It’s estimated that one-in-three small businesses is sued or threatened with a lawsuit at some point in its life cycle. And even if you end up winning the suit, the price of defending yourself in court can be massively expensive in terms of lawyer fees and court costs.
Seeing that you face potentially ruinous risks even if you’ve done nothing wrong, you should definitely invest in business liability protection—not only to protect your company’s assets but your personal assets as well. When it comes to protecting your assets from liability, there are a couple different angles to consider.
Two of the most effective forms of liability protection are liability insurance and limited liability business entities, such as limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations. Because they both offer forms of liability protection, you may think liability insurance and business entities cover pretty much the same thing, but that’s not really the case.
While they both minimize financial losses as the result of lawsuits, they actually serve two distinct purposes. Given this, many business owners find their best option is to put both liability insurance and a limited liability entity structure in place. And here’s why:
Liability insurance is straightforward: You buy a certain amount of insurance coverage from a broker, and the policy pays out (and hires you a lawyer) if you’re ever sued. When you purchase liability insurance, it’s primary purpose is to protect your company’s assets—real estate, business equipment, financials—in the event of a claim or lawsuit.
Liability insurance comes in a few forms:
- There’s general liability insurance, which protects your company from common legal issues due to accidents, injury, and negligence. If you don’t have general liability in place, you could lose your entire company if someone is seriously injured on your property and sues for damages.
- Next up is product liability insurance, which is a more specific type of coverage. Product liability protects companies that manufacture or sell products that can be sued over the safety of those products. So if someone claims your product contributed to their injury, you’ll likely end up spending lots of money to defend yourself, regardless if you win or lose the case.
- Professional liability insurance covers certain types of service-based businesses. Specifically, it protects against mistakes made by service providers that harm their clients. Some professionals, such as doctors, are legally required to have such coverage. Others, like lawyers, aren’t required to have it (except in Oregon), but it’s so risky not to, most get it anyway.
- Employment practices coverage is a type of liability insurance that provides protection if you’re sued for anything related to one of your employees. While this is an often-overlooked coverage, it’s actually one of the most important, since employment claims are a huge risk to your business.
- And, on top of all of that, you may want an umbrella policy that would cover you for any damages in excess of your individual policies. Umbrella coverage is typically inexpensive and a good idea to have as a backstop.
Given the litigious nature of our society, liability insurance is an absolute must for every business. That said, such policies come with a few limitations. For example, if the lawsuit exceeds your policies’ total coverage limits, you’re responsible for anything beyond that. Or if your insurance agent finds that your coverage doesn’t protect against the specific nature of your claim, you’re on the hook for the whole enchilada.
Limited liability entities
While liability insurance is aimed at protecting your business assets, a limited liability entity is specifically designed to protect your personal assets. Business entities like LLCs and corporations (when maintained properly) can protect your personal assets if your business is ever sued or falls into serious debt.
For instance, if your company is an LLC and doesn’t have enough money to pay its debts, creditors can’t come after personal assets like your life savings and/or home, unless you’ve signed a personal guarantee to secure the debt. Similarly, if your company is sued and your liability insurance coverage isn’t enough to cover the full cost of the lawsuit, the LLC will prevent claimants from going after your personal assets to make up the difference.
Business entities effectively form a shield between your business and personal assets, which can be impossible to get through as long as the entity is set up and maintained properly. Yet limited liability entities come with some limitations of their own.
For example, while a business entity protects your personal assets, it does not protect your business assets. So if your LLC fails, creditors can come after all of your company’s assets in order to pay the debt—just not your personal assets. As we saw earlier, protecting your business assets is what liability insurance is for.
It’s all about synergy
Because liability insurance and business entities work together in this way to cover their respective limitations, many entrepreneurs put both in place for maximum protection. Yet, even though liability insurance is an absolute must for all companies, not every business will require a limited liability entity structure.
If you’d like us to help you evaluate your insurance coverage and/or determine which type of business entity is right for your company, contact us as your Creative Business Lawyer® to learn more.
This article is a service of Matthew Murillo, Family Business Lawyer®. We offer a wide array of business legal services and can help you make the wisest business choices throughout life and in the event of your death. We also offer a LIFT Start-Up Session™ or a LIFT Audit for an ongoing business, which includes a review of all the legal, financial, and tax systems you need for your business. Call us today to schedule; or you can schedule your LIFT Session online here.