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Understanding General Liability Insurance

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In today's litigious society, even small mishaps can result in large lawsuits. That's why general liability insurance, along with property and worker's compensation insurance, is essential for most companies. Liability insurance protects the assets of a business when it is sued for something it did (or didn't do) to cause an injury or property damage.

General liability insurance can be purchased separately or as part of a business-owner's policy (BOP). A BOP bundles property and liability insurance into one policy; however, the liability coverage limits are generally pretty low. Businesses that need more coverage usually purchase liability insurance as a separate policy. The amount of coverage a business needs depends on a couple of factors:

  • Perceived risk. Business owners should first consider the amount of risk associated with their business. For example, a business that manufactures heavy machinery is at a greater risk of being sued than a company that manufactures linens, and would therefore need more liability insurance.
  • The state in which you operate. Businesses that operate in states with a history of awarding high damage amounts to plaintiffs typically need to carry liability insurance with higher coverage limits. An insurance broker can offer guidance in this area.

How General Liability Works

Under a general liability insurance policy, the insurer is obligated to pay the legal costs of a business in a covered liability claim or lawsuit. Covered liability claims include bodily injury, property damage, personal injury, and advertising injury (damage from slander or false advertising). The insurance company also covers compensatory and general damages. Punitive damages aren't covered under general liability insurance policies because they're considered to be punishment for intentional acts.

General liability insurance policies always state a maximum amount that the insurer will pay during the policy period. Usually these policies also list the maximum amount the insurer will pay per occurrence. For example, if a company has a $1 million occurrence cap in its liability policy and it's successfully sued for $1.5 million, the insurer would pay $1 million and the business would be responsible for paying $500,000.

To cover these types of situations, many companies purchase umbrella liability insurance, which picks up where their general liability coverage ends. Umbrella liability covers payments that exceed their other policy's limits, and provides additional coverage for liabilities not covered in a standard liability insurance policy.

Most insurance companies require their policyholders to report as soon as possible any accidents that could lead to a liability claim. The insurer may then require the business owner to document the situation, forward all summonses and legal notices, and cooperate fully in any investigations.

Taking precautions before an accident can help keep your liability and insurance rates down. All businesses can take certain steps to lower the chance of a liability insurance claim:

  • Set a high standard for product quality control;
  • Make sure all company records are complete and up-to-date;
  • Be sure employees are properly trained;
  • Get safety tips for your type of business from your insurance company.

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