If a manufacturer, distributor or merchant incurs a loss from your product, you need product liability insurance to protect your business. Product liability is generally considered a “strict liability offense” — if your product has a defect, you’re liable.
“Like most things, the devil is in the details. From an insurance perspective, it’s important to look at all of the terms and conditions of your general liability policy,” says Shane Moran, vice president at ECBM.
Smart Business spoke with Moran about the facts of product liability insurance.
What are some product liability claims?
Product claims typically fall into three categories, claims arising from:
- The manufacturing or production process — opening a can of soup and finding a piece of metal in it.
- A design failure or hazard — a chair designed with one of its legs significantly shorter than the others.
- A product that is not adequately labeled as to the potential hazard of the product — the label on a cigarette pack or a warning label on prescription medicine.
Who should have product liability coverage?
Manufacturers are not the only companies with product liability exposure — every company from the manufacturer of the components down to the retailer can be brought into a suit, and potentially has an exposure. A retailer may have an exposure if it assembled or installed the product and didn’t follow the manufacturer’s instructions properly. The retailer also would have a duty to the buyer to test the product for safety.
What possible damages could be awarded?
Your company can be legally obligated for damages to a third party that your product causes. These damages range from bodily injury to property and economic damage, with punitive damages potentially awarded.
You also can sustain loses in terms of recall cost, further product testing, advertising cost to prevent damage to your reputation, and business income and extra expense loss.
Why do some policies cover economic damages, but not punitive or statutory damages?
When policies cover economic damages, they mean compensation for a verifiable monetary loss, which can include loss of future earnings, loss of business opportunities, loss of use of the property, cost of repair or replacement, loss of employment and even medical expenses.
Punitive damages are awarded for the purpose of punishment, or to deter a reckless decision or action. Typically, they are used when compensatory damages are deemed inadequate. Punitive damage is a tricky area for insurance, as most jurisdictions have ruled that it is uninsurable. You need to examine your commercial general liability policy’s terms and conditions to see whether you have coverage. In most cases, you will find a punitive damages exclusion included.
Why is it a bad idea to underreport sales volume to lower your premium costs?
Most general liability policies are auditable. While an owner may want to use a lower exposure base to keep upfront premiums low, at the end of the day that same owner runs the risk of a large additional premium payment with the audited exposure.
Right after the policy expires, the audit occurs, which coincides with when the deposit premiums are paid. Deposit premiums are usually 25 percent of the total premium, so without using the proper exposure base at the beginning, a company could be looking at a very large outlay of cash in a short time period. This cash flow crunch could cause the cancellation of a company’s insurance for nonpayment.
Most carriers also lower their rates as the exposure base increases. So, by understating your exposure, you could be causing your company to have a higher rate and premium.
What other mistakes do companies make in this arena?
Many business owners think their insurance covers everything. But, for example, you may or may not have a product recall exclusion. The cost associated with recalling a product can be enormous, and you don’t want to find out that you have no coverage when faced with a claim.
If you’re unsure of your coverage, contact your insurance broker and/or risk manager to review the language.
Shane Moran is a vice president at ECBM. Reach him at (610) 668-7100, ext. 1237, or email@example.com.
For more information about risk management, see ECBM's blog.
Insights Risk Management is brought to you by ECBM
Many owners of small and midsize businesses are aware of cloud technology and software as a service, but don’t understand its radical cost transformation. It’s no longer a technical curiosity but a competitive necessity.
“The cloud brings a tsunami of cost-effective IT to the small business’s front door,” says Kevin O’Toole, senior vice president and general manager of Business Solutions at Comcast Business Services. “But it does bring two challenges with it. You have to pick the right partners, adopt the right technology and have good support. And your competition is going to embrace these technologies, so if you don’t figure out how to embrace this your business will be at a competitive disadvantage.”
Smart Business spoke with O’Toole on what to know about software as a service.
Why are small and midsize businesses buying software in the cloud?
IT for small and midsize businesses used to be about scarcity. They couldn’t afford expensive servers and staff to maintain them. Now, the cloud allows everyone to buy applications and services on demand, as they need it. Instead of having a server that may or may not get backed up or upgraded, everything is housed in an industrial data center with strong security and software that is regularly patched.
Also, when you buy a server, you’re buying capacity for the future. But when you buy software from the cloud, you can get it on a per user basis, adding or taking off users as your company changes.
Overall, software as a service allows you to focus on your core business. The cloud can help you get customers and serve them more efficiently, help your back office run more productively and help keep your costs down.
What kind of software applications are businesses getting from the cloud?
Pretty much anything can be managed out of the cloud at this point. Business owners are getting messaging through a hosted email exchange service. They are buying data backup services and file sharing services. With conference services, literally a couple of minutes later you can be doing a conference from six different locations with video and screen sharing. Other applications being adopted are financial and human resources services.
What do businesses need to know upfront?
The biggest things to know are:
- There are a lot of providers out there, but you want to buy from providers you can trust. It’s actually not that hard to start a cloud company, but it is hard to run one well. Sorting through the clutter and having someone vet providers for you is very valuable. Make sure when you put your business information into someone’s hands, it’s someone you trust.
- Have insight on what you intend to do with the system, so you don’t implement one system only to find out you really wanted additional features in a larger system. Also, even though your overall financial costs are lower with the cloud, there are also adoption efforts to consider, such as training your employees.
- Try to buy services in an environment with great user management and support. For example, if you’re using five different cloud applications, you don’t want each employee to need five logins and passwords. From a support perspective, make sure you have a partner on the other end to help with any troubleshooting.
- While a Google search of any cloud-based application or service will give you many listings, it is important to work with someone who can sort through it all. Find someone to ask hard questions of the cloud provider and set the bar high on quality.
What do companies do if they have technical questions about cloud-based software?
Like any technology project, you will have support questions — things do go wrong and there is confusion. It goes back to how you bought your cloud service. You can go to the source and work directly with a software vendor to purchase, onboard and maintain business applications via the cloud. You may get great support, or your provider may not always answer the phone leaving you with a major problem that you can’t solve right away. By going through a cloud expert that has the technical know-how to answer questions and troubleshoot when necessary, you can maintain that focus on your core business while also making your business more effective with the cloud.
Kevin O’Toole is a senior vice president and general manager of Business Solutions at Comcast Business Services. Reach him at (855) 867-5010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about Comcast’s new online marketplace of business-grade cloud solutions with simple access and account management.
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The Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) initiative, rolled out in 2011, is the most recent way the federal government regulates the heavy truck and bus industries to ensure safe operation of commercial vehicles on our highways.
Companies directly affected are trucking companies, hazardous material haulers, some private carriers, heavy truck fleets and bus companies. But shippers, freight brokers and any companies that hire motor carriers to handle business transportation needs should review and monitor the safety scores of the companies they use.
“Courts have found liability in hiring a motor carrier with known safety issues and violations. This has placed an even greater need for motor carriers and other transportation companies to ensure they have good CSA scores,” says Kevin Forbes, sales executive at ECBM.
Smart Business spoke with Forbes about the CSA program and its impact on insurance.
How does the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s CSA work?
The goal is to reduce the number of crashes and crash-related deaths involving large trucks; statistics show the federal government’s involvement in safety compliance has helped. With local partners like state police and Department of Transportation (DOT) officials performing inspections and collecting data, the government uses the CSA system to rate motor carriers and bus companies against their peers and create standards of safety compliance. Motor carriers that don’t follow safety regulations can be put out of business.
How has the safety measurement system (SMS) changed?
The SMS is the database that stores and sorts the safety information collected by the various enforcement agencies. The old model was limited in its scope and effectiveness. The new system breaks the safety areas into seven categories called BASIC, or Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, which are:
- Unsafe driving.
- Hours of service, the amount of time drivers are allowed to drive.
- Driver fitness.
- Controlled substance/alcohol.
- Vehicle maintenance.
- Hazard substance compliance.
- Crash indicator.
Information collected during roadside inspections and DOT compliance audits is used to promote safety by rating carriers in these areas. By monitoring these, the system seeks to identify problem motor carriers that need compliance review, as well as notify motor carriers of issues they might be having so they can focus on those areas.
How has CSA affected insurance?
The initiative stores information on all of the different roadside inspections for each company, which is available online to anyone at ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/sms. With this information and more at the underwriter’s fingertips, motor carriers and bus companies have had to focus on keeping BASIC category scores down to ensure competitive insurance pricing.
This trend will likely continue as the CSA program provides regulators and insurance carriers with long-term data trends. Insurance companies are using the data to develop predictive modeling programs that identify loss-indicating trends of transportation companies. In renewal negotiations there is sometimes a greater focus on CSA scores than that company’s specific loss history.
How can businesses decrease their risk?
For transportation companies, a proactive approach to understanding the regulations should provide for lower insurance costs, quality shipper/customer relationships and more money to the bottom line.
The CSA regulation places a greater onus on the drivers, so proper communication and education of the driver workforce is necessary. Strong hiring practices are crucial. Investing in newer equipment and technologies also can help reduce scores. Vehicles can be equipped with safety features such as lane departure warnings, rollover warning devices, computer/video monitoring devices for driver behavior and more.
Companies must monitor their scores and see what areas they need to focus on. Your broker can help you in this constantly changing process.
Kevin Forbes is a sales executive at ECBM. Reach him at (610) 668-7100, ext. 1322 or email@example.com.
For more information about risk management, see ECBM's blog.
Insights Risk Management is brought to you by ECBM