The “Volunteer State” is home to so many American cultural mainstays, it’s hard to keep count. The history of rock n’ roll, barbecue, and even American whiskey are tied to Memphis, Nashville, and Tennessee more broadly. Even our national obsession with
spicy chicken got its start in Tennessee.1 According to its 2020 Small Business Association Profile, Tennessee is also a great place to start a business.2 Over 1.1 million Tennessee workers were employed across its 620,125 small
businesses, making up 99.5% of all business in the state. If you could picture “walking in Memphis” as a business owner, you’ll need the right insurance. This guide will break down the exact kinds you need (required and recommended)  from commercial general
liability insurance coverage, auto insurance needs, to a workers’ compensation insurance policy.

Tennessee Business insurance requirements

As with most other states in the country, business insurance requirements in Tennessee center around two main kinds of coverage for businesses that have employees or use vehicles:

  • Workers’ compensation insurance
  • Auto liability insurance

To make your Tennessee venture a success, you’ll likely want to complement any required coverages with additional, recommended ones—more on this below. First, let’s take a deeper look into what the baseline is and who it applies to.

Workers’ compensation insurance

The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, a subdivision of the Department of Labor & Workforce Development, administers the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act. If your business has regular employees, it may need to cover
them with workers’ comp, depending on the nature of your business. Per the Act3, the following businesses must carry workers’ comp:

  • Construction businesses with one or more employees
  • Coal mining businesses with one or more employees
  • All other businesses with five or more employees

In addition, unlike in some other states, part time workers and family members count toward these thresholds for businesses in Tennessee. Failure to carry workers’ compensation insurance or other infringements of the Act, can result in various financial
penalties.4 These start at $50 per violation and scale up to tens of thousands of dollars, including $1,000 fines per day for some infractions. If you don’t meet the employee threshold, however, you may not be required to have a workers’ compensation
insurance policy. However, consider whether or not you would be able to pay for a settlement related to an employee’s injury or illness on the job without it.

Auto insurance for businesses

All Tennessee drivers must carry auto liability insurance. The Financial Responsibility Law requires drivers to be able to pay for costs incurred by an accident. Failure to do so, whether through insurance or otherwise,
can result in costly fines and the suspension or total loss of your license.5 This applies to vehicles driven for business, as well. Per the Tennessee Department of Revenue, minimum coverage requirements for liability are:

  • $25,000 for injury or death, per person
  • $50,000 for injury or death, per accident
  • $15,000 for property damage, per accident

Exemptions are available, but only for some vehicles deemed inoperable, or for other special cases. 6 All other drivers should be insured, ideally above these minimums. Additionally, there are times when, instead of a personal auto policy,
you’ll need to obtain what’s called commercial auto insurance. If you use your car for certain businesses purposes, then your personal auto policy might not suffice. We know this can get confusing, so let’s take a look at two scenarios. Michael is a
caterer who relies on his car to carry his ingredients, premade meals, and cooking utensils to a job site. If Michael branches out and begins a meal delivery service, using his vehicle for those deliveries will probably mean he needs commercial automobile
insurance. On the other hand, Jenny is a personal trainer that uses her car to visit her clients’ homes. Being that she’s only using her vehicle to transport herself
from one place to another, a personal auto insurance policy should suffice. The last thing to note is that if a car is owned by the business entity (not the individual), it needs a commercial auto insurance policy. However, with all the nuances that
come with insurance, it’s always best to talk to your auto insurance provider.

Other types of Tennessee business insurance

If you want your Tennessee business to thrive, you’ll probably want to do more than just the bare minimum. That’s as true for insurance as any other element of your business. Workers’ comp and auto
insurance may be the baseline coverages you need if you have employees and vehicles, but there are other coverages to consider. Namely, you should consider these forms of business insurance:

  • General liability insurance
  • Professional liability insurance
  • Inland marine insurance (aka equipment insurance)
  • Commercial property insurance

In some cases, there actually might be a legal requirement for you to carry one or more of these coverages. Even if there isn’t, your clients might expect you to, or you might find that all your successful competitors are comprehensively insured.
Having coverage could give you an edge and help you win clients. The most important of these additional coverages are general and professional liability. Let’s take a closer look at each type of business insurance.

General liability insurance in Tennessee

General liability insurance is an essential form of coverage for many businesses, in Tennessee and elsewhere. It serves
to protect your business from financial hardship in the event of third-party claims related to:

  • Bodily injury
  • Property damage
  • Personal and advertising injury

In particular, your general liability insurance will likely provide investigation and defense, as well as pay for damages and settlements, in relation to these claims. Say you run a music studio in Nashville where up-and-coming rock stars come to
practice. If one of them trips over a wire and gets hurt, they may claim it was the studio’s fault and sue you. In that case, general liability will likely cover you. The same goes for damage to his or her guitar caused by you or your employees. But
if you want to protect your own (first party) guitars, speakers, and other equipment, you’ll need what’s called inland marine insurance – a
confusing name for gear and equipment insurance. At Thimble, we keep it simple and call it Business Equipment Protection (BEP). Our monthly general liability
policies come equipped with an optional BEP add-on. This will help protect your personal property and keep business operations running smoothly.

Professional liability insurance in Tennessee

Aside from general liability insurance, there is another form of liability coverage that’s essential for businesses that offer expert services: professional liability. If you’re a music instructor, photographer, or other highly specialized business that gives people advice (or the products of your expertise) there is always a chance that your clients can sue you. In particular,
if a third party claims that they suffered financial loss as a result of your providing or failing to provide the appropriate professional advice, you could be faced with a long and potentially expensive trial or settlement. This is the case even
if they’re wrong! That’s why you need professional liability insurance, which can:

  • Provide investigation and defense for your case
  • Pay for some or all of the damages awarded
  • Pay for some or all of settlements reached

Sometimes referred to as “errors and omissions” (E&O), professional liability insurance is legally required in some fields, like for doctors and lawyers. But even
when it’s not required, it’s important. It can be the difference between a client’s claim sinking your business or you brushing it off and getting on with your work.

How to get Tennessee business insurance

To wrap up the above, the small business insurance you’ll need to get in Tennessee depends on the nature
of your company. If you have employees or use a vehicle, you probably need workers’ comp or auto insurance, respectively. Plus, you may benefit from additional coverages, like commercial property insurance if you have an office or retail space. Additionally, general liability and professional liability insurance can help you avoid the financial consequences of an accident incurred by a third party or
a negligence claim. Here at Thimble, we know that business insurance can be complicated. That’s why we’re on a mission to simplify it, with high-quality liability coverage you can tailor to your specific needs. We empower you to buy insurance by the
hour, day, or month, keeping costs down. And signing up can take as little as 60 seconds. Your policy works when you do, so you can focus on what matters: growing your Tennessee venture into an American success. Rock on!

  1. The Culture Trip. A Brief History of Hot Chicken, Nashville’s Spicy Specialty
  2. U.S. Office of Small Business Administration. Tennessee Small Business Economic Profile. 
  3. Tennessee Department of Labor & workforce Development. Who Must Carry Insurance? 
  4. Tennessee Department of Labor & workforce Development. Penalty Program. 
  5. Tennessee Department of Revenue. Why You Should Have Auto Insurance. 
  6. Tennessee Department of Revenue. What qualifies as proof of exemption from the financial responsibility requirement?