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    Thursday
    Dec202018

    Closing the Coverage Gaps in Your Lawyer's Professional Liability Insurance Policy

    Having gaps in your liability coverage is like venturing out into a snowstorm without an overcoat. In either case, it's tough to succeed without protection. Before purchasing any insurance policy, you need to fully understand the basic structure of the contract in terms of what's covered and not covered.

    In general, liability policies are written as "claims-made" policies; that is, the claim for a wrongful act, error or omission must be made and reported to the carrier while the policy is in effect. This means that should your current insurance policy terminate for any reason, such as the insurer refusing to renew or your firm allowing the policy to lapse while shopping for new coverage, any wrongful acts occurring during this gap between the expiration of the old policy and the start date of the new one will not be covered unless you have either "prior acts coverage" or "extended reporting endorsements."

    The first of these, "prior acts coverage" is written into your new policy.  This allows for all incidents leading to claims after your former policy expired to be covered regardless of when they happened provided the coverage is written without a time limitation. There is generally a surcharge for this unlimited coverage based upon how many previous years you want covered. A carrier will not always write this type of "full prior acts" coverage even if you agree to the surcharge. For example, a carrier may refuse because information on your application indicates a high level of risk. Another alternative may be that the carrier provides full coverage, but only within a more restrictive policy. The carrier may also elect to provide prior acts coverage but with the stipulation that coverage would not be in effect under certain circumstances, such as a claim in which the firm knew of the wrongful act, error or omission or should reasonably have know about it prior to the start date of the policy.

    Adding "extended reporting endorsements" or "tail" coverage to your current liability policy allows you to make and report claims for prior wrongful acts, errors or omissions after the policy has expired for a specific period of time. There are several instances when this type of coverage is critical. The first is when the insured is changing carriers and "prior acts coverage" is not available or is too restrictive in scope. Secondly, this coverage is even more important when the carrier change is necessitated by the insurer's refusal to renew coverage and your law firm doesn't have an alternative yet. There is an additional surcharge for extended reporting coverage.

    The other scenario in which this coverage is vital is when a lawyer is no longer actively practicing. When an attorney retires, becomes a judge, or goes from private practice to in-house counsel, the exposures that may arise from the former practice can be covered by "extended reporting endorsements."

    The time to determine what kind of extended reporting your policy provides is before you purchase. Each carrier determines how long an extended period they will provide, under what conditions this coverage can be purchased, and the cost for such an endorsement. In some cases, the coverage is sold in multiples of the policy premium; while in other cases, the cost is the rate that is in effect at the time the endorsement is purchased. 

    Tuesday
    Dec182018

    Finding the Best Home Contractor for the Job

    Let's say you're about to take on a house project, whether it's a major kitchen renovation or a simple painting job, and you decide to hire a contractor. So, you flip through the phone book and call the first number you see listed under "Kitchen Remodeling" or "Painters." Not so fast.

    Many homeowners don't realize that they are taking a huge risk when they hire just any contractor off the street. If you don't do your homework, you could be exposing yourself to massive amounts of liability. What if a painter falls off his ladder and badly injures his back while painting your living room? What if a kitchen contractor hits a pipe and floods your home? Who will cover the lofty expenses associated with these types of accidents?

    The thought of such a home improvement catastrophe is enough to send chills down any homeowner's spine. This is why it's so important to hire only licensed, insured, highly experienced contractors to work on your house project-no matter how big or small the job may be.

    Here are a few rules of thumb for hiring a reliable contractor and limiting your liability:

    Ask for recommendations

    One of the best ways to find a dependable contractor is simply to ask your friends, family members, co-workers and neighbors. Ask everyone you know and trust if they can suggest a reputable contractor who did exceptional work for them. More than likely, if a friend was happy with a contractor, you will be too.

    Avoid solicitors

    Steer clear of contractors who go door-to-door or make cold calls in search of work. The best, most reliable contractors don't have to resort to such solicitations.

    Don't fall for "limited time" offers

    If a contractor quotes you a "limited time" project price that will increase if you don't hire him immediately, run like the wind. This can be a sign that the contractor is dishonest or illegitimate.

    Get it in writing

    Don't settle for verbal agreements. Request a written estimate that includes a detailed breakdown of the project costs, including materials and labor fees.

    Verify, verify, verify

    Before you hire any contractor, make sure that they are licensed, bonded and insured-and don't just take their word for it. Verify all of this by asking for certificates of insurance for workers' compensation as well as info on their general liability policies. If the contractor working on your home plans to use subcontractors, be sure to ask for the certificates for those subcontractors as well.

    Read the fine print

    Before the contractor begins work on your house project, request a copy of the proposed contract. Read all of the fine print and make sure all the terms are fair and reasonable. The contract should clearly establish an independent contractor relationship. It should also include a "hold harmless clause" in your favor, especially if the contractor is doing major work that involves heavy equipment (such as installing a swimming pool or adding a room to your house.) A hold harmless clause ensures that the contractor will cover any expenses associated with members of the public who are injured or whose property is damaged during the project.

    Check with the Better Business Bureau

    If you're still not sure, contact the Better Business Bureau for more information. They can tell you if any consumers have filed complaints against the contractor. Visit the bureau's website at www.bbb.org.

    Thursday
    Dec132018

    Does Your Insurance Cover What You Agreed to in That Contract?

    Most construction projects involve written contracts. A contractor signs a contract with the project owner, with the general contractor, or with a subcontractor on the project. The contract normally spells out the obligations of the contractor regarding, among other things, the insurance the contractor must carry and liability that he will assume. Construction contracts often contain "indemnification" agreements under which the contractor agrees to assume some of the owner's or general contractor's liability for accidents that occur during the project. Should something happen, will the contractor's general liability insurance policy pay for the damages he assumed?

    The policy is probably similar to the Insurance Services Office's Commercial General Liability Coverage Form. This form covers the injury or damage for which the insured is liable because he assumed liability in an "insured contract" executed prior to the accident. It also covers attorney fees and other litigation expenses to defend the owner or GC if the contractor agreed to assume those costs in the contract. By an insured contract, the form means:

    • A lease of premises
    • A sidetrack agreement with a railroad
    • An easement or license agreement
    • An indemnification agreement with a municipality
    • An elevator maintenance agreement
    • Other business contracts

    Contractors are mainly concerned with these "other" business contracts, as construction contracts fall into this category. The general liability form covers the tort liability of one party assumed by another. This means that, for coverage to apply, the first party must have some legal responsibility for injury or damage suffered by someone else.

    For example, assume GC hires SC to run the cabling in an office building GC is constructing. GC and SC sign a contract in which SC agrees to assume GC’s liability for injuries and damage SC may cause during the project. One of SC’s employees trips over a toolbox that was resting on a ladder, and the falling tools injure an employee of another contractor on the job. The injured employee sues both GC and SC for medical costs and pain and suffering. Because SC agreed to assume GC’s liability for injury or damage suffered by a third party (GC’s tort liability), the contract qualifies as an insured contract. SC’s liability insurance will cover GC’s liability and provide legal defense for GC.

    The insurance will not cover all of a GC’s tort liability, however. A third party must suffer bodily injury or property damage before coverage will apply. Suppose GC turns the completed building over to the owner, and the owner finds that computer networks do not work in four offices. The owner determines that the problem is the result of faulty cabling, and he sues GC and SC. Even though SC has agreed to assume GC’s liability, the liability insurance will not cover this loss. That is because the building owner did not suffer property damage. The building is defective, but it has not been damaged.

    Contractors should expect to find indemnification agreements in most construction contracts. Because of this, the contractual liability coverage contained in general liability insurance policies is critical to their financial health. It is very important for contractors to review their liability policies to ensure that their insurance companies have not limited this coverage.

    Contractual liability coverage is vital to a contractor’s business. Make sure that it does all that you need it to do.

    Tuesday
    Dec112018

    AAA Study Shows After School Hours Dangerous for Teen Drivers

    Parents have always been concerned about their teenagers driving on the weekend, especially at night. However, a new AAA study of crash data reveals that after school hours can be as deadly for teenage drivers as weekend nights. The researchers advise parents that they need to be just as vigilant about monitoring their teens' driving on weekday afternoons as they are on weekend nights. 

    The researchers studied the number of fatal crashes involving teenage drivers between 2002 and 2005. What they discovered is that almost as many 16 and 17-year-old drivers were involved in fatal crashes between 3 and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday as were on Friday and Saturday nights between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. There were 1,100 weekday crashes and 1,237 weekend crashes.

    To combat this growing problem, the AAA recommends that parents do the following:

    ·  Establish specific driving rules with your teen. If they follow the rules, they will be permitted to increase their amount of driving time. Breaking the rules leads to fewer liberties. Parents can find a parent-teen driver agreement at http://www.aaa.com/publicaffairs.

    ·  Don't allow a new teen driver to carry passengers during the first three months of driving. Allow them to carry no more than one passenger for the rest of the first year of independent driving. Crash rates increase drastically for 16 and 17-year-old drivers as you add more teenage passengers to a car. Thirty-five states limit passengers for new teen drivers. Every parent should do the same, regardless of state law.

    ·  Don't permit your teen to ride with a new teen driver. Carpooling seems like a sensible way for teens to ride to school, home and activities, but it can promote risky passenger behavior. Research shows that it is more dangerous for several teens to ride in one car than for them to drive individually.

    ·  Ban cell phone usage while driving. Teens have trouble managing distractions, especially while driving.

    ·  Require your teen to wear a seat belt every time s/he rides in a car. Teens have the lowest belt usage rate of any age group, even though new teen drivers have the highest crash rates.

    ·  Make your rules known to other adults in your teen's life. A parent-to-parent agreement with your teen driver's friends will standardize rules among a group of teenagers. Letting your neighbors know your teen's driving rules can provide you extra sets of eyes when you're not around. You can also find a parent-to-parent agreement at http://www.aaa.com/publicaffairs.

    Thursday
    Dec062018

    Protect Your Company from Nuisance Lawsuits

    A March 2007 study from the Pacific Research Institute titled Jackpot Justice: The True Cost of America's Tort System, stated that lawsuits in the U.S. cost the American Public an estimated $865 billion dollars per year. Much of this litigation was needless or stemmed from nuisance lawsuits which could have been largely avoided. In these litigious times, business owners need to sit down and analyze their risk exposure.

    Here are 6 proactive steps that every business owner can implement to reduce their liability resulting from nuisance lawsuits:

    • Form an asset protection plan by designing a list of all the potential assets you stand to lose from a lawsuit. Take a hard look at your current insurance coverage. Make a point to sit down with both your insurance agent and lawyer to limit your exposure from both an insurance and legal perspective.
    • Separate your personal assets from business assets by setting up a C or S corporation or else consider a Limited Liability partnership or even a Limited Liability company. Although this action does nothing to limit lawsuits, you may be able to remove your personal assets from a lawsuit settlement. Consider setting up a qualified retirement plan as federal laws offer protection from creditors for such accounts. However, remember that some states may not include IRA’s so seek qualified advice.
    • Purchase the right liability insurance for your business as this can be the best investment you can make. Seriously consider buying excess or umbrella coverage as you can easily get additional $1,000,000 coverage for a very cheap rate. Today, almost every business which has employees should seriously consider Employment Practices Liability Coverage (EPL) This form of insurance covers current employees, past employees, potential employees, customers or clients from employment related civil actions of discrimination such as gender, age, race or disability, sexual harassment litigation, wrongful dismissal actions, breach of contract, retaliation and other claims brought against your company. Due to the significant rise in such claims, this relatively new insurance coverage has taken on significant importance for companies of any size in recent years.
    • Form your own risk management plan to eliminate unnecessary risk in your workplace. Be proactive in the house cleaning for your company and eliminate hazards by performing repairs or maintenance as they arise. Instill strict and enforceable policies to protect the safety of workers and the public from harmful situations that can quickly translate into a needless lawsuit.
    • Specify your policies to clarify everything and anything that could result in a lawsuit. An employee handbook should be issued to all staff. Have them read the handbook before they start work and sign an appropriate form stating they have read and understood the material. Ensure any policies directed to your customers or general public are clearly visible and explicit. Incorporate your customer policies in all your promotional material. Don’t trip yourself up by making promises which can’t be kept. Train all your staff so they clearly understand any policies which apply to customers or other relevant third parties.
    • Consider taping phone conversations so you have a record of what your caller is inquiring or complaining about. This also provides you with a record of how staff are responding or stating to the caller. Remember that if you decide to take this approach, you must initiate the call with a notice that the call is being recorded. Clear this with your legal advisor first.

    These are but a few simple steps that any company can take to reduce their liability exposure from a host of costly yet nuisance lawsuits.

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