General Public & Products Liability

General Public & Products Liability Insurance can be confusing to understand. At its basic level, it is designed for businesses who interact with customers &/or members of the public. It protects against claims of personal injury or property damage that a third party suffers (or claims to have suffered) as a result of your business activities.

At Logical, we believe it is paramount to ensure you have the right Liability insurance program in place

Insurance companies offer many differing versions of cover, some are better quality than others. So it is important to understand what your particular policy covers.

Typically, policies will generally provide cover for:

  • Legal costs incurred in the defence or settlement of a claim;
  • Cover for others who may be acting on behalf of your business when the incident occurred
  • Loss or damage of goods – which are in your care, custody or control which you do not own
  • Loss or damage of someone else’s property that occurs while performing your service
  • First aid expenses at the time of incident
  • Injury to others who sustain injury whilst visiting your premises

There are exclusions, which can include:

  • Employer’s responsibility for injured workers (a workers compensation policy in your business’s domiciled state/territories is a requirement)
  • Aircraft products
  • Motor vehicles (including mobile plant and equipment which are registered, or should have been registered at law)
  • Asbestos
  • Punitive damages (damages awarded where a judge believes you acted so badly that extra damages are awarded)
  • Liquidated damages (damages usually agreed to in a contract which specifies the total amount of compensation an aggrieved party should get, if you breach certain part(s) of the contract).
  • Gradual pollution
  • Product recall
  • Contractual liabilities (liabilities assumed under contract which you would not be liable for at common law, that is if you enter into a contract which assumes the liability of others, if the law would not consider this your liability had you not signed the contract).

Depending upon your business’s structure, there are other considerations including;

Subcontractors

Often businesses will use subcontractors to undertake various activities on their behalf for all sorts of reasons, including unplanned increased short-term work loads, a specialist activity or possibly even a preference to use a subcontracted workforce. Subcontractor’s activities can include construction, communication or technology & administrative functions.

Subcontractors are not normally covered under the business’s liability policy, so it’s good business practice to confirm that any subcontractors being engaged hold adequate liability insurance. This can generally be achieved by obtaining a certificate of currency, a copy of which should be kept on your file. Where a subcontractor is being used for a particular contract or will be working for your business for an extended period, it’s also a good idea for the business to be named as a principal under the subcontractors’ liability insurance. Therefore if the subcontractor is responsible for a claim, it will be made under their policy and the business will be protected for any vicarious liability as a principal.

Sometimes subcontractors don’t have public & products liability insurance in place or the business simply wants to include them under their liability policy. Whilst we would generally discourage this practice, contractors may be included subject to insurers being provided with the required underwriting information and if acceptable, payment of an additional premium. The cover would be limited to the work undertaken by the subcontractor on behalf of the business.

Labour Hire Staff

It is not unusual for injuries to occur to labour hire staff, contractors, sub-contractors or employees of any contractors or sub-contractors whilst they are performing work for or on behalf of the business. The business owes a duty of care for the health and safety of these workers.

Labour hire staff are generally owed a greater duty of care as they operate totally under the instruction and supervision of the business. Subcontractors and their workers are considered “self-directed” and more responsible for their own health and safety, however, the business still owes a duty of care to them.

Each state/territory has their own workers compensation programs. Typically, an injured workers claims from their employer’s workers compensation insurer. The workers compensation insurer investigates the circumstances of the claim and looks for opportunities to recover some (or all) of the cost of the claim from the host employer. Should the workers compensation insurer attempt recovery from the host employer, the host employer will naturally seek indemnification from their Public & Products liability insurers. These liability claims are often generally long tail in nature and can be substantial in cost.

With the increase in use of contract labour over the past decade, this has become a major underwriting issue for liability insurers.

Therefore, some insurers are completely excluding cover for these types of claims. Others are imposing substantially higher excesses, typically between $15,000 and $25,000.

Contractual Liabilities

Public & Products liability policy wordings will normally exclude contractual liability, although nominated (or designated) contracts might be considered by insurers with the provision of relevant information, such as the scope of works, contract value, term, indemnity and insurance requirements.

However, the general position at Common Law is each party is responsible for their own acts or omissions. Contractual liability seeks to modify this, which can be used to clarify responsibilities or sometimes used to the principal’s advantage. Indemnity clauses, such as “Hold Harmless” clauses can vary the Common Law position. There are many variations of hold harmless clauses used by lawyers when drafting contracts, however, the most challenging is where the contract principal is being held fully harmless under the contract, so the contracted party is agreeing to pay all claims irrespective of the cause, under the contract. These contractual liability clauses are likely to increase your liability in the event of a claim. Clearly, this type of clause should be avoided as it is usual for insurers not to provide cover for this increased liability.

Nominated (or designated) contracts may be endorsed on to a liability policy and if acceptable to insurers they will likely include a higher excess for any “liability assumed under contract” and additional premiums will apply.

Principals’ Indemnity

Requests are often made to insurers to include principals’ as named insureds in respect of specific projects or contracts, however, insurers will generally hesitate due to possible unforeseen issues that may arise outside the contract. A solution may be the inclusion of the principals’ indemnity clause.

The principals’ indemnity clause effectively names the principal as an insured party in respect of their vicarious liability, but only to the extent required by the contract or agreement and subject to normal policy limits, terms and conditions.

Therefore, if a claim arises against the contractor or the principal arising out of an act or omission of the contractor, the principal will be covered under the contractor’s liability policy as an insured party.

The Importance of Obtaining Appropriate Legal Advice

These are complex areas, which means it is prudent business practice when you are considering entering into relationships with another parties, such as customers, suppliers or subcontractors, to obtain appropriate legal advice and arrange written agreements which set out the terms of engagement, including insurance arrangements.

For example, it is important that agreements do not contain contractual liability clauses which may increase your liability in the event of a claim, and are excluded from general and public liability insurance policies.

Prudent business practice dictates that when you are considering entering into a relationship with subcontractors, it is important to obtain appropriate legal advice and arrange written agreements which set out the terms of engagement, including insurance arrangements.

With respect to subcontractors, rather than insureds trying to arrange for subcontractors to be included within their liability policies, we believe that subcontractors should hold their own appropriate insurance policies, and this aspect should be included within the relevant subcontractor agreements. This will help protect you against claims arising from the actions/inactions of subcontractors. This will also help protect your liability policy from unwanted claims and any subsequent losses against it, which will likely carry increased future premiums and other impositions resulting from a claim that is partly or wholly attributable to your subcontractor. Further, as part of your standard business practices, you should periodically obtain certificates of currency from your subcontractors to keep on file and refer to in the event of a claim.

Finally, you should consider obtaining appropriate legal advice to ensure you are not attempting to disguise employment relationships as independent contracting arrangements. Fair Work inspectors, operating under The Fair Work Act 2009, can seek the imposition of significant penalties for potential contraventions of sham contracting arrangements.

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