Insurance funds losses; it transfers risk from your company to the insurance company for a fee – premium. Deductibles are used to reduce the number of claims by having the business pay small amounts and only reporting larger issues. The order in which claims are funded is: Deductible, liability limits, and then company assets — and sometimes personal assets. Your company needs high liability limits to protect company assets.
Claims exceeding $1 million in liability are infrequent, but not rare. Umbrella insurance covers above all other liability insurance in one million dollar layers. High liability limits become affordable this way. Business nightmares, such as the $3 million cup of coffee, the truck catching fire under a railroad bridge, or your vehicle colliding with a school bus, unfortunately do occur. A million or two is not sufficient coverage for most operations.
Asbestos and tobacco companies produced legal products for years before lawsuits started as the result of long-term exposure, and these very successful companies were brought to the brink of extinction. These companies kept tens of millions in umbrella layers. How much is enough?
Commercial Liability insurance covers injuries to other people and damage to their property caused by your company, your employees, or you. The cause of loss might be vehicle, products, premises, operations, liable, slander, poor advice, or even aviation related. The amount of liability and types of insurance depends on your company’s exposure to risks. Most companies face fleet risks, premises-operations risks, and employee injury risks; some add professional liability risks, aviation risks, common carrier and garage liability risks.
Insurance companies recognize these typical risk scenarios and respond by offering Business Automobile, Truckers, Garage, General, Aviation and Professional Liability policies.
Purchasing sufficient liability limits for disastrous claims is costly when purchased one liability risk at a time. In fact, most companies simply could not afford purchasing insurance this way. Insurance companies offer Umbrella coverage to serve this need. The company proscribes underlying, or first dollar coverage limits, over which umbrellas pay claims settling for more, or in excess, of these policies. Since these claims are infrequent, premiums are affordable; and each added million dollar layer decreases in cost.
In addition, most umbrella forms add liability coverage by insuring more risks than the underlying policies. A relatively modest – $1,000 to $10,000 – deductible is required, but then the umbrella limits cover unscheduled liabilities. So, with an Umbrella policy, the order in which claims are paid is: deductible or underlying liability limits, umbrella limits, and then company assets.
How much is enough combined liability limit? How well can you predict the future of litigation? Products, operations, and vehicle claims in excess of $3 million are not rare. The cost effective answer depends on the amount of assets you’re protecting, the cost of the coverage, company profit from which to expense the premium, your risk tolerance, and the availability of Umbrella coverage.
Three more factors are worth considering: Products claims might take years to discover. Claim inflation requires high limits at the time the claim is paid. Large liability claims take time to settle. Claim inflation is rampant. Even though an event occurs today, you may be settling at the going rate three years from now. Million dollar claims were rare 20 years ago; not so much now. Courts have been chipping away at the corporate liability shield for smaller businesses. Personal assets might be at risk. Now consider how far that erosion of corporate protection might progress by the time you get your day in court.
Umbrella liability limits should be high enough that business assets are not at risk. Business survivability is at risk with a too low limit. Your current limits can be assessed and reviewed by your broker and/or attorney for adequacy.