Is Your Insurance Providing Enough Protection?

Pumpers need to look at several different insurance policies to make sure they’re prepared for the unexpected.
Is Your Insurance Providing Enough Protection?

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You’ve just finished pumping a customer’s septic tank and start pulling out of the driveway. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to you, the customer recently had the driveway repaved. With the weight of your load, you leave behind tracks in the pavement. It’s time for your insurance to kick in and pay for the damage in order to keep that customer happy.

In this particular situation, what comes into play is the auto policy, which covers anything vehicle-related and is responsible for the waste from the time it is pumped until it is disposed of. But that’s just one aspect of the kind of insurance pumpers need to cover mishaps that may occur on the job.

General liability

Accidents can happen — even for the most careful of septic pumpers — and general liability insurance will cover any property damage or bodily injury that happens to others.

“Say somehow waste ends up in the house during a pumping. Or someone trips over the hose and is injured, or the hose is pulled through the prized rose bush. All that miscellaneous stuff would be covered under general liability,” says Mark Herring of Heffernan Insurance Brokers in Portland, Oregon.

Professional liability

But what pumpers must keep in mind, Herring says, is everything that general liability insurance does not cover.

“Inspections are a big thing with a lot of pumpers and if they’re wrong on an inspection, saying the system works when it doesn’t, well, there’s no bodily injury and no property damage, so there would be no coverage under general liability.”

That is why it’s important for pumpers to have professional liability insurance, also known as errors and omissions, he says.

“It’s something that anyone who gives their opinions or advice would have. Doctors, lawyers, insurance people, real estate brokers — they would all have professional liability. It’s a situation where you’re giving advice or information and that information doesn’t cause bodily injury or property damage. It just causes financial problems.”

The pollution policy

If a pumper is lucky, a pollution policy will never have to be used. But operating without one leaves pumpers vulnerable to significant money issues should an incident occur, like a truck accidentally spilling waste on a roadway, Herring says.

“You never know what is going to be deemed a pollution incident until after it happens because it just depends on who shows up first on site.”

Whether that person is from the EPA or a local environmental quality agency, if they deem it a hazardous pollutant, the cost of the cleanup could be significant. The time is coming when there will finally be some consistency in how incidents involving septic waste are handled. Until then, Herring says it’s important for pumpers to carry pollution coverage.

“Until it gets determined one way or another by the government so that they’re consistent in how they deal with it, you have to worry about it,” he says. “Because if they end up doing a hazardous pollutant cleanup, you’re going to have to pay for it whether it was actually needed or not. So you have to plan for the worst-case scenario. Would you rather pay $3,000 a year for 20 years for pollution coverage, or would you rather have to pay for a million dollar cleanup?”

A lot depends on the size of the company, but Herring says the cost of pollution coverage for his clients ranges as low as $1,000 to about $10,000. It even goes beyond having protection against accidental spills, he adds.

“If they’re land-applying, I would definitely get a pollution policy. You have a situation where, even though they’re allowed to apply it and doing it in compliance with the law, who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow? Who’s to say the law is not going to change?”

Auto and property insurance

Insurance coverage like auto and property policies are fairly self-explanatory, right? But Herring says if pumpers aren’t careful, they may find themselves running into problems come claim time.

For their auto coverage, pumpers need to make sure they’re insured for the full value of their trucks, attached equipment included.

“Some insurance agents don’t fully understand what the equipment is exactly,” Herring says. “Say you have a 2013 Peterbilt with a 3,000-gallon tank. If the broker sends it in as a 2013 Peterbilt, you’re going to have coverage on the cab and chassis but nothing else.”

The attached equipment like the pump and tank need to be part of the vehicle description on the policy, as well as the “cost new” value, he says.

“You won’t have any issues at claim time if you have the right ‘cost new’ on there. It’s one of the first things I look at when reviewing auto policies for pumpers, and I probably find the mistake well over half the time.”

The correct replacement value also comes into play with property insurance. If pumpers don’t insure their equipment at its full value, they may be limited on how much they can seek in a claim with the insurance company.

“If you have $100,000 of equipment but only insure it for $50,000, you may only get paid half the value of a claim when something happens,” Herring says. “If it’s all $100,000 of equipment that needs to be replaced, yeah, you’ll get your $50,000. But the same would apply for a $10,000 claim. The insurance company would just do $5,000. The lesson there is make sure you have equipment insured as close as possible to the actual cost, because you might only get a percentage of the value of a claim.”

Pumpers also need to be aware that property insurance only covers the personal property at their primary location. Equipment taken off site needs additional coverage.

“Inland marine coverage is what you need for equipment off site,” Herring says. “Say you have $5,000 worth of tools that are not permanently attached to the truck, or any tractor-type equipment like backhoes. Anything that goes off site is not covered unless you have inland marine.”

Other coverage to consider

A couple other insurance policies pumpers may want to consider include crime and employment practice liability, Herring says. Crime insurance will cover pumpers in the event of employee theft, which he says is more prevalent than some may realize.

“Crime coverage is something that’s easily attainable and worthwhile to have. And it’s cheap.”

Employment practice liability is a coverage that’s important for all businesses to have, Herring notes.

“That covers you in the event one of your employees sues you for wrongful termination, sexual harassment or discrimination. And these types of lawsuits happen all the time now. Just the defense alone can be $250,000.”


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