Protecting Small Business From Lawsuits

America is a litigious society: attorney TV commercials abound screaming “I can get you money!” The last thing you want is your business is being sued. Lawsuits are costly in money, time, and reputation, let alone the stress of fighting for your business as many times, lawsuits can put you out of business.

So, how can we minimize the risk of lawsuits?

Have Written Agreements: Keep Accurate Records

Signed agreements and good record keeping can be a business lifesaver, helping to resolve disputes and clarify the rights and duties of each party, if you’re sued.

Attorneys can advise the types of formal contracts you need, such as employment contracts and general sales and supplier agreements and, you will also want to capture the scope of services and products you promise to provide. For example, accurately and thoroughly record the scope of services or products you’ll provide, along with price and delivery date. Many disagreements arise when both parties misunderstand the scope of services or the accuracy of products to be delivered.

Make sure to retain all related records, including emails and notes from phone conversations, and make every effort to ensure those product or service details are part of the approved and final scope, in the event a conflict does arise.

Protect Your Reputation

A Marketing adage states: “a happy customer tells 3 of his friends: an unhappy customer tells 30”.

Businesses run on reputation. Complete every transaction with integrity in all dealings with customers, competitors, and the community. If you say you are going to do something, do it. If you make a promise, keep it. Bending the rules or misrepresenting your business, products or capabilities could come back to haunt you in the form of general mistrust, lost business, and potential lawsuits.

Acting with honesty and integrity helps lay a foundation for a business to prosper.

Employ Sound Employment Practices

There are many state and federal laws that govern the workplace, laws regarding workplace harassment, discrimination, or the privacy rights of your employees. Familiarity with and adherence to these laws is important. Employment Practices Liability insurance can help protect you if an employee claims you engaged in wrongful employment practices.

Be sure you recognize which laws apply to your business and learn about the requirements of each. Then create and enforce policies to ensure you are complying. A human resources consultant or an employment lawyer can be a great advisor in this area.

Treat your employees fairly and honestly. Expect a good day’s work in exchange for paying a decent living salary and benefits.

Be Prepared with an Experienced Lawyer

When legal issues do come up in your business, consult with a lawyer you know, who knows you and your business practices, on those questions which could lead to a lawsuit.

Look for a reputable lawyer with expertise in matters associated with the size and your type of business. For instance, if you run a trucking company, working with an attorney knowledgeable on the issues facing logistics and delivery companies can proactively help you stay in compliance with the law and spot potential legal issues early.

One of the best ways to avoid a lawsuit is to evaluate your current practices looking for areas where you may have improvement opportunities.

Separate Your Personal Finances from Your Business

Many small businesses operate as sole proprietorships. Though the easiest and least costly way to set up and run a business, sole proprietorships also come with what some might consider a significant disadvantage. As the owner, you are personally liable in the event of a lawsuit.

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation is a protective measure allowing you to separate your personal assets from any liability-related lawsuits to your business.

Explore the benefits of this type of structure with your legal advisor.

Be Aware of Your Insurance Coverage Needs

Insurance is another way to reduce the financial impact of a lawsuit. General Liability Insurance, typically part of a Business Owners Policy, or BOP, covers small business risks, including claims related to bodily injury (for instance, injuries from customers or employee slipping and falling), property damage, and even advertising injury (copyright infringement in one of your advertisements). 

Commercial Auto Insurance can help protect your business and your employees against liability for driving-related accidents and protect your business autos for physical damage. Depending on your business, you may also need more specialized insurance.

For instance, if your business offers professional advice or services to clients, Professional Liability insurance can help cover the cost to defend your business against a lawsuit claiming damages resulting from an error or omission in providing your services.

An additional layer of protection comes from purchasing Umbrella Insurance, additional coverage over and above the coverage limits of your primary liability policies. Umbrella Insurance helps defend against large, unexpected losses which are not entirely covered by your basic professional liability coverage.

Speak to your Aspen Insurance advisor to review your current coverage and determine if it is sufficient. Most liability policies only cover half of the liability judgments. Be prepared as if your business depends on it: as it might!

Aspen Insurance Agency is in Denver, CO, and services clients nationwide. We are a family-run business working with multiple insurance carriers to offer our customers the coverage they need at the lowest possible cost. We offer a wide range of personal, commercial, and professional insurance to residential and commercial customers enabling the best rates available. Call to speak to one of our insurance advisors and see how painless insurance shopping can be.

Is Real Estate Investing Boom or Bust?

Is the real estate market about to bust? Blackstone Group Inc. President Jon Gray doesn’t think so. He has advice for investors looking to make sense of the U.S. real estate market. “Don’t fear a bust anytime soon.

Home prices surged to their highest levels since 2005. Cheap mortgage interest rates are encouraging buyers toward new homes, while building costs are spiking due to rising raw material prices. Meanwhile, a worker shortage has reduced new construction. In commercial real estate, the wider acceptance of remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic is creating office vacancies across the country.

Despite all that, now’s a pretty good time for the market, according to Gray, who has been at the center of the biggest booms and busts in the industry over the past three decades.

The market isn’t showing the typical warning signs — too much leverage, too much capital, too much building, Gray said. There will be a “rediscovery” of cities such as New York and San Francisco, fueled by immigrants, creativity, entrepreneurship, and technology.

The billionaire also spoke about where he’d put $100,000 today, what to avoid pouring money into, the best way to invest in real estate, and how President Joe Biden’s tax policies could affect property owners.

Gray’s journey at the New York-based firm began in 1992 and by 2005, was running the real estate investment unit. Over the next 13 years, Gray built it into a behemoth with $115 billion of assets. The below is a condensed version of the Q and A between Gray and Bloomberg Wealth.

Question: The economy has been pretty good, but will probably head down at some point, so is this a good time to invest in real estate?

Answer: It’s still a pretty good time for real estate for a couple of reasons. There are two warning signs; one is too much leverage and too much capital, and neither is really the case in the real estate system today. The second is too many cranes and too much building, and we’re actually below historic levels in terms of new supply.

The other thing I’d point out is that the S&P 500 delivered something like four times the return of public REITs since the beginning of 2020, before Covid. So real estate is lagging coming out of the recovery because obviously people have been concerned about the physical world. As the economy reopens, people go back into spaces, real estate will see a little bit of a bounce. I think the risk is if interest rates move a lot.

Another positive thing about real estate is inflation drives up the replacement cost of buildings. And that gives you a little bit of a cushion on existing real estate.

Question: Is residential less or more risky than commercial real estate?

Answer: If you mean for-sale, single-family housing, there’s probably more risk in the sense that you’re building something and you’re selling it, and it’s a function of the market. If you’re talking about rental housing, such as an apartment complex, that tends to be less risky because it’s less cyclical. People don’t give up their apartments. There’s some volatility but nothing like, say, office buildings or hotels.

And then commercial real estate involves office buildings; warehouses, which has been the biggest theme for us over the last 10 years; hotels; shopping centers; senior living facilities. And all of them have different risk returns, depending on geography.

Question: New York City has seen a lot of people leave during Covid. Do you expect that people will come back, work five days a week, and use all the office space in New York or similar cities that they did before?

Answer: There is a sort of recency bias because we’ve been home, we assume that’s the way it will continue. When I think about our company, we know we’re better together. We’re better at being creative, we’re better at solving problems, we’re better at training our young people. It’s really an apprenticeship business, learning how to invest. We have a lot of smart, talented people who are connected by culture. Being together matters.

Some companies will conclude they don’t need quite as much space, so that’ll create some additional vacancies. People will be concerned about owning office buildings, and that may create an opportunity. There will be some headwinds for a number of years and then, over time, things will recover.

I would point out, though, outside the U.S., for instance, in China, buildings are back to full capacity. In Europe, people don’t have as much living space in their homes. So not all geographies are the same. And even here, I think there’ll be a bias toward going back to the office, even though it won’t be like it was before.

Question: A lot of people have moved to Florida and Texas, maybe for warm weather, maybe because those states don’t have income taxes. Do you think that trend will continue? And is that a good place to invest in real estate now?

Answer: It’s a bit of both. The weather, the lower cost of living, lower taxes, concerns about the quality of life. Texas is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, even though it’s enormous. I think that will continue, and it was accelerated a bit by the pandemic. On the other hand, New York City, San Francisco, are amazing places. And when you think about technology and innovation, entrepreneurship, immigrants, there will be a rediscovery of these cities. But, yes, Texas and Florida are well-positioned.

Aspen Insurance Agency is in Denver, CO, and services clients nationwide. We are a family-run business working with multiple insurance carriers to offer our customers the coverage they need at the lowest possible cost. We offer a wide range of personal, auto insurance, commercial, and professional insurance to residential and commercial insurance customers enabling the cheapest rates available. Call to speak to one of our insurance professionals and see how painless insurance shopping can be.

Seeing Through Auto Windshield Repair

Auto windshield repairs are the number one auto insurance claim in the United States representing 30% of all auto claims. 70-80% of those claims are for “edge cracks”: cracks affecting the initial two inches of the windshield perimeter. As windshields are made of multiple fused together layers of glass (“annealed”), windshields may have a manufacturing defect known as “residual stresses”, created during the annealing process.

Not surprisingly, the major cause of windshield damage is flying rocks, creating windshield chips. Gravel is everywhere on the road, and cars and trucks traveling on the highway can kick rocks up. Rocks traveling at a high rate of speed meeting your windshield while you are also traveling at a high rate of speed can chip the top liner or carry through into both the outer and inside glass, causing cracks. Semi-trucks and construction vehicles carrying gravel are the two largest causes of airborne rock debris.

Which prompts questions for auto owners. If my windshield is damaged:

  • Should I replace the windshield?
  • Should I have my windshield repaired?
  • Can I just leave the crack alone?
  • If I do repair or replace the windshield, can I claim the repair on my insurance?

Repair? or Replace?

Federal law holds that cracks and chips smaller than 3/4 of an inch are permitted if they’re three inches or farther from other chips or cracks and, are not located within the driver’s view. While most police officers probably won’t stop you specifically because of a cracked windshield (which is not to say they absolutely won’t), there is the possibility of a second violation added onto another ticket.

Even if the chip or crack is located out of the drivers’ view, you may not be safe from receiving a traffic ticket. States carry their own specific laws: for example, the state of Illinois prohibits anything that obscures the view through the windshield or impedes the function of windshield wipers.

Recognize that small chips or cracks could easily grow into long cracks. Normally, a crack shorter than six inches and chips or dings fitting under a credit card can all be repaired. Cracks longer than twelve inches may require a windshield replacement, although some manufacturers have developed compounds successfully repairing cracks up to twenty-four inches in length. Repairs should be done as soon as possible to prevent cracks from getting worse.

Replacing the Windshield

Windshields are an indispensable component contributing 70% of the structural integrity and safety of a vehicle’s passenger compartment. Consumers should be cautious as a replacement may not match the structural support of the original installation, resulting in injuries and fatalities.

According to a report by ABC’s 20/20, 75% of windshield installations are done incorrectly, because of the lack of industry regulations and requirements:

  • Glass installers do NOT have to be licensed to be in business.
  • Anyone can legally install auto glass regardless of knowledge or training.
  • Some companies use inferior products or cut corners to save money.

All of which could lead to costly and fatal consequences:

  • Roof Cave in During a Roll-Over Accident:  As the windshield supports the structural integrity of the vehicle during a rollover accident, if the windshield doesn’t stay in place, the roof will collapse.
  • Airbags Not Working: Your car’s airbags bounce off the windshield when deployed. If the windshield was improperly installed, it can cause the airbags to blow the windshield out of the vehicle instead of bouncing off it, increasing the driver’s danger.

This is not to say, the windshield should never be replaced. There are times the windshield damage is severe enough the windshield must be replaced. If you must replace your windshield, find a reputable installer who uses quality materials and employs trained and experienced installers.

When a windshield is replaced, expect to be able to drive within an hour. However, it may take 8-24 hours for the adhesive to fully dry, meaning 8 – 24 hours before the windshield is fully set and will not pop off in the event of an accident.

Can I Repair My Windshield?

Windshields should be repaired when:

  1. The glass is tempered, not laminated.
  2. The crack is longer than a dollar bill.
  3. The crack or chip is deep enough that it goes more than halfway into the windshield.
  4. The crack or chip extends to the outside edge of the windshield.

Windshields should be repaired as soon as is practical as a small chip can spread across the windshield upon hitting a big pothole, or when driving on a bumpy road, or if making an aggressive turn. In several states, it is illegal to drive a car with a cracked windshield.

Originally, damaged windshields had to be replaced, which became quite expensive. As the technology evolved to repair windshields, insurance companies chose to cover the full cost of repair, as it was much cheaper than replacing the windshield. Repairing is also desirable because it maintains the original factory installation (and structural integrity) of the windshield. Repairing also helps the environment by reducing trash.

You may wonder which is safer: repairing or replacing? In the 30-year history of windshield repair, there has never been an injury or lawsuit from a windshield repair. There has been a number of injuries and deaths caused by windshield replacements.

How Much Does It Cost to Repair a Windshield?

Repairing typically costs about $50 for the first chip, plus about $10-$15 per additional chip. Cracks are more expensive to repair. Depending on the length, a crack could cost up to $100-$150. Replacing a windshield is significantly more expensive; the average price is commonly around $400 and can be well over $1,000 if an OEM windshield is used.

When looking for repairs, always get multiple bids and use reputable installers. We also recommend:

  • Look for companies affiliated with the Auto Glass Safety Council.
  • Ask what kind of warranty covers the work.
  • Get more than one written estimate when you’re looking for a repair company.
  • Pay only once the work has been completed.

How Does My Car Insurance Help?

Normally, cracks in windshields are covered under the Comprehensive section of your car insurance policy. Not all policies include comprehensive coverage, so you do want to confirm your coverage. Also, the cost of repair may not be covered by your deductible (the normal deductible amount being $500). However, some states require no deductible (in which case you pay nothing), and others have lower deductibles.

Some insurance companies encourage motorists to repair rather than replace windshields by covering the full cost of repair (far cheaper for the insurance company than paying for replacement). If the windshield does need to be replaced, be advised you can open a claim, and you will be subject to paying your deductible.

Always feel free to speak with your Aspen Insurance advisors for expert advice on handling windshield problems.

Aspen Insurance Agency is in Denver, CO, and services clients nationwide. We are a family-run business working with multiple insurance carriers to offer our customers the coverage they need at the lowest possible cost. We offer a wide range of personal, commercial, and professional insurance to residential and commercial customers enabling the cheapest rates available. Call to speak to one of our insurance advisors and see how painless insurance shopping can be.