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Monthly Archives

April 2017

Protect Your Pets

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

Your four-legged friend is part of your family, and when your pet gets sick, it needs medical care. Veterinary services can be expensive, though. Pet insurance helps you afford the treatments your pet needs.

How Does Pet Insurance Work?

Every pet insurance policy is a little different, but in general you may visit any licensed veterinarian you want, including your preferred vet, emergency vets and specialists.

You’ll pay any bills for treatment at the time of service. Then, you may invoice the insurance company. The reimbursement procedure depends on the policy. Your policy may include a schedule of benefits that assigns a specific value to each procedure, or it may pay you a percentage of each invoice. Check your policy for reimbursement details.

What Does Pet Insurance Cover?

Read your pet insurance policy for details on what it covers. Usually, you can pay for several different types of pet care, including:

  • Accidents – broken bones, bite wounds, toxic exposure, swallowed object
  • Illnesses – stomach issues, ear infections, cancer
  • Hereditary and congenital conditions
  • Behavioral and alternative therapies
  • End of life treatment and care
  • Preventative care – wellness visits, vaccines, dental cleanings, health screenings, tests

Keep in mind that most pet insurance policies will not cover everyday expenses such as grooming or boarding costs. They may not cover pre-existing conditions, either.

Also, your pet insurance policy cannot be cancelled unless you stop paying premiums. Purchase a policy before your pet turns 10, and the coverage should be in effect for the rest of your pet’s life.

Where Can You Buy Pet Insurance?

Numerous insurance companies sell pet insurance. The policy options normally include:

  • Whole pet care – covers everything from wellness visits to prescription medication to surgery and hospitalization
  • Major medical – covers common medical costs including those related to accidents, illnesses and certain hereditary conditions
  • Wellness – covers your pet’s annual essentials such as wellness exams, vaccinations and flea and heartworm prevention

Compare several options and talk to your insurance agent about your needs as you choose the best policy option for your pet and family.

What Does Pet Insurance Cost?

Pet insurance policy premiums depend on several factors. The type of insurance you choose, where you live and even your pet’s age and breed affect pet insurance costs. Compare all your options and discuss details with your insurance agent as you ensure you have the right pet insurance for your furry friend and budget.

Pet insurance helps you provide your pet with the health and wellness services it needs. Consider investing in this insurance for your four-legged friend.

Houseplants Work Better than HVAC Systems

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

The focus on energy conservation has been making our buildings get tighter and tighter, allowing less and less air exchange. This can result in “Sick Building Syndrome,” with pollutants trapped inside the building causing such symptoms as sensory irritation of the eyes, nose, throat; neurotoxic or general health problems; skin irritation; nonspecific hypersensitivity reactions; and odor and taste sensations.

Causes include flaws in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. contaminants produced by out gassing some types of building materials, volatile organic compounds (VOC), molds, improper exhaust ventilation of ozone, light industrial chemicals used within, or fresh-air intake location /inadequate air filtration).

Three major pollutants –formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene – are used in building materials, cleaning products, paint, adhesives, varnishes, and oils found in homes and workplaces throughout the nation.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive and easy way to improve indoor air quality, look no further than the common houseplant, says a study by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) on improving indoor air quality. NASA was looking for ways to purify the air in space stations. However, the study turned out to have some down-to-earth applications: houseplants not only brighten the environment in homes and workplaces, but also have the ability to cleanse indoor air and remove harmful pollutants.

So how could a little houseplant get rid of these nasty, dangerous air contaminants when sophisticated, powerful HVAC systems can’t seem to manage the job?

The answer: To survive, houseplants use a process called photosynthesis that produces food from carbon dioxide and hydrogen, converting energy from light absorbed by chlorophyll in the plant’s leaves. Carbon dioxide and hydrogen, of course, are readily available in air. Because houseplants are so good at absorbing these gases, at the same time they also absorb other gases – including harmful indoor air pollutants!

Plant photosynthesis does us another big favor by releasing a waste product that we need to survive – oxygen. So having plants around not only removes pollutants, but refreshes indoor air with regular infusions of oxygen.

The NASA/ALCA study also found that some houseplants were better than others at removing specific pollutants. For example, bamboo palm, peace lily, golden pathos, red-edged dracaena, and spider plant were good at filtering out formaldehyde. Peace lily, English ivy, and bamboo palm worked best for removing benzene from indoor air, while peace lily and bamboo palm worked well for filtering trichloroethylene.

How Trusts Can Protect Your Assets

By Life and Health | No Comments

Most people do not look forward to planning the distribution of assets upon their death. However, it is a task that all of us must face. And, that’s where trusts enter the estate-planning arena. A trust is simply an arrangement whereby one person holds legal title to an asset and manages it for the benefit of another. In one form or another, it may be used in personal financial planning.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of a trust is the ability of the trust to bridge the gap between life and death. Essentially, the person establishing the trust is able to rule from the grave, not forever, but to the extent the law allows. Usually, a trust can be designed to last for many generations.

Trusts can also be set up for an individual’s own benefit, not necessarily for tax purposes, but for many other reasons. He might want investment management, or a desire to invest in a new business venture with strong potential but with a high risk. He could then use the trust to ensure an income in the event of failure. He might elect to set up a family trust with the primary purpose of observing its operation and eliminating any deficiencies that might appear in actual operation. Though he might feel that presently he is able to manage his affairs, he is not certain about the future.

In this instance, a “standby trust” could prove to be useful. On the other hand, trusts can be established for the benefit of others, such as children, a spouse, grandchildren, or even parents. Additionally, an individual might want to provide for what might be regarded as missing elements in the abilities, experience, or training of beneficiaries.

This is especially a consideration when minors, or others deemed legally incompetent, are the intended recipients. But trusts may be set up for the benefit of competent, responsible adults too-for the same reasons the person establishing the trust might want to set up a trust for himself. These reasons include freedom from management burdens, expert administration, mobility, and other practical reasons, the most important being cash savings.

Although avoiding probate might be a consideration, the estate and gift tax savings made possible by the use of trusts might be even more important in many cases. Use of the trust device can often permit a donor to transfer assets for the benefit of a beneficiary, while shielding such assets from the reach of creditors. The laws of most states permit the creation of so-called “spendthrift trusts.” Use of such trusts might allow the individual establishing the trust to place both trust principal and income out of the reach of the beneficiary’s creditors.

Usually these laws prevent the beneficiary from assigning any part of the interest in the income or principal of the trust since most creditors look to property that could be assigned by the beneficiary. Their attempts to reach assets can be thwarted or at least made more difficult. The person establishing the trust is generally permitted to make free use of his own assets, even if the result is to prevent a beneficiary from dealing with the trust’s assets at will.

Careful consideration should be taken before trusts are established. In addition, be certain to seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before establishing trusts.

Why Do You Need Business Insurance?

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

Most business owners would agree that it’s important to maintain insurance to protect business assets. When they think about insurance, business owners generally consider protection against hazards such as fire, flood or theft at their company sites. This is obviously an important protection to have. However, there are other types of hazards that may not be quite as high on the list, but protection could be every bit as important to offset significant financial losses. Here are five examples that underscore the need for comprehensive business insurance protection:

Company vehicle contents

If you operate a business with employees on the road making service calls to customers, chances are there is valuable equipment contained in the company vehicles. But a typical auto insurance policy would probably not cover the contents of a company vehicle if that valuable equipment is lost or stolen.

Tenant property improvement insurance

Do you rent space to conduct your business? Have you built out the interior of your space or made improvements to accommodate your business needs? If so, you probably made a considerable investment in the improvements. But many property insurance policies don’t include the value of the improvements made by a tenant to the existing structure. If you’ve invested in improvements, it’s worth taking a look at securing coverage to protect it.

Home-based business equipment

More and more people are working at home at least part of the time, even if they maintain an office or site elsewhere. Most don’t have insurance on the business equipment they keep at home; many assume their homeowner’s insurance would cover it. However, homeowner’s insurance generally does not cover business equipment. If you have expensive business equipment at home, you may want to consider purchasing additional protection.

Business interruption insurance

Remember the series of hurricanes that hit Florida? The wild fires that damaged cities and towns in California? The flooding that disrupted life in the Midwest? In addition to the effect that disasters have on individuals, they can bring businesses to a standstill for weeks or even months. Business interruption insurance can provide a way to get back on your feet.

Key person insurance

In many companies, the knowledge and skills of a single person or a top few are absolutely essential to the enterprise’s success. Key person insurance can help a company recover if an essential employee dies or becomes disabled for a lengthy time. The coverage can provide needed funds that allow the company to continue operating during a search for a successor or until the key employee returns.

As you can see, there are many hazards businesses face that aren’t covered under a typical insurance policy. However, you can get extra protection with the types of coverage outlined here. Since you invest so much time, money and effort into your business, it pays to make sure you have the protection you need. Call us for a consultation today!

Covering Your Non-Profit and Volunteer Workers

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

The challenge in running a non-profit is that it still takes money and resources. Just because you’re not interested in getting rich off of this idea doesn’t mean that money is not an issue. If a worker suffers an injury on the job, their compensation has to come from somewhere.

Something that may come as a surprise to many: Volunteers are not typically covered by worker’s compensation policies. In more states than not, worker’s compensation only covers, well, workers. If you are paying actual employees at food banks workers’ compensation insurance will cover their injuries. Likewise Meals on Wheels insurance policy will cover the organization’s workers. If you’re working with unpaid volunteers this is not the case.

Your volunteers may wind up covered by a general liability claim, but this is not always the case. If you want to make sure that your people are covered no matter what, then you’re probably going to have to bring them in as paid employees, or at the very least, under an internship program that includes medical and worker’s compensation benefits and so on.

A problem with relying exclusively on volunteers for your workforce is that you don’t really get to pick your staff from the best and brightest. Many who volunteer will bring their A-game, they will take the task just as seriously as they would take their dayjob. This isn’t always the case, unfortunately, and without any payment or compensation or even the safety net of worker’s compensation to draw talent, you wind up taking what you can get.

Non-profit doesn’t mean nobody gets paid. Non-profits are usually devoted to a humanitarian cause and their primary concern is not making anybody rich, but making a difference, but that doesn’t mean that everyone involved is simply donating time and resources without compensation. Typically you’re going to have benefactors and other income streams that will allow you to hire qualified people for your food bank, and provide them with the appropriate coverage they need in order to provide them, and you, with peace of mind.

To put it bluntly: a volunteer force is a great idea in concept. In reality, you’re asking some of the kindest, most generous people in the world to foot the bill themselves if they get hurt on the job. That’s a recipe for, if not a lawsuit, at least a guilty conscience. The most effective way to make a difference in the long term is to get some money behind your cause and treat your workers like you would paid employees at any other business.

Layoffs and Your Insurance Risks

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

One of the most difficult aspects of running a business is the hiring and firing of employees. In particular, firing or terminating an employee can be a complex issue regardless of the circumstances involved. Proper handling is necessary in order to prevent the employee from harboring hard feelings against the company. Furthermore, in this situation the employee may develop a plan to find employment elsewhere. It is imperative for the business to handle the termination delicately to prevent the worst from happening, namely a lawsuit filed against the company by the ex-employee. Even for businesses that use “at-will” employment, this risk is not fully alleviated. “At-will” employees are just as dangerous as contracted employees.

When either the employee or the company can terminate employment at any time and for any reason, unless that reason is illegal, the phrase “termination-at-will” is used to describe this situation. This clause is important protection against the potential lawsuit of the employee. That does not mean that employers can let their guard down, however.

In the jurisdictions where termination-at-will applies, employers need to tread very carefully to avoid putting the employee’s at-will status in danger. An example application of this principle would be if the employer gave the employee verbal assurances that their job was secured. If the employee is later fired, this could be grounds for a lawsuit, since the verbal assurances directly contradicted their at-will status.

If performance issues are at the forefront, the employer cannot simply fire the employee. First, they must schedule a comprehensive evaluation meeting with the employee and go over exactly where the employee is failing to meet their standards and what can be done about it. The two key components of this meeting must be a set of goals that the employee considers attainable and a reasonable time frame in which to achieve those goals. Crucial to the success of this meeting is the understanding that the employee will be terminated if they cannot meet these goals within the time frame.

It cannot be emphasized enough that this is the key protection the company has against a lawsuit. To finalize this protection, an action plan that documents the goals and the time frame must be created and signed by both the employee and the employer. Until the goals are met or until it becomes clear that the employee cannot or will not meet them, the employer must monitor the employee’s progress. Satisfying these constraints provides firm legal ground for the termination of an employee, since that termination can be shown to be fair and the last resort.

Aside from job performances, the other two issues affecting termination lawsuits are termination based on misconduct and termination based on layoffs. If misconduct is at the forefront, the employer needs to marshal evidence that they did, in fact, conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation of the employee’s conduct. This investigation must be of a fact-finding nature that determines whether the employee violated any behavioral conduct standards. The employer must avoid trying to find out if the employee violated the law; only possible violations of company policy are the purpose.

When an employee is laid off, the layoff procedure must comply with the stipulations of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act or WARN Act or the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act or OWBPA. Companies with 100 or more employees are subject to the constraints of the WARN Act. There is a time limit associated with the WARN Act: they do not cover employees who have worked less than six months at the company, or employees that work fewer than twenty hours per week.

If the worker is laid off due to age-related concerns, the employer must seek an agreement from the employee that the employee will not sue for age discrimination. Under the OWBPA, there are stringent constraints for age discrimination claim waivers. Previous court cases have handed down rulings that these stipulations are unqualified and meant to be applied exactly as written.

Contact our office today for information about the Business insurance products that can help to protect your company against employment-related risks.

This article should not be relied upon as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney familiar with the issues and laws of your state before taking any action.

Adult Day Care: Prioritize Maintenance And Watch Everything Else Fall Into Place

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

Maintenance is just about your most important expense in the adult day care business. Making sure that you can hire the best possible staff comes first, of course, but maintenance is a close second. Put simply: Nobody wants to put their parents, grandparents, aunt or uncle in a care center that looks a little shabby. Putting a few extra dollars into your maintenance budget can make a tremendous difference.

Providing the best possible care and ensuring that your guests are happy starts with your maintenance budget. Keeping your facility in good shape and well supplied has to be taken care of before your staff can do their job. Adult Day Care Property Insurance is a requisite for covering big repairs, keeping you safe in the event of liability and so on, but the best way to protect your business, to make sure that you keep your rates low, is with a clean, safe, well-kept environment.

This is the foundation for everything else. If someone presses charges against you for any reason at all, a poorly maintained facility is not going to do you any favors. Your guests are less likely to suffer any sort of injuries or illnesses in the first place if you make sure that your facility is in great condition. It is of the utmost importance to keep your facility well-maintained, and to make sure that it looks that way.

Of course, working pipes take precedence over new wallpaper, but peeling, faded wallpaper is going to cost you some customers. Think of cosmetic maintenance as part of your marketing budget. If word gets around that your place looks lousy, well, that’s a little depressing. Families looking for an adult day care center are going through a difficult time. You can score five stars out of five on everything else, but if your facility has a depressing atmosphere, word is going to get around, and people aren’t even going to bother coming by for a tour.

In the long term, proper maintenance means fewer serious damages. Replace a leaky pipe now and you don’t have to replace a moldy ceiling a few months from now. So taking good care of your place means lower insurance premiums and a slimmer chance of your insurer having to cover a liability claim for you. In the immediate term, better care for your facility just means happier customers, healthier guests, and just plain better business overall.

Builder’s Risk Coinsurance Clauses, Common Mistakes and Penalties

By Construction Insurance Bulletin | No Comments

Coinsurance clauses are commonly found in a Builder’s Risk Completed Value policy. As one might deduce merely from the name, a coinsurance clause involves the policyholder becoming a co-insurer of the risk of loss with the insurer. In other words, certain conditions would result in the insurance company not paying the total amount of loss, thereby leaving the policyholder to bear the remainder of the loss amount. The insured and the insurer jointly assume the risk.

Those unfamiliar with such a clause are probably wondering why any policyholder would even consider a coinsurance clause. The benefit of buying an insurance policy with such a clause is that the policyholder will usually have relatively low premiums compared with similar policies that don’t contain a coinsurance clause. That said, anyone considering a coinsurance clause should understand what it entails and requires, so that they aren’t taken by surprise with penalties should a loss occur.

A typical coinsurance clause found in a Builder’s Risk Completed Value policy will say that the insurer will not pay more for any loss than the proportion that the limit of insurance bears to the value of the structure described in the declarations as of the structure’s date of completion. The way a coinsurance clause works with the policy limit is often a source of confusion for policyholders. Take a loss of $20,000 with a policy limit of $100,000 for instance.

It would superficially appear as though the insurer would be responsible for the total loss. However, once the coinsurance clause is figured into the equation, the insurer might not be responsible for paying the total loss amount. This will depend on the policyholder maintaining enough insurance to avoid the coinsurance penalty.

If the coinsurance is applied, it might look something like this: Still using the $100,000 policy and $20,000 worth of damage from above, the completed value of the project will be determined as $120,000 at the time of loss. The value of the $100,000 policy is only 80% of the $120,000 actual value of the project. So, the insurer is only responsible to pay $16,000, which is 80% of the $20,000 worth of damage.

Anytime the policyholder receives a lesser sum than what the full value of the claim is because of a shortfall between the completed value of the project and the policy limit, it’s termed a coinsurance penalty. The discrepancy between the two numbers can be the result of a number of mistakes made by the policyholder. Policyholders often make the mistake of failing to report when expected costs are surpassed.

Any increased completed value must be shown in the policy limit when costs overrun original figures. The best way to make sure the policy limit is updated is by keeping your insurance agent apprised to the overruns so that the appropriate changes can be made.

All too often a policyholder makes the mistake of setting their limit of insurance based on the amount of the construction loan for the structure. Most of the time, the completed value of the project is greater than the amount of the construction loan.

An example would be a significant portion of a building project being funded by cash, but not computing the cash amount when totaling the completed value. If the insurance is only for the financed amount, then the policyholder will suffer a coinsurance penalty for any losses.

Another common mistake occurs when the policyholder doesn’t include profit and overhead in the completed value. These are generally figured at 10% for each. If not accounted for, this can cause a substantial coinsurance penalty.

Sometimes, it’s what shouldn’t be included that could lead to problems. Land value, excavations, and underground work, for example, shouldn’t be included in the completed value. These aren’t covered losses on typical policy forms. So, the policyholder would just be paying additional costs for items that wouldn’t be covered during loss.

The Blurry Lines of Liability

By Construction Insurance Bulletin | No Comments

In construction and trade contracting, insurance and liability can be tricky. To what extent do you have to cover your own risks? To what extent can you expect the client to take full responsibility? Who pays out if one of your crew members is injured on the job? What if a third party takes a bump, neither a client nor a contractor?

Sometimes it’s fairly clear cut. For instance:

Third Party Injuries

If a third party is injured as a result of your construction work, if, say, a ladder falls on them or they cut themselves on a stray bandsaw or break an ankle tripping over a misplaced 2×4, then chances are you’re going to be held liable. This is where your contractor’s liability comes into play. A client may be able to press charges against you successfully if they are injured on the premises, but the chances of a client doing this are relatively slim as they are putting you in a position where you have to prove that they, not you, were negligent.

Injured Workers

In contracting, it’s generally a safe bet that an injured worker’s primary concern is drawing worker’s compensation until they’re able to hit the job site again. Employer’s liability will help to make sure that you are covered in any event involving an injured worker.

Injured Contractors

If you are working with contractors rather than fulltime employees, the issue is only as clear-cut as you make it: You need to make absolutely certain that you are not going to be held responsible for negligence. Worker’s compensation does not apply to temps and contractors, but you may still be held responsible if it is found that you, for instance, failed to brief your workers on the dangers, or if you provided them with tools and safety materials in poor condition. Essentially: If you do everything in your power to keep contractors from being injured, then it will be difficult for anyone to argue that an injury is owed to your negligence.

Although these situations are usually fairly clear-cut, that’s not always the case. Maintaining a safe worksite is of the utmost importance. Even your workers who have no interest in pursuing anything beyond worker’s compensation may have litigious friends and family telling them that they’re entitled to more. It’s easy to blow anything from a chipped hard hat to a slick floor out of proportion, so a relatively safe, uncluttered environment is the most important thing in managing liability.

What is a Waiver of Subrogation?

By Construction Insurance Bulletin | No Comments

It is very common for the insurance requirements in a construction contract to include a provision requiring the subcontractor to waive all rights against the owner and general contractor for recovery of damages to the extent these damages are covered by the sub’s workers’ compensation and general liability or commercial umbrella liability insurance.

Owners and general contractors insist on this provision because they want to protect themselves from being held liable for injuries to a subcontractor’s employee. Typically, the contractor giving the waiver asks its insurance company to attach a “waiver of subrogation endorsement” to its workers’ compensation policy.

The endorsement states that the insurance will company will not enforce its right to recover payments it makes to an injured worker from the person or organization listed on the endorsement. It applies only to the extent that the employer insured by the policy performs work under a written contract requiring the employer to obtain the insurance company’s waiver.

It does not directly or indirectly benefit anyone not listed on the endorsement. With this endorsement on the policy, the company cannot attempt to recover payments it made to an injured worker from the company listed on the endorsement, even if that company was responsible for the injury.

Consequently, the loss impacts the employer’s experience modification, probably increasing future premiums. In addition, the endorsement carries an additional premium for the employer, normally some percentage of the premium attributable to the job.

The endorsement and the waiver agreement in the contract do not bind the injured employee. He still has the ability to sue the owner and general contractor for his injuries. However, it is also common for construction contracts to require the subcontractor to defend and indemnify the owner and general contractor from any such suits.

Therefore, it is probable that the employer will have to pay an additional premium for the endorsement, pay higher future workers’ compensation premiums for the loss, and pay higher future liability insurance premiums because its policy will cover the other parties’ liability.

For example, assume the sub’s employee suffers serious injuries when tools and materials fall off a scaffold and strike him. He collects workers’ compensation benefits for his medical costs and lost wages. The sub’s workers’ compensation policy includes the waiver of subrogation endorsement, so the insurance company cannot recover any of its payments.

The worker sues the owner and general contractor for his pain and suffering. However, the contract requires the sub to cover the owner’s and general’s liability, so the sub’s liability insurance pays for the pain and suffering lawsuit. The sub’s insurance pays twice for the same injury to the same worker.

Owners and general contractors require waivers of subrogation for several reasons. Insurance consultants, brokers, and risk managers usually encourage them to require waivers. Waivers protect their liability insurance and reserve it for other claims. Because a waiver reduces potential liability losses, they become more attractive to liability insurance companies and probably pay lower premiums.

Also, subcontractors often do not resist these requirements because they feel they lack negotiating leverage and their insurance companies are usually willing to provide the endorsement.

A few states have curbed the use of waivers of subrogation in their workers’ compensation systems. At least four states have passed laws making the requirements unenforceable, and other states allow the employer to recover from the injured employee some of the proceeds of pain and suffering lawsuits.

In the majority of states that allow waivers, contractors should work with professional insurance agents experienced in providing construction insurance. They can suggest insurance companies that will offer the needed coverages at a reasonable cost and assist with contractual issues such as waivers of subrogation. Above all, contractors must read and understand their contracts so that their agreements do not become an ugly surprise after a loss.