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Just imagine: A phone call out of the blue. The caller has a voice you don’t recognise. He’s telling you he is hurt – badly – and you’re responsible. You hang up.
He calls again.
Tells you the same story. You are responsible.
This was the nightmare that faced Janine, owner of a private horse-riding school on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. The fifty-six-year old instructor was out buying horse feed one afternoon when she got a call that changed her life. The caller told her a young man – whose name she didn’t recognise – had been in a terrible accident and was in hospital. She was being held responsible. In the confused and panicked minutes that followed, she was told one of her horses had escaped and bolted onto the road. Startled, the horse had collided with a ute travelling 100 kilometres an hour in the opposite direction. The driver was in hospital in a bad way. Just as she realised her beloved horse Lance had died came the question that brought her up short: have you got insurance?
Janine did not. And for the months of pain that followed – which included selling three of her prized horses, winding up her business and leasing her farm to pay for the legal fees – she says nothing could be worth that amount of anguish.
“If I had been responsible and set my business up with the insurance I needed, it would have been a very different story for me,” Janine says from her new home in South Gippsland, where she has given away horse-riding instruction and is now working as a counselor in dispute-resolution to keep herself afloat.
The painful truth for Janine, and other small business owners caught short without adequate insurance, is their personal horror story might have been avoided altogether in just a few minutes online.
What Janine needed was public liability insurance or insurance that protects you and your business from being found liable to a third party for loss, injury or damage resulting from an act of negligence.
Surprise is indeed an unavoidable part of running a small business. Living life in the grip of a Seinfeld plot, where one accident begets a solution, which, in turn, begets another problem, will be familiar territory to anyone who runs a start-up.
Taking prudent steps to accident-proof your hard work makes sense.
Someone who knows this only too well is lawyer Dimi Ionnou, who deals exclusively with public liability law cases at the Melbourne office of law firm Maurice Blackburn.
She hears daily of the sorts of accidents or negligence- or sometimes-just cases of plain bad luck- that lead to public liability claims.
Some of her recent cases demonstrate how quickly chance can intervene; one client slipped and fell while shopping, another suffered burns to her scalp in a hair-dying session gone wrong and another was injured while having laser surgery on her eye.
Whether it’s a slip or a fall, an animal attack, physical assault or a freakish accident like Janine’s, the law covers a wide range of scenarios for possible injury that even the most careful of businesses would have difficulty predicting.
Before hypochondria sets in and valuable time is wasted dwelling on all the possible doomsday scenarios that might befall your business, it should be known that taking steps to cover your business against accidents is a relatively simple process.
Purchasing public liability insurance online, where quotes are instant and transparent, is a prudent choice for small business and one that can provide instant peace-of-mind.
“We aim to provide small business the opportunity to obtain multiple quotes in a transparent fashion so they can see what’s available in the market place,” says Michael Gottlieb who runs online insurance service BizCover.
He has designed his site so browsers can get instant feedback on the cost of policies from top Australian insurers before opting to buy online if they wish.
The traditional experience of buying small business insurance is – thankfully – long gone, says Gottlieb:
“In the past, a small business would go to one broker who in theory should be shopping it around for them, but the reality is they didn’t –they would have a particular insurer they would place all their small business insurance with.”
Having access to a fast, free insurance quote within seconds might have made all the difference to business owners like Janine.
Financially, the cost of defending claims of negligence can be ruinous, both financially and reputationally. Insurance will cover you for the costs of legal defence, as well as any judgments or settlements that you or your business has to pay, up to the stated policy limits.
Ms. Ionnou says public liability laws are “about protecting everyone, really.”
“It’s very important as a small business to get insurance because, without it, a business has no protection if someone is injured on their premises or injured due to the actions or inactions of any of their staff. It’s protecting everyone, really.”
In vast field of possible ‘what-if’s’ for small business, BizCover’s insurance cover has taken some of the guesswork out of choosing the right cover.
In partnership with Australia’s leading insurance companies, it has made its business to think through, and cover, every adverse eventuality for small businesses.
The site offers policies covering over 2000 occupations with policy-wording specific to different professions, whether architecture or hairdressing.
“We pride ourselves on being acutely aware of the risks small businesses face and have made it our business to think of every factor in every profession so that you can be well-covered,” says BizCover’s Gottlieb.
In a sector already bogged down in red-tape, an opportunity to save both time and money is a rare thing. But the desire to find a simpler solution for the traditionally time-and-cost-sapping process of buying business insurance is what drove Gottlieb to do things differently at BizCover.
“In the past, there’s been no easy way to obtain insurance,” he says Gottlieb. “The whole process has traditionally been very time-consuming. It lacked transparency. Consumers didn’t know what products were available in the marketplace. We aim to provide small businesses with an easy, cost-effective way of obtaining pricing from the market in a transparent fashion so that they can see what is available from the market rather than just the one product that their broker chooses to sell.”