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Public liability insurance in New Zealand

No matter what industry you work in, getting public liability insurance should be at the top of your checklist.

Whether you’re in the construction business or you run a small motel, the risk of injuring someone or damaging their property shouldn’t be ignored.

Public liability insurance is designed to provide necessary financial protection for costly lawsuits e.g the cost of compensation and any legal expenses if someone sues you for being injured on your worksite.

What is public liability insurance?

Public liability insurance protects you if someone is injured or their property is damaged as a result of your job e.g. a passing pedestrian could sue you for an injury as a result of your work.

It refers to damages from the physical surroundings and physical property rather than damages from services you provide. For example, it will cover you if someone slips and falls on your property, but not if you splash bleach into their eye while dyeing their hair.

What costs are covered?

  • If approved, your public liability claim will cover what you owe the person suing you, plus your legal fees.

Do I even need public liability insurance?

After worker’s compensation, public liability insurance is one of the foundational forms of cover that very few occupations should go without. It’s not mandatory in most cases, but lawsuits of this sort can affect almost any type of business and put you on the hook for large sums of money.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does your work impact the public?
  2. Are you willing to cover the costs of a claim against you out of your own pocket?

If a public liability claim were to arise then you’ll need to cover both:

  1. Any compensation to the person who makes a claim against you.
  2. The cost of your legal expenses e.g. hiring a defence lawyer, court fees. Public liability insurance is designed to help you cover these expenses e.g. if an accident happens at your restaurant.

Here are some situations where you could be at risk:

  • You invite customers onto your property. Supermarkets, clothing shops, pizza parlours and beauty salons are just a few businesses that rely on public foot traffic to stay in business. With foot traffic comes the potential for injury.
  • You invite anyone onto your property. Even if you’re not a customer-facing business, a member of the public could still get injured on your property. For example, a courier visiting a corporate office could slip and fall on their way out of the building.
  • You take your clients out into the public. Those providing mobile services can be held responsible if they injure someone or damage something while out and about, especially if they carry equipment. Window cleaners, painters, plumbers and mobile hairdressers all need public liability insurance if they want to be protected.
  • You’re in the trades. Businesses operating on temporary work sites will need public liability insurance even though they aren’t inviting the public onto the site. Why? Because an innocent bystander could be injured by stray equipment. Independent contractors on site will need their own cover apart from the business that hired them.

Still not convinced?

There are some key questions if you are still not sure:

  • In the event of a claim, would I be able to cover the legal expenses that may be occurred? Court and lawyer fees can add up extremely quickly.
  • How might your business suffer if you were forced to take time out of work frequently to attend court hearings? Would you be required to hire alternate staff to step in for you while you were absent?
  • In the event that you were found liable for damages, would you be able to rely on capital that your business had saved to cover losses?
  • In the event that you were required to close your business temporarily, would you be able to handle potential losses sustained from clients taking their business elsewhere?
  • Could you afford to lose staff if you were no longer able to cover their wages?

What industries usually need public liability cover?

As mentioned previously, almost all businesses would benefit from this protection. Here are some obvious examples:

  • Retail. Grocery stores, book shops and department stores have physical locations with lots of foot traffic, increasing the chances of someone getting injured.
  • Health and beauty. Gyms, physical therapy centres and hair salons also bring the public into their premises. Even solo professionals may need public liability if they carry equipment that could damage or injure a member of the public.
  • Hospitality. Restaurants, bars, clubs and cafes bring in lots of people while also creating a fast-paced environment where injuries are more likely.
  • The trades. Any business or independent contractor operating on a work site would benefit from public liability insurance, and in some cases are required by law or by contract to have it.
  • Entertainment. e.g. dancers, performers, event organisers, etc.
  • Real estate. e.g. Landlords, Strata management.

It’s important to remember that public liability will protect business in these industries if they cause injuries or damage that are not related to the professional service provided.

Do small businesses need public liability insurance?

Regardless of business size, public liability insurance is suitable if the business has a physical premise or operates in public (such as a mobile business). Small businesses that fall into this category include:

  • Cafes
  • Clothing shops
  • Restaurants
  • Retail shops
  • Bars
  • Gyms
  • Salons
  • Mobile businesses

What is and isn’t covered?

Public liability won’t cover every type of liability. Policies will generally include cover for:

  • Legal liability. Public liability insurance provides cover when a court finds that you are legally responsible to pay damages and additional costs for:
  • Damage to someone else’s property
  • Personal injury to someone else
  • Advertising liability
  • Legal costs. If a legal liability claim is made against you, your public liability policy will cover the costs incurred in your legal defence.
  • Differing levels of cover. Many insurers will offer you a choice of the maximum level of cover, for example $5 million, $10 million or $20 million.
  • Property in your care. You may be able to take out additional cover for damage to property in your care, custody or control. Covered items include personal belongings, temporarily occupied or leased premises and vehicles in a car park.
  • Cover for other people. Public liability will not only include you but any director, business partner, executive officer, shareholder or employee.
Although the list of general exclusions on a public liability insurance policy differs between insurers, your claim will typically not be paid if:
  • It relates to asbestos
  • It relates to your responsibility to injured workers (workers compensation)
  • It relates to punitive damages
  • It’s caused by the operation, possession or use of an aircraft or watercraft
  • It arises due to defective work done or undertaken by you
  • It relates to products liability
  • It’s for damage to property you own or that is in your care, except for certain items such as vehicles and business premises
  • It arises due to the use of a vehicle
  • It relates to the cost of recalling, withdrawing, replacing or repairing products, or making a refund on the price paid for products
  • It’s for certain types of advertising liability, for example a mistake in the advertised price of a product or service

Who is covered under a public liability insurance policy?

When a business takes out a public liability policy, the policy will protect the business and people directly employees by the business, including:

  • The business itself
  • The company directors
  • The employees of the business
  • Business partners

Contract workers are usually not covered by a business policy, so either the worker or the business would have to take out extra cover if they want to be protected from that person’s actions.

Comparing and buying cover

How do I compare public liability insurance policies?

We’d usually recommend using a broker to help you compare policies, because there’s a lot more to business insurance than just public liability. A broker will consult with you to determine the appropriate package, and then go off and find you the best value for your money.

But if you want to go it alone, here are a few questions to ask yourself as you mull your options:

  • Does the insurer offer other products you need for your business? There are dozens of cover types a business might need beyond just public liability, and those business are better off going with someone who offers the whole package. It’s more efficient, you might receive a discount and you can be comfortable knowing you’re with an insurer who has a holistic view of your business risks.
  • What will your out-of-pocket costs be? Whenever your claim is approved, you’ll almost always have to pay a small portion of the payout yourself and the insurer will cover the rest up to the insured amount. This is your excess. All else being equal, the policy with the higher excess will be the worse deal.

Is public liability insurance tax deductible?

Public liability insurance premiums are considered a business expense and are therefore tax deductible. Each year you’ll get a tax invoice from either your insurer or your broker, depending on who sold you the policy.

How to get cheap cover

While you don’t want to skimp on a product that could literally save you from millions of dollars in damages, there are still ways you can save some money. Here’s what you can do:

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Frequently asked questions

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Photos by:

Sue Kamal, Nick Karvounis, Kirstyn Paynter, and chandler denise on Unsplash

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