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Suggestions on what kind of liability insurance is needed and references?

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Stephen Pickering
Suggestions on what kind of liability insurance is needed and references?
on Mar 27, 2014 at 3:21:41 am

Hi there,

I looked through the forum and found a few recommended agents to contact, which is a good start. I'm in South Central Wisconsin. I don't care if they're local or not, I just need someone who know what to sell me because I honestly don't know :(

We almost exclusively do corporate work, talking heads, product demonstrations, facility tours, and some commercials/promotional videos (these sometimes use actors).

We received a quote from a broker based on the above for about $300/year. Then the price jumped to over $1,500 when the insurer saw on our website that we mention that we have done "short films" (we aren't offering them as a service but rather used it as an accomplishment/skill). I guess that was a bad move on our part since apparently "films" is a red flag?

So, any suggestions on WHO to call to get the ball rolling on quotes as well as WHAT to ask for?


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Mark Suszko
Re: Suggestions on what kind of liability insurance is needed and references?
on Mar 27, 2014 at 1:32:06 pm

For your gear, I think you're looking for what's called an "inland marine" policy against loss or theft. Then you also need liability coverage for incidents that happen in your studio or when you are on location, like property damage caused by your crew, or any freelancers you're using, to the place where you're working or shooting, or slips and falls or other injuries that happen to your crew, subs, or even just random people wandering into the shooting area.

If working on a real "film", you also typically need coverage for "errors and omissions", like getting sued for using an interview or music that wasn't legally cleared, for having to do re-shoots and re-edits because of a blatant mistake you made, accidentally omitting credit for someone, or not making it clear enough that your evil character is fictional and not the real Mr. Joe Doaks of 1331 Serial Killer Avenue, who's reputation you have sullied. That's probably what spooked your agent and raised your rates, BTW. And you need a completion bond sometimes, which is a guarantee, with money in escrow, that if the production is halted due to certain circumstances, everybody who rendered services to or invested in the film up to that point gets reimbursed.

Other than that, easy-peasy.

It's this kind of stuff that separates the pros from the dilettantes and hobbyists. A real business carries additional costs and obligations that eat into profits and thus raise your cost of doing business. The amateurs just gamble that nothing bad will ever happen, and this lets them cut their rates and increase profit margin. And that's all great... until your number comes up. And if you're in the business long enough, odds are, it will.

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Stephen Pickering
Re: Suggestions on what kind of liability insurance is needed and references?
on Mar 27, 2014 at 8:29:37 pm

Thank you Mark, that was exactly what I was trying to wrap my head around.

I'm sure each insurer will be unique, but would it be reasonable (in my case) to just request extra insurance (errors and omissions) for the few times I actually shoot fictional films or documentaries? Depending on the cost I've been cautioned to look into errors and omissions coverage even for corporate work, so I'll definitely look into this.

Thanks again for your time!


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Al Bergstein
Re: Suggestions on what kind of liability insurance is needed and references?
on Mar 29, 2014 at 3:33:18 pm

Stephen, I would start with my local business insurance agency. They can do the brokering for you, or maybe there is an agency in a nearby bigger city (if you aren't in one), that specilaizes in corporate video. For this kind of question, I would also not think twice about calling my competition, even ones that really aren't (wedding shooters perhaps). That's how I got my insurance, same as my local friends have. And yes, O&E is likely to not be needed on most of your typical corporate shoots, since they give you the facts to put into the shoot. I would go back to the original insurer and explain to them that your films are separate from the corporate work, you are doing it for hire, whereas your personal films are your projects. Another idea might be to simply incorporate that end of your work into a new company. Startup would be minimal, a business license, a separate bank account at your local bank with a couple of hundred dollars in it, and one more form to do at tax time. But for the difference in insurance, it might be worth it!


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Ned Miller
Re: Suggestions on what kind of liability insurance is needed and references?
on Mar 30, 2014 at 4:03:31 pm


Many things. I have been on several shoots where an ambulance had to come, others where we whisked a crew member to an ER (thank you Leatherman), set curtains on fire, spilled coffee on priceless oriental rugs, etc. So I have had big claims and small claims. Like your homeowners and auto insurance, the companies pay small claims with no problems, it's the larger claims that they "push back" and will try to weasel out of. To me the words Insurance Company mean: Weaseling Out Of. That's where your agent comes in, he or she must be a fighter, your "champion". My method is to only use an Independent Agent so they will fight for me when the time comes and if the agent is with just one company they can only push the home office's claim dept so hard, after all, they sign his paycheck. That's why price should not be the deciding factor. Everyone thinks they are well covered until they have a large claim and have to hassle the carrier. As an exercise in your business education, ask an attorney how much they would charge you to go up against an insurance company to collect your claim.

First, are you incorporated? If not, a party suing you will be able to go after your personal assets such as your house, IRA, etc. If you are incorporated they can only go after you by "piercing the corporate veil" by proving gross negligence or fraud.

Second, no one can afford E&O insurance. That's for folks with big budgets and what you and I do doesn't need that unless you start producing programming for broadcast, theatrical distribution, etc. Way too expensive.

Third, always use a local insurance resource that is the largest in your town who you can get some recommendations on. The reason is a lot of what they do, besides selling you, is learning about your services so you can be prepared and covered ahead of time. Local also means they will know your state's law which is extremely important. Since insurance people are 90% salesmen and 10% navigators the out-of-staters will tell you that there's "no problem" writing you insurance but always remember their incentive is to make money on you and they hope you won't have a claim. So stay local with a company that wants your referrals and has a home town reputation to protect. Also, you need a place to go and slam your fist on the receptionist's desk and demand to see the president, which I have had to do. So stay local.

Forth, don't start a relationship with an agent who can't email you a Certificate of Insurance by EOD. The reason is you will have to with large companies provide one, also with rental companies. When you go with the cheapest, and your $300 mentioned above is laughable, you don't get services like certificate turn arounds. If you got a gig in Milwaukee and had to unload in a downtown building's loading dock, a lot of them now want a certificate. Many places you need to rent such as a grocery store where there are professional slip and fall scam artists, they want certificates. Etc.

Fifth, as with your homeowners and auto, think of the worst case scenario, which in our biz is a crew member gets injured (can't even think about killed), member of the public gets injured due to us or locations get destroyed or damaged. I have a $1000 deductible so the pain isn't so great when there is a claim.

Sixth, you want to get in bed with an insurance agent who you will stick with for years, maybe someone you will run into often at chamber of commerce functions, etc. The reason is if you are with the same carrier for years, then have a nasty sizable claim, they don't look at you as a deal hopper and are more willing to pay the claim. I can't emphasize enough how important the agent is when the claims dept doesn't want to pay so them being a golf buddy, etc., is a good business tactic.

When you are interviewing agents face-to-face, ask them about these various scenarios keeping in mind that at the end of the meeting they need to "close". I have done many insurance sales training videos and that is all they are thinking about when you are speaking so run the scenarios regarding liability by them. You will hear the expression "Three C's", that's Care, Custody & Control, meaning when you are filming in any location that is under your Care, Custody & Control that is when you are most vulnerable. Lawyers tend to name everyone involved in their lawsuit and figure out who has the deepest pockets later. If this agent does not bring up the 3 C's then you should, judge their expression, if they are unfamiliar with the term you need to then RUN. Our biz is unique and the average small town insurance agent may not know the ins and outs like the 3 C's.

I could go on and on but it's too nice outside. Call me if you'd like. But remember, it's not just about having a GREAT policy so you won't be destroyed financially, it's also about PREVENTION, which I could write a book on. And here's two valuable free tips regarding liability:

1) Never send a crew member in their own personal vehicle on any kind of chore or delivery for you or your company that is business (production) related, ever, ever, ever. Especially as a shoot out of vehicle.

2) The vehicle you use for your business needs to be on a BUSINESS policy or if something bad happens on a shoot day you are screwed, often forever. Your auto policy carrier will usually try to weasel out of a claim they deem is business related but was on your personal policy. They investigate the larger claims and that's one of the things they look for. So the car you are using for production get a biz policy and some states require business license plates. Also, if you are audited it looks better to the IRS that it is under biz and you were writing it off.

Good luck. Just consider your monthly insurance cost to be a very important part of your doing business budget. I use it as a marketing tool, when I create an estimate/proposal I say that "We Are Fully Insured". That gives the prospect ease of mind and if I am competing against unisured competiitors it really helps me win the gig. Don't be cheap when it comes to liability insurance.

Ned Miller
Chicago Videographer

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