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.
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