Finding the right insurance for your general contracting business is an important step in protecting and growing your business.
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As a general contractor, you are responsible for making construction projects happen from start to finish. Whether it’s coordinating schedules, hiring labor, ordering materials, or dealing with subcontractors, you’re an expert on delivering great results to your clients.
In your work, you have likely seen firsthand that things don’t always go as expected, and it’s difficult to plan for every possible situation. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have the proper business insurance coverage in place to account for any unforeseen events. Whether it’s a natural disaster or a workplace accident, business insurance can help protect you from a variety of risks and liabilities and keep your business running in challenging times.
You should consider a comprehensive business insurance policy if:
- You work in an environment or with materials that put you at higher risk for injury or property damage
- Your clients require minimum levels of liability insurance
- You drive a vehicle for business purposes
- You work on or around clients’ property
- You own or lease valuable tools, equipment, or materials
- You employ others
- You work with subcontractors
What insurance coverage do I need as a general contractor?
Some of the most common coverages for general contractors are listed below, along with relevant examples of incidents that would trigger these coverages.
Perhaps one of the most important coverages for general contractors, general liability insurance protects your business if you unintentionally injure another person or cause damage to someone else’s property. Often a requirement for doing business, general liability insurance will pay for the legal fees, settlements, judgements, and even medical payments involved in third-party damage or injury claims.
For general contractors, much of your work involves being on-site at a customer’s home, office, or worksite. You’re also working with a number of different tradespeople, from plumbers to electricians, who may be working with dangerous equipment or tools. This opens you up to a high level of liability, as accidents and injuries are more likely to happen on a construction site. Moreover, if you have your own offices that are visited by customers, vendors, or suppliers, there is also risk of someone being injured on your own business property. General liability provides coverage for all of these risk factors.
- Property damage: You are managing a residential home remodel and are delivering materials into the client’s home. You and your employees are carrying a heavy bathtub up the stairs when your grip slips and the tub crashes down the staircase, damaging your client’s stairs and ruining the antique railing. The client sues for the damage.
- Bodily injury: A client trips over a nail gun that was left out by one of your workers. In the process of tripping over the nail gun, the nail gun fires and punctures your client’s foot. The client requires surgery and sues your business for medical expenses and lost wages from being unable to work.
- Products and completed operations: You complete a project for a client which includes a tankless water heater installed in the attic. Months after completing the job, because of improperly fastened anchors, the water heater falls through the ceiling and onto your client, causing serious injury. The client sues your business.
A critical coverage in the construction industry, workers’ compensation insurance provides financial benefits to employees who suffer work-related illnesses or injuries while employed by your business. Because construction has a higher rate of injury than many other professions, it is very important for general contractors to have workers’ compensation coverage. In almost all states, workers’ compensation insurance is required for companies that have employees. In exchange for accepting workers’ comp benefits, an injured employee agrees to not sue your business for the injury. Workers’ compensation insurance is no-fault, which means that it pays benefits regardless of whether the employer or employee is at fault for the injury.
Workers’ compensation can cover the costs of:
- Funeral expenses
- Disability benefits
- Medical expenses
- Rehabilitation costs
- Death benefits
- A portion of lost wages
- One of your employees is using a power saw and injures his hand, leaving him unable to work. Workers’ compensation insurance would provide coverage for the employee’s medical bills, rehabilitation expenses, and a portion of his lost income while he is unable to work.
If your business owns or leases office space, commercial property insurance can help protect the value of that property, including business property inside your office space and any property that is under your care, custody, or control. For general contractors, this is an important coverage because dealing with the financial consequences of a natural disaster or another catastrophe can put your business at risk.
- A fire breaks out in your office, damaging your office computers, furniture, and construction equipment. Commercial property insurance would pay to replace or repair your office space and the damaged property.
As a general contractor, you are constantly on the move, traveling to and from different project sites. Because of the nature of your work, you may be transporting valuable property and equipment that is expensive or difficult to replace. Inland marine insurance can provide coverage for these items, serving as insurance for property that is not tied to a fixed location and is not covered by a standard commercial property policy. Some types of property that inland marine insurance covers include:
- Property that is being moved or transported. This might include a new cast iron bathtub you are transporting to a client’s home.
- Property you’re holding for someone else. This might include a customer chandelier you are storing for a client prior to installation.
- Property installed in a vehicle. This might include a hoist you’ve installed on your truck.
- Property that moves from place to place. This might include construction equipment and tools you use at different project sites.
- You own a table saw that is being used at one of your project sites. A windstorm knocks down a tree branch that damages your table saw. Inland marine insurance would cover the damages to your equipment.
If your business owns or leases vehicles for business purposes, commercial auto insurance is a critical coverage to obtain. Commercial auto insurance protects your business financially if you or one of your employees injures someone else with a business vehicle and protects the investment you have in business vehicles from crashes and theft.
- On your way to a project site, you rear-end another car at a stoplight. The other driver is injured and sues your business. Commercial auto insurance would cover any medical fees, legal costs, and property damage from the accident.
- One of your company trucks is stolen from your parking lot. Commercial auto insurance would cover the cost to replace the truck.
Professional liability insurance provides protection for general contractors who provide design or construction management services to their clients. It provides financial protection for your business if you are sued by a dissatisfied client for work errors, undelivered work, misrepresentation, or negligence. Professional liability insurance is also important for general contractors who hire subcontractors that provide design work, as you may also be held liable for their mistakes or negligence.
- You create a design for a remodel for a client, and specifications for the design are included in the contract. The client believes the final product does not meet the design specifications and is unhappy with your work. The client sues your business.
As a general contractor, you may hire subcontractors to perform specific tasks on your project. It is important to know that many liability insurance policies do not cover work done by subcontractors. In order to protect your business, you’ll want to make sure that you require all subcontractors to carry the same limits of liability insurance that your business carries.
Additionally, subcontractors need to have their own workers’ compensation insurance policies. The laws in many states hold contractors responsible for workers’ compensation of their subcontractors if the subcontractors are uninsured.
- You are hired to remodel a client’s office. You hire a subcontractor to complete the plumbing work since your company does not have plumbing expertise. The plumbing subcontractor installs a pipe incorrectly, leading to a burst pipe that causes water damage to the client’s office. The client sues your company for damages. Your business would be responsible for the damage, and your insurance company may not cover the damages since the work was performed by a subcontractor.
When you hire a subcontractor, ask to see their certificate of insurance (COI) for both commercial general liability insurance as well as workers’ compensation. For liability insurance, you should also request that they add your company as “Additional Insured” onto their insurance policy. This will ensure that the subcontractor’s insurance company will cover your business if you are sued over work performed by the subcontractor.
If your subcontractor can’t obtain liability or workers’ compensation insurance, you can add the subcontractor to your insurance policies. Contact your insurance company or agent/broker and request that they add the subcontractor as “Additional Insured” under your policy. This will cover the work that they do for your company but will not provide coverage for work they do for others. Adding subcontractors as “Additional Insured” may require the payment of additional premiums.
As a general contractor, you are constantly planning and making sure your projects go off without a hitch. Having the right business insurance coverage will only serve to complement your preparedness, giving you peace of mind and financial backing in case things go awry. From fires to workplace accidents to litigious clients, you never know what unfortunate event may occur. With a comprehensive insurance plan in place, you can rest assured that you, your employees, and your customers will be protected in the face of unexpected and challenging times.