawsuit, your best defense is preparation. Act like a lawsuit is coming down the pike and you may be ready when it actually happens. Here are three pre-lawsuit strategies you might use to maximize your odds of winning.

1. Document Client Interactions

Let’s say a demand letter hits your desk today. What would your first step be? Hopefully, you would call your lawyer and your Professional Liability Insurance provider, and both will need specific information about your relationship with the client. But if you only have your memory to work with, you’re going to have trouble presenting a cohesive defense.

“The best way to prevail in these situations is to document, document, and document some more,” says Gina Bongiovi (@LawyerGina), attorney and founder of the Bongiovi Law Firm in Las Vegas. Depending on your industry, this may mean…

  • Using written contracts with every client.
  • Saving receipts and invoices.
  • Creating scope of work documents.
  • Sending confirmation emails after phone calls and meetings.
  • Recording changes to contracts and proposals.

Your paper trail is your best friend, so decide what kind of recordkeeping makes sense for your business and maintain it. While you’re at it, you might also want to hire a lawyer, says Robert Stetson, an attorney with Bernkopf Goodman LLP (@BernkopfGoodman). Attorneys are trained to find “preventable mistakes that can expose a small business, especially one without insurance coverage, to significant liabilities and litigation costs,” he says.

Pro Tip: Complicated or jargon-filled documents may actually hurt your chances in a liability lawsuit. Think about it this way: the people who decide your case – either a mediator or a jury – often have to decide what each side should have known. If they can’t follow the information in a contract, they can easily assume that your client couldn’t either.

2. Work Your Professional Liability Lawyer

You and your attorney are a team. You are the authority on your business and relationship with the client, and they are expert in the law. Both parts are essential for putting together a good defense, so work with your lawyer. Listen to their advice, and help them by:

  • Disclosing all information related to the case.
  • Preparing summaries and timelines.
  • Responding promptly to requests.

Pro Tip: You are your lawyer’s client, even if your insurance company is footing the bill, so they have an ethical obligation to act in your best interests. That said, many small-business owners feel more comfortable hiring an their own representation. If you decide to go that route, make sure it is worth it: “Two heads are usually better than one,” says Gina Bongiovi. “But two heads can cost money.”

3. Assess the Professional Liability Lawsuit Honestly

Getting slapped with a lawsuit doesn’t feel good, and your first instinct may be to fight the claim tooth and nail. However, as Bongiovi says, “For most small-business clients, it makes sense to settle, and in most situations, we find we can mediate a dispute pretty successfully because we enter the situation objectively and without the emotion that's clouding everyone's judgment.”

That’s why Robert Stetson advises his clients to perform a cost-benefit analysis. "Take a step back and view the dispute as a business problem rather than a legal problem," he says.

You might start by asking yourself…

  • How will fighting the lawsuit impact my business?
  • How will settling impact my business?
  • Do I have the resources for a sustained legal battle?

Pro Tip: Sometimes settling is the right thing to do, especially if your honest assessment leads you to the realization that you were at least partially in error. According to David Lilenfeld (@DavidLilenfeld), intellectual property lawyer and founder of Lilenfeld PC, "You’ve got to be able to look yourself in the mirror and say, 'I made a mistake.' And not only 'I made a mistake,' but, 'I’m going to do what I can to make it right.'"

This post is part of an ongoing series on how small-business owners can navigate the professional liability claims process as smoothly as possible. Stayed tuned for upcoming posts about filing, preventing, and defending professional liability claims.

Does Workers’ Compensation Pay for Bike-to-Work Injuries?

20. April 2016 08:02

business woman biking to work

Ditching the car and biking to work is good for the Earth and good for your health. Thousands of businesses across the country will encourage their employees to hop on their bicycles for Bike to Work Week from May 16 to May 20, 2016.

However, as with all forms of travel, biking has its hazards, and many business owners and employees don’t have a clear understanding of how Workers’ Compensation Insurance deals with bike-to-work injuries.

The short explanation?

  • Workers’ Compensation Insurance won’t cover injures that occur while riding to work.
  • However, it can cover injuries that occur while riding a bike for work.

And as with most things, there are some exceptions to these rules. Let's take a look.

Workers’ Comp Won’t Cover Commuter Injuries

Even on Bike to Work Day, employee commutes aren't considered part of their employment. Attorney Denise Elliott of the law firm McNees Wallace & Nurick, LLC explains, “For employees with fixed places of employment (i.e., they go to the same office every day), the commute to and from work is not considered to be ‘in the course and scope of employment,’" she says. “Injuries sustained during the commute are not covered by the Workers' Compensation Act. This rule applies equally to those commuting in cars, biking to work, walking to work, etc.”

However, if an employee is injured while traveling between offices, they might be able to make a claim, says attorney Joseph Brown, cofounder of the Accident Law Group (@Accident_Law_AZ).

Furthermore, they would likely be able to make a claim against the person who caused the accident. "A person can collect from both Workers’ Comp and receive a settlement from the person responsible," Brown notes. "However, they must pay Workers’ Comp back from the settlement."

The exception to that rule? Brown says, "If the person who causes the accident doesn’t have insurance, the injured party can collect both Workers’ Comp benefits and an uninsured motorist settlement without paying Workers’ Comp back."

The takeaway: The commute to or from work isn’t covered by Workers’ Compensation Insurance, unless an employee is traveling between offices on work-related business.

Workers’ Comp Can Cover Work-Related Bicycle Injuries

So when can an employee make a Workers' Comp claim if they're injured on a back?

“If the employee is running errands or deliveries for their employer and this is part of their job, then yes, any injuries sustained while performing the duties would be covered under the Act,” says Elliott. “They are furthering the interests of the employer by doing their job. It does not matter whether the employee is making the deliveries in a car, on a bike, or by foot.”

In other words, if an employee is delivering something to a customer by bike and gets injured in the process, they can make a Workers’ Compensation Insurance claim. The mode of transportation doesn't matter so long as the errand is work-related.

The takeaway: Workers’ Compensation Insurance can cover injuries that happen while an employee is traveling as part of their job (i.e., making deliveries or running errands).  

But It’s Not Always That Simple

The “coming and going” rule basically means that employees traveling to or from work aren’t entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits.

But attorney David Oberly of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin (@MarshallDennLaw) says there are plenty of exceptions to the coming and going rule. He notes, “The courts have continued to carve out exceptions to the general bar on recovery for travel-related injuries."

These cases have become very fact specific, and if the employee can show that there is a “reasonable connection” between their injury and the job, they may be entitled to benefits.

Oberly also reminds small-business owners that they can be liable for accidents their employees cause others during work errands. See “What Is Vicarious Liability?” for more information on that topic.

The takeaway: Create clear travel policies that specify what activities are considered work-related, Oberly suggests. “Ideally, employers should guard against sending employees on causal missions and errands unless absolutely necessary.”

So think twice before you send the new guy out to pick up your coffee. If he gets injured, your Workers’ Comp policy may have to pay for his medical expenses.

How to Make a Professional Liability Claim in 3 Easy Steps

19. April 2016 07:58

woman on the phone and taking notes

It’s a beautiful day at work. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and everything is moving along like clockwork. But then the mail comes, and what do you find? A demand letter from your most troublesome client.

Your first instinct may be to fire off a nasty email, but take a deep breath instead. The choices you make in the heat of this moment may come back to haunt you. Moreover, you need to think about protecting your business and making a claim on your Professional Liability Insurance as soon as possible. These three steps can help you navigate that process.

Step 1: Contact Your Professional Liability Provider Immediately

No one expects to be sued, but it happens. In fact, a 2014 survey by Hiscox shows 13 percent of SBOs have been sued by a vendor, employee, or client, and 47 percent say the lawsuit had negative impact on their business’s finances.

It’s a lawsuit-happy world, and that means someday you may have to make a claim on your Professional Liability Insurance. And when that day comes, call your insurance provider first.

Contact your provider immediately after your client…

  • Sends a demand letter.
  • Makes a threatening call.
  • Emails a complaint.
  • Asks for your Professional Liability policy information.

Remember it’s not always the client or their lawyer who puts you on notice. If a regulatory agency contacts you or you receive a subpoena, that's also your cue to contact your professional liability insurance provider.  Give your provider a copy of the complaint and your policy number so it can get to work on resolving the dispute.

Pro tip: Make that call sooner rather than later. According to Shavon J. Smith, a small business attorney and founder of SJS Law Firm (@TheSJSLawFirm), “Many small businesses forget about promptly notifying their insurance company."

Professional Liability policies typically require you to notify the insurance company even if you suspect you may be sued. Plus, Professional Liability is usually written as a claims-made policy, so a delay in filing the claim may jeopardize your coverage.

Lastly, you want to give your insurer and your lawyer ample notice. “Ignoring the notice or waiting until the last possible minute gives your attorney less time to prepare an effective initial response,” says Smith.

Step 2: Defend a Professional Liability Claim with Documentation

The documentation your professional liability provider needs most likely depends on the details of the claim, but start gathering records of your business relationship, such as…

  • Contracts.
  • Emails.
  • Fee information.
  • Service agreements.  
  • Scope of work documents.
  • Change orders.
  • Receipts.
  • Bills or invoices.

Sometimes small-business owners hold back records that they think hurt their defense, but that’s a bad idea.

“I’ve had clients not produce emails,” says David Lilenfeld (@DavidLilenfeld), attorney and founder of Lilenfeld PC in Atlanta. “I’ve had clients delete emails, but typically they’ll say ‘we don’t have any’ or only produce emails that are favorable," he says. “If you withhold information, I can’t give you the best advice.”

Pro tip: Remember that holding back information makes your lawyer’s job more difficult, but it can hurt you in other ways, too. Most Professional Liability policies require the policyholder to assist in their defense. Your insurance company may see your reluctance to share information as a breach of contract, which may impact your coverage.

Step 3: Work with Your Professional Liability Provider

Your Professional Liability policy most likely requires you to assist your insurance company and the attorney it provides. That means you may have to:

  • Carve out time for depositions.
  • Dig through your records for information.
  • Answer lots of questions.
  • Help create a timeline of the relationship.
  • Negotiate a settlement.

Pro tip: Just because you’re working with your insurance company’s attorney does not mean you can’t have one of your own.

Gina Bongiovi (@LawyerGina), attorney and founder of the Bongiovi Law Firm, thinks the ideal situation is for small-business owners to already have a lawyer helping them avoid liability claims in the first place. That way if a lawsuit does pop up, “an attorney is already on the scene with a working knowledge of the business and the history leading to the dispute,” she says.

For tips on how your business can reduce its professional liability exposures, check out “Reminder: Communicating with Customers Can Prevent Professional Liability Lawsuits.”

This post is part of an ongoing series on how small-business owners can navigate the professional liability claims process as smoothly as possible. Stayed tuned for upcoming posts about filing, preventing, and defending professional liability claims.

Business Liability Insurance vs. Commercial Property Insurance

18. April 2016 08:03

building and vehicles in flames

Sometimes bad things happen without warning. Take, for example, the CNN report of a massive explosion in Seattle that destroyed a building and injured nine firefighters. The report states the blast was so powerful that windows shattered in businesses as far as two blocks away. The most likely culprit? A natural gas leak.

A quick Internet search shows that gas leaks aren’t as rare as you might think, but this story is just one reason most businesses usually carry both Commercial Property Insurance and business liability insurance. In short, the two types of insurance offer two distinct protections: coverage for your property and coverage for lawsuits. Let’s take a closer look at how these policies can help a small-business owner pick up the pieces after an unexpected disaster.

What Is Commercial Property Insurance?

Commercial Property Insurance is the policy that can protect your business's physical assets, including its building, furniture, equipment, inventory, and more.

This is the policy you turn to when you need to repair or replace business property that is damaged by:

  • Fire.
  • Hail.
  • Lightning.
  • Windstorm.
  • Vandalism.
  • Explosions.

Let’s say your business is the one obliterated by the gas leak in Seattle. Your Commercial Property Insurance may help cover the cost of repairs, making it easier for you to return to business as usual.

Get details about customizing your commercial property coverage in “Property Insurance Coverage: Let’s Get Physical.”

What Is Business Liability Insurance?

Commercial Property may cover the damage to your business property, but what about the damage to your neighbors' property? If explosion is your fault, you could be on the hook for their damages. That’s why it’s important to have business liability insurance, too.

Business liability insurance helps you address the responsibilities you have to the people who come into contact with your business, such as…

  • Customers.
  • Partners.
  • Suppliers.
  • Vendors.
  • Employees.

Each relationship creates different exposures, so insurance companies offer different types of liability policies to fit those risks. Here's a quick rundown of some liability insurance policies and the risks they cover:

  • General Liability Insurance. General Liability can help address third-party lawsuits, or those suits brought by individuals who are not your employees. For example, if a customer is injured in your store and sues, General Liability can help cover your legal expenses.
  • Professional Liability Insurance. This policy, also called Errors & Omissions Insurance, can address client-initiated lawsuits. It typically pays for your legal expenses when a client claims your work was negligent.
  • Workers' Compensation Insurance. Workers’ Comp helps you comply with state laws and take responsibility for employee work injuries. It can help pay for their medical bills and lost wages.
  • Employment Practices Liability Insurance. Your business can also face claims of discrimination from employees and job candidates. EPLI can address that exposure by helping to pay for legal expenses if you face certain employment lawsuits.

An insurance agent can help you assess your risks and determine which small business liability insurance policies make sense for you.

How to Bundle Your Business Liability and Commercial Property Policies

More often than not, accidents – even the ones that don’t involve explosions – have a bigger reach than you anticipate. A momentary distraction that keeps you from cleaning up a spill or from turning off a faucet can set off an expensive chain reaction where people get hurt and you foot the bill.

Of course, insurance isn't free, but you can reduce your coverage costs by bundling your policies. By combining General Liability and Commercial Property into a Business Owner’s Policy, insurers can often offer these fundamental policies at a reduced rate.

Bundled insurance is a practical way to get your General Liability and Commercial Property Insurance, but you may face other risks that require different coverage. Learn about important business liability insurance in the post “Got a Negligence Claim? Looks Like a Job for Professional Liability Insurance.”

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