NEW YORK (AP) - Roofs that collapsed under heavy snow in the Midwest and Northeast this winter are a graphic reminder to small business owners: Get insurance!
Gas stations, factories and stores have been heavily damaged. In Easton, Mass., the roof of a commercial building began collapsing while workers were inside. They all got out OK.
A small business without adequate property, casualty and liability insurance can be in jeopardy of failing in these kinds of situations. If a building is heavily damaged or destroyed and the owner can't pay to rebuild, he or she may go out of business. So, this is a good time for owners to buy insurance if they don't have it. And if they do have insurance, look at their policies to be sure they have enough coverage.
What do you need?
The good news is snow-related damage like a roof collapse is covered in a standard business owner's insurance policy, or BOP. This kind of insurance covers property damage. It also contains liability insurance, the coverage you need in case someone is hurt on your property. That's a big worry when the ground is icy after a snowfall or freezing rain.
A BOP also has insurance that is critical for a company's survival, business interruption insurance. This kind of insurance covers a company's operating expenses, including payroll, when it's shut down. But it also covers a company if one of its key vendors is shut down and unable to supply key parts or products. So, if your vendor's roof collapsed and you have to stop production, business interruption insurance will cover your economic losses.
Business interruption insurance also covers power outages. So if you can't operate because an ice storm took down the power lines and the utility can't repair them right away, your insurance will reimburse you for your expenses.
You can find out more about business insurance at the Insurance Information Institute's website, www.iii.org and the site for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners at www.insureuonline.org/smallbusiness.
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How much do you need?
Unfortunately, many companies don't have adequate insurance. Many owners worried about their finances during the recession cut back on their coverage, says Loretta Worters, a vice president at the Insurance Information Institute.
Other owners may not know how much insurance to buy. Worters suggests owners meet with their accountant as well as their insurance agent to decide what and how much to buy.
Another mistake owners can make about insurance is to not buy more when they have more equipment or property to protect. If you just bought a new computer system and the cost of replacing it would exceed what your insurance policy will pay, then you need to increase your coverage.
Don't wait for disaster
If there's a lot of snow on the roof of your building, and you can safely remove it, you should. Keep an eye on the building and walkways while there's snow and ice around. That way you'll lessen the likelihood of someone falling on ice or getting hit by ice falling off the building. Check on your water pipes to be sure they're not in danger of freezing and bursting.
Worters said an insurance company will reimburse you even if you haven't tried to mitigate any damage. But look at it this way: Why go through the hassle of a lawsuit, or why have to pay higher premiums if you do have property damage?