Insurance & Employee Benefits
ROLE OF PROPERTY INSURANCE
Insurers are in the unique position of having encyclopedic information about the many different ways your business property could be damaged or destroyed, from fire and flooding to embezzlement. Property is also vulnerable as a result of a variety of other events such as electrical surges, accidental activation of a chemical sprinkler system or a computer virus.
Because insurers know so much about what can go wrong, they can provide your business with the insurance coverages your particular type of enterprise requires. Without appropriate insurance, property losses can easily cause the entire enterprise to fail.
The purpose of property insurance for the small business is to provide critical financial assistance in the event of a loss, so that the enterprise can continue to operate with as little disruption as possible.
Property insurance alone is seldom enough, however. It should be but one part of an overall risk management and disaster recovery plan. On average, businesses that devote resources to risk reduction and risk control have fewer insurance claims. Firms with a good record on claims generally have more insurers competing for their business, so that they are able to find coverage more easily and often at a lower price than companies that have more losses.
We cover here, in a general way, many of the more common types of property coverage. You can obtain full information about your particular policy by reading the policy itself and discussing your coverage needs with your agent or insurance company.
PROPERTY INSURANCE POLICIES
Insurers offer small businessowners a huge variety of property insurance policies. There are policies that cover only a single peril, or cause of loss, such as a fire insurance policy, a crime policy or an electronic equipment policy. The particulars of the policies vary from insurer to insurer.
And there are policies that include several different coverages in a single “package.” The majority of small businessowners find it more convenient and economical to purchase a package policy, which provides protection against many types of loss in a single policy. Insurers may create their own insurance policies. Many rely in part on a package policy format from ISO. This policy is generally referred to in the insurance industry as the Businessowners Policy (BOP). The BOP is revised periodically. The discussion here is based on provisions of the 2004 revision to the BOP.
PROPERTY COVERAGE IN THE BOP
The BOP covers any buildings the business owns and much of the property needed to run the business.
Specifically, the policy covers:
Buildings as named in the policy "Declarations," generally the first pages of the policy. Structures are covered as well as permanently installed fixtures, machinery and equipment; outdoor fixtures; items you use to maintain or service the building, such as appliances; and additions under construction. You can choose to insure your buildings at their "actualy cash value"—what they are worth—or their "replacement cost"—what it would cost to replace them with new construction. To keep up with the increasing cost of rebuilding, the policy’s limit of insurance for covered buildings will automatically rise by a set percentage each year. Be sure to discuss with your agent whether you should purchase the standard building coverage or replacement cost coverage.
Building contents, although there are a few exceptions. The policy covers most property on or near the business premises that is used in the business. This would include such things as machinery, computers, raw materials or inventory. You also have coverage for any leased property, which you are contractually obligated to insure.
Property of others that is in your care, custody and control to the extent you are legally liable for that property. This coverage is particularly important to a business, such as a computer repair shop, that earns revenue from servicing the property of others.
WHAT ABOUT A BUSINESS THAT LEASES OR RENTS ITS PREMISES?
If your business rents or leases its premises, your lease should describe your obligations with respect to insurance. If you are the sole tenant, you may be responsible for insuring the building. You may be responsible for continuing to pay rent even if the building is destroyed. Should a fire destroy the building, will the landlord or the tenant be responsible for debris removal? You may want to review your lease with your insurance agent to be sure your property insurance covers your obligations.
For those who rent, the BOP provides coverage for tenants' improvements and betterments. These are fixtures, alterations, installations or additions that you have put into the space that cannot legally be removed from the landlord’s premises.
COVERED CAUSES OF LOSS
Insurance contracts always describe in some way the perils being insured against. One type of BOP names the covered causes of loss. Another uses what insurers may call the “special form,” which states that all causes of loss are covered except those that are excluded by name. Because the special form provides broader coverage, premiums for this type of BOP may be higher.
In the BOP format that names covered causes of loss, those included are fire, lightning, most explosions, windstorm or hail, smoke from accidental fire, aircraft or vehicles (not including those owned or operated by the business itself), riot or civil commotion, vandalism, automatic sprinkler leakage,