As a small business owner, you’re responsible for guiding your business to growth while protecting it from risk. If part of your job involves giving advice to other businesses or people, you need professional liability insurance, which is different from general liability insurance.
Before we dive into professional liability, it’s important to understand what a general liability insurance policy covers and how they differ. General liability, or commercial general liability (CGL) insurance covers third-party personal injury, bodily injury, and property damage. It’s a must-have for small business owners from retail store owners to in-home painters who want coverage against slip-and-fall incidents and other workplace accidents.
Professional liability insurance, on the other hand, is a necessity for any small business that offers expert advice to clients. This kind of policy also goes by a few other names:
- Errors & omissions insurance (E&O)
- Professional indemnity insurance
As these titles suggest, professional liability can help provide indemnity (protection) if you’re accused of making professional errors or omissions that impact your customers. No matter what your policy is called, its function is protecting you from the risks you take on when working with clients and dispensing advice.
But what exactly does professional liability insurance cover? In this short guide, we’ll advise you on the basics. Let’s do this.
What does professional liability cover?
Actual or Alleged Negligence
If you fail to complete your professional service as agreed upon in your contract due to factors in your control, you could be sued for professional negligence. Professional liability insurance coverage can help cover the cost of any damages.
Defending yourself in court means incurring expensive attorney’s fees, as well as associated filing costs. Professional liability can help by providing the investigation and defense related to liability.
Claims and Damages
Professional liability insurance coverage can also help pay damages for settlements in the case of unintentional omissions or errors that arose from your providing services.
Note, the key is the word unintentional. If you purposely gave bad advice or engaged in criminal acts, your professional liability policy will not respond
There are also other limitations to your professional liability insurance policy that are important to understand.
“Professional liability is essential for a complete risk management package, protecting your business and assets, whether you are actually responsible, or someone just claims you are.”
What’s not covered by a professional liability policy?
Claims for damages because of:
- Bodily Injury
- Property Damage
- Fraudulent Acts
- Employment Matters
- Workers’ Compensation
- False Advertising
- Patents and Trade secrets
- Disclosure of Personally Identifiable Information
- Health care professionals
- Educators and teachers
- Financial advisors
- Architects and engineers
- Insurance & real estate agents
Professional liability does not provide coverage in the following situations:
Personal injury, property damage, and bodily injury
As we noted at the start, general liability insurance can provide coverage against these kinds of claims. Bundle your general liability coverage and professional liability coverage to protect yourself on both fronts.
Employee injury or illness that occur on the job
To protect against these claims, you need workers’ compensation insurance.
Damage to your place of business and the equipment inside
To protect your business property, you’ll need commercial property insurance.
Loss of your client’s data
If your server is hacked, you could expose your clients to risk and your business to expensive retrieval fees. Does a security breach qualify as a professional liability mistake? Or is it property damage? It’s a little bit of both, but in the world of insurance, you need a specific cyber liability insurance policy to protect against digital risk.
Lawsuits that allege discrimination
If you discriminate against your clients, that’s not an “error.” Discrimination is illegal under federal law, and your policy would not respond in these cases.
Make sure you understand any other exclusions or limitations in your insurance policy so that you can sign up for the additional coverage you need.
Who needs professional liability insurance?
Professional liability insurance can help in situations where you fail to deliver services, give well-intentioned, but bad advice, or your negligence (mistakes) cause you to miss a deadline.
If a client is unhappy with your professional service, they can sue you. Unless your errors, mistakes, or negligence led to their financial loss, they may not have a great case—but you’re still at risk for incurring expensive legal fees and other defense costs to prove them wrong.
Don’t think your clients could sue you? Let’s take a look at a scenario:
You’re an A/V installation professional. You’ve agreed to set up a client’s ticketed event by a certain time. You fail to arrive on time, and the show can’t go on as planned. Attendees ask for a refund. Should your client sue you for professional negligence, you could be responsible for the lost income.
Even if professional liability insurance isn’t a legal requirement, it’s a great safeguard for many small business owners, including:
- Consultants and coaches
- Tech professionals
- Design professionals
- Event planners
- Event organizers
- Hairdresser and beauticians
…and the list goes on.
In short, if you work with clients and even a small part of your job involves giving them guidance, you should seriously consider professional liability coverage. Don’t think your clients could sue you for errors, mistakes, or professional negligence?
Let’s look at an example:
You’re a graphic designer who proposes your client tries out a bold new visual identity. Web traffic plummets and advertisements fail. Should your client sue you for their financial loss, you could be held responsible. Even if you are ultimately not found to be responsible, the legal costs could adversely affect your bottom line.
If you sign contracts with clients, you can be sued for failure to uphold them. If you provide advice, you can be sued when it goes awry.
While professional liability insurance is an additional cost to add to the checkbook, a small monthly payment could protect your business’ long-term financial health if a mishap occurs.
One important note: Professional liability insurance won’t do you any good if you engage in criminal activity or give bad advice on purpose.
When professional liability insurance is non-negotiable
Insurance may not have been part of your original business plan. However, if any of the following apply, it’s time to update your budget:
- Professional liability insurance is legally required for your profession
- Your contract requires that you take out an errors and omissions policy
- You give professional advice to clients and want to protect yourself from claims of negligence or error
- You want to protect your business from potential legal costs and payouts
How much professional coverage do I need?
Most insurers will let you choose your coverage limits. That’s the maximum amount of any insurance payout (after any deductible, if the policy has one).
Factors that affect your risk (and ultimately cost) include:
- ZIP code
- Past history of claims
At Thimble, we believe you know your business best. That’s why we provide two coverage options. Take out $1 million to provide significant liability protection in the face of claims of negligence or mistakes. If you believe you need more coverage for any reason, choose a $2 million policy to double down on coverage. And the professional liability insurance offered through Thimble does not have a deductible.
- What do you do for a living? App Developer
- Enter your business zip code 22401
- Choose your coverage Monthly
- Do you have anyone working with you? Just Me
Other types of business insurance coverages
As you can see, professional liability insurance is critical to have if you’re offering expert advice to your clients, even when it’s not legally mandated. However, this policy isn’t a catch-all for the various other risks of running your small business.
Along with professional liability insurance, consider getting better covered with the following kinds of policies:
General liability insurance
To protect from client and other third-party claims of property damage, bodily injury, and personal and advertising injury. General liability coverage may be a licensing requirement in your industry.
To provide insurance coverage for your employees’ workplace injuries and illness. This insurance is required for most businesses with one or more employees (depending on the state).
Commercial property insurance
Can help cover your physical place of businesses and the property inside it (equipment, computers, etc.).
In each case, make sure you understand the specifics of your policy as well as any exclusions so you can make sure your business is protected from risk.
Professional Liability Coverage FAQs
Where is professional liability coverage via Thimble available?
Professional liability insurance is currently available with Thimble in AL, AR, AZ, CA, FL, KY, MD, MI, NJ, NM, NV, OH, OR, PA, SC, TN, UT, and WV. If you don’t see your state yet, stay tuned!
What if I only need professional liability coverage part of the year?
Not a problem! With Thimble, you only pay for insurance when you need it. So whether you’re just starting out as a marketing consultant and only have a few clients or only work certain during certain periods, Thimble has a business insurance policy to fit your needs!
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