The Ultimate Gamble: Failing to Ask for Your Subs’ Insurance

Protect your business with advice from the experts at Builders Mutual.

Not long ago, general contractors (GCs) would have been hard-pressed to build a house if they required their subcontractors to use fall protection. Subs would simply work for a less stringent GC. Fall protection, although practical, was anything but popular. Nowadays, the unpopular has become the norm. If you stop by a job-site, you will find workers protecting themselves with harnesses, Safety Boot® Guardrail Systems, WallWalkers® and other types of safety equipment.

What is seemingly unpopular these days on the job-site? Requiring subs to have insurance, specifying minimums for limits, and requiring that they periodically provide proof of such coverage. Many GCs have concerns about losing subs if they mandate insurance requirements. Nevertheless, GCs who fail to require their subs to carry adequate insurance open their businesses to great financial risk.

The dangers of turning a blind eye.

What if water damage ruins the recently laid hardwood floors because of the plumber’s mistake? What if the electrician accidentally burns down the nearly completed house? Their limits of insurance will suggest whether the claim will be paid in full or in part, if covered at all. Who pays the difference?  “Typically, the GC will be responsible for paying either the difference or covering the loss completely if the sub has no insurance coverage,”  states claims expert Ken Bunn. These types of unnecessary risks can be avoided by GCs who clearly specify and enforce insurance requirements for their sub contractors.

Recommended requirements.

At a minimum, subs should have policies for workers’ compensation, general liability, and auto (if they have owned, hired, or non-owned vehicles). More specifically, GCs should ensure that their subs are carrying appropriate minimum limits. Typically, limits of $1 million per occurrence and $2 million aggregate are adequate for general liability.

As a GC, you should work with your agent to determine if your requirements should be higher. Think about the price range of the homes you are building and ask yourself, “How much damage can my subs do?” If you build $2 million homes, then you definitely need your subs to carry higher limits. In your subcontractor agreement, you should require that your company is named as an additional insured on the subs’ general liability policies. For answers to all of your coverage questions, contact your insurance agent in addition to discussing with legal counsel as needed.

Proper certificate review.

How can general contractors be certain their subs carry the recommended insurance? Certificates of Insurance(COIs) offer this peace of mind. If you refuse to pay subs until they provide a COI, you leave your company at considerable risk. Do not let a sub start a job without a COI! Your superintendent should call you or your office to verify that you have a COI on file for all subs before any project begins.

For subs with whom you have long, established relationships, update your records once per year with a new COI 30 days prior to the policy expiration. Make sure you obtain a certificate of insurance for each “project.”  This may protect you in case of cancellation of insurance during the project.

For new subs with whom you have just begun working, require a COI before the sub begins. It is best to ask for the COI directly from the agent. Then, every 30-45 days, call the agent of record to verify coverage and request a new COI.  Pay close attention to any late notices and notices of policy cancellation you may receive.  Follow up immediately to confirm the status of the policy.

When you have the COI in hand, look for a binder or policy number. If you see “TBD” in that field, call the agent (also listed on the COI) to request the actual policy number. Check for the policy expiration date, and be prepared to request another COI prior to expiration.  Remember to check for coverage on auto, general liability, and workers’ compensation and be sure the proper limits of coverage are in force.  While this might seem overwhelming, there are a variety of vendors available that specialize in helping you manage all of your subcontractor certificates.

Don’t gamble on insurance.

Before long, your subs will not think twice about carrying the insurance you require. Until then, you may be a bit unpopular for specifying insurance requirements, but you will sleep well knowing you have mitigated your company’s financial risks and confirmed coverage is being provided for all who are on the job-site.

Article reposted with permission from Builders Mutual Insurance

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