Ride Sharing and Your Auto Insurance

Ride Sharing - Uber
(Photo Credit: Uber Technologies, Inc.)

Ride sharing programs (Transportation Network Companies) such as Uber and Lyft have transformed how people get in and around cities. The idea is pretty simple. Using a smartphone app, riders can easily connect to a TNC driver to provide an alternative to traditional taxis and black cars that is convenient, competitively priced, and powered by private car owners. Chances are, you’ve probably either used or at least heard of these services.

It all sounds easy enough, but the concept is not without issues and controversy. One of the biggest issues is how traditional personal auto policies do, or more importantly, do not provide insurance protection when they are being used in a ride sharing program.

In Massachusetts and New Jersey, Personal Auto policies generally exclude coverage for accidents arising out of driving passengers for a fare, known as livery. TNCs do offer insurance plans for drivers when there is a fare in the car. When there is no passenger in the car, but the driver is waiting for a fare, there is a potential significant gap in coverage.

In addition, if an insurance company finds out you are driving your car for a TNC, they may cancel your Personal Auto coverage because of this expanded use. If you plan on driving for a ride sharing (TNC) service, you should talk to your independent agent and learn what you need to do in order to be properly insured and protected

You can read about the full insurance and non-insurance requirements for TNC vehicles and drivers on the Massachusetts Legislature’s website.

Preventing Water Damage From Plumbing

mold and water damage from basement leak
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Plumbing fixture failures and faulty installations are a leading cause of interior water damage in homes and businesses. Even in the warmer months, when frozen pipes are not a threat, costly losses can arise from what would appear to be simple plumbing problems. Minor leaks and clogs should be taken care of properly as they may be signs of more serious issues.

If a pipe, appliance, hose, or fixture contains running water, it needs to be properly maintained to prevent any water related losses. The list below contains the places where failures are most likely going to happen if not kept in working order.

Toilets

Clogs and overflowing toilets made up 33% of all toilet failures that led to water damage. The valves and flushing mechanism of every toilet in your building should be inspected every six months to ensure they are working and show no signs of wear. The shut off valve should be easy to turn and the supply line should be able to be turned off as well.

Drains & Pipes

Banging pipes, increased water bills, rust stains, and moisture on walls and floors are all signs of plumbing and drain problems. Keep drains and pipes clear of obstructions, and never pour grease down a drain. Have a backflow prevention system installed in your sewer connection if your home or business is located downhill or below street level. For an extra security measure, have a house leak detection system installed.

Washing Machines

Failure of the hose which supplies water to a washing machine is a leading cause of water damage. The hose should be replaced if there are cracks or blisters, and/or if the tubing appears worn. This should be done every five years or when the situation merits. If you are planning on vacating the building for a long period of time, turn off the water supply valves. When doing the laundry, do not overload machines and only use detergents designed for this type of use.

Water Heaters

Like any piece of equipment, age is an important factor in the odds of a mechanical failure. Even with proper maintenance, water heaters need to be replaced after they reach their life expectancy (typically around 10 years – check your manufacturer for model-specific information). In addition, water heaters should be inspected by a plumber every year for broken valves, loose joints, and rust.

You can learn more about how you can prevent plumbing systems from causing water damage to your building by accessing the IBHS’s website.

Plumbing Archives – IBHS.” IBHS. Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, 2016. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.

Icy Sidewalks And Injury Prevention

SONY DSC
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Every winter, many people are injured when they slip and fall on icy sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots. These injuries can range from minor bumps and bruises to broken bones and head injuries. Whether you’re a property owner/manager or just going for a walk outside, there are some things you can do to help prevent injury to yourself or others when the pavement gets slippery.

For Property Owners/Managers

  • If you don’t have access to a snowblower or a plow, shoveling walking surfaces early and often during heavy storms will make the job easier and less stressful on your body. While shoveling, drink plenty of water and take breaks.
  • Make sure entrances and vestibules are kept dry or wet floor signs are present when water and slush are tracked into a building.
  • Check your local municipal government’s website to see if there are laws or ordinances regarding snow removal deadlines to avoid fines or citations.
  • Be mindful of the type of salt/de-icer you use on your driveway/walkway and apply only the recommended amounts as indicated by the manufacturer. Certain kinds are harmful to plants, animals, water supplies, and may even damage the surface itself.
  • Grit, such as sand, kitty litter, and gravel can help provide extra traction on stairs and sidewalks, especially when combined with salt or de-icer.
  • Lock all gates, doors, and fences leading to restricted or unused outdoor areas (such as bar or restaurant patios) to prevent trespassers and unauthorized visitors from slipping on untreated surfaces.
  • Risk Transfer – if you’re using a contractor to clear snow and ice from walkways, driveways and parking lots, make sure you have a signed contract with contractor assuming responsibility for this exposure and you are named as an Additional Insured on the contractor’s GL policy covering this operation.

For Pedestrians

  • Move slowly and try to keep your steps flat to the surface to avoid slipping on icy or wet areas.
  • Wear shoes or boots with plenty of traction. If the soles of your footwear are smooth or worn, they are more prone to losing grip on slippery surfaces.
  • Black ice may form when the temperature drops suddenly after a storm. Be especially careful walking outside after the weather has been cold and wet.
  • Watch out for traffic. Icy conditions for pedestrians mean icy roads for motorists who may lose control of their vehicles if they’re not careful.

Icy and untreated sidewalks are dangerous and can leave your home or business vulnerable to a injury claim or lawsuit. Following these tips can help mitigate your risk of being liable if someone slips and falls.

Maintaining Vacant Property

(Photo Credit: Google Maps)

It is easy to understand how an unoccupied office, building, or apartment could seem harmless from the perspective of the insured. Many business owners operate remotely and maintain vacant property in other locations. Vacant properties however, can present a surprising number of challenges if not properly monitored.

Property is considered vacant if less than 31% is occupied. Because of the lack of owner or tenant presence, vacant properties are more likely to experience damage and are prone to criminal activity.

Property that has been vacant for 60 consecutive days before the loss may not be covered by an insurance claim if the following events occur:

  • Vandalism
  • Sprinkler leakage (resulting from unprotected pipes)
  • Glass breakage
  • Water damage
  • Theft or attempted theft

In addition, other covered causes of loss are reduced by 15% for vacant but insured property.

Consider taking steps to ensure that your vacant commercial property is secured and protected from loss that may occur in an owner’s absence. There are ways that both tenants and property owners can reduce the risk associated with unoccupied building space for extended periods of time. Properly setting the thermostat, or using a remote climate controlled system, and turning off the water supply when not in use prevents leaks, cracks, and water damage. Ensuring that ice dams are prevented and gutters cleaned out also helps reduce possible damage. Installing an alarm system and providing lighting around the perimeter discourages burglary, theft, and glass breakage.

Understanding Employment Practices Liability Risk

superior court
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Many businesses underestimate the potential risk involved with not having employment practices liability insurance (EPLI). Having a code of conduct and expertise in human resources helps mitigate most forms of unlawful employment practices, but incidents can and do still happen. Every business is exposed to employment practices liability, an area of professional liability that includes:

  • Breach of Contract
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Invasion of Privacy
  • Wage/Hour Law Violations
  • Intentional Emotional Distress
  • Wrongful Termination
  • False Imprisonment

The laws regarding these illegal practices are interpreted and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which recognizes eleven types of employment practices discrimination: age, disability, equal pay/compensation, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy, race/color, religion, retaliation, sex, and sexual harassment.

Employment practices don’t deal with just full-time employees either. Volunteers, part-time workers, contractors, customers, and vendors can all file charges against an employer for an alleged violation of these laws. With these types of charges on the rise, it is important for business owners to fully understand the laws surrounding employment practices as well as the tools needed to best protect them from potential lawsuits. For more information about employment practices liability, visit our Employer Protection resource page.

Laws Enforced by EEOC.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. USA.gov, n.d. Web. 16 May 2017.

Discrimination by Type.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. USA.gov, n.d. Web. 16 May 2017.

Business Continuity – Emergency Generators

Emergency Standby Generators Infographic
(Photo Credit: Mutual Boiler Re)

U.S. businesses lose $150 billion annually due to blackouts and weather-related events. Most commercial businesses today have emergency generators, which is an important first step. But it’s important to make sure the generator has been properly installed, and to perform routine maintenance, as illustrated by the infographic above (click to view full version).

Preventing Frozen Pipes

Frozen Pipes
(Photo Credit: IBHS)

Pipes that freeze and burst can result in extensive property damage. Once a pipe freezes, continued expansion and freezing causes pressure to build up in the pipe between the blockage and the faucet. This pressure causes the pipe to burst in areas where little or no ice has actually formed. Here are some precautions to help avoid frozen and burst pipes and water damage.

Be prepared:

  • For pipes most vulnerable to freezing—in attics, crawlspaces, and outside walls—insulate with foam sleeves or wrapping.
  • Caulk cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations to keep cold wind away from pipes.
  • Purchase a backup generator to keep your furnace running when power fails.
  • Know where to turn off the water supply or water pump.
  • Drain outside faucets and use insulated faucet covers (found at home improvement stores).

During periods of severe cold:

  • Keep cabinet doors open to let the warm interior air circulate around pipes under sinks and adjacent to outside walls.
  • Turn on all faucets to a slow drip to prevent pressure from building in the pipes.

Before leaving for an extended period of time:

  • Set the thermostat no lower than 65 degrees.
  • Ask someone you trust to check the property while you’re away.
  • Consider turning off the water and draining the system. Shut off the main water valve and turn on every water faucet—hot and cold—until the water stops running. You can then shut off the faucets since there will be no water, and therefore no pressure, in the system. When you return, turn on the main value and let faucets run until the system is full and pressurized.
  • Consider installing a temperature-monitoring device or using an app on your smartphone.

My Pipes Froze. Now What?

Turn on all faucets to release pressure. Turn off the water supply and call a plumber. Do not try to thaw the pipe using an open flame, as this will cause damage to your pipe and may cause a building fire. You might be able to thaw the pipe with a handheld hair dryer but do so slowly to avoid super-heating any adjacent wood and creating a fire hazard. Start at the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open. Never use electrical appliances while standing in water as you could get electrocuted.

For additional information on preventing or dealing with frozen pipes you can read more from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

10 Questions to Ask Roof Contractors

Roofer rsd

As you’re researching contractors for work on your home or business, it is important to remember the lowest bid may not be the best bid. Here are 10 questions to ask a potential contractor before you sign an agreement:

  1. Are you licensed and insured with liability insurance? (A qualified contractor should carry liability and workers’ compensation insurance to protect you and them in the event of a roofing accident.)
  2. Are all the workers who will be working on my roof covered under your liability insurance?
  3. What type of shingles and which ice and water shield manufacturer do you recommend and why?
  4. Are you licensed by the roofing manufacturer you are recommending? Is your license active and current? (This is important for warranties and to ensure that the materials will be properly installed.)
  5. What is your warranty on your work? (This is in addition to the manufacturer’s warranty.)
  6. Would you be pulling the necessary permit?
  7. Will you be onsite with your crew to ensure the work is being done properly?
  8. Can you provide me with at least three references?
  9. How will you prepare my house and the surrounding plantings to protect them?
  10. What is your clean-up and disposal procedure?

To understand some of the answers behind these questions and why they are important, read “Prepare Your Roof for Winter 2015.”

Prepare Your Roof for Winter 2015

Ice Dam Diagram-01 without ND rsd

Last winter, many of us got an unwelcome introduction to the havoc ice dams can wreak. Even if you were able to avoid them, there are preventative measures you can take to prepare for Winter 2015. Damage from ice dams can be extensive and the repairs disruptive.

We’ve outlined some prevention tips relating to:

  • Ventilation and insulation of your attic.
  • Ice and snow shield installation.
  • What questions to ask a contractor when installing a new roof.
  • What steps to take once it starts snowing.

But first, what is an ice dam?

A line of ice that forms along the roof edge, an ice dam prevents melting snow from draining off the roof. As your attic warms up from the heat in your house the snow on your roof melts. If the temperature outside is warm enough, this water will harmlessly run down to your gutters (this is a good reminder to always make sure your gutters are clear). But when the temperature stays below freezing, this water backs up behind the ice dam and can seep under shingles and into your house.

What causes it?

Three factors create the “perfect storm” for ice dams:

  • Heavy, consistent snowfall and below-freezing temperatures
  • Inadequate ventilation and insulation
  • Poorly installed roofing materials

The first you can’t control. But the last two you can, and should consider addressing before the flakes fly.

Prevention now ventilation and insulation

To properly ventilate the attic and roof to permit warm air to escape, consider installing any one, or an appropriate combination, of the following:

  • A ridge vent
  • Soffit vents (or make sure the ones you have are not blocked)
  • Roof vents or channels in the attic, from eaves to ridge

Proper insulation prevents heat loss into the attic that causes snow to melt. Consider:

  • Insulating your attic floor and the underside of your roof, making sure not to cover soffit vents.
  • Eliminating warm air leaking into your attic from around light fixtures, stair trap doors, pipe openings, and anything that cuts through the attic floor.

Prevention now – roofing / ice and water shield

When you are having a new roof installed consider having your roofer install an ice and water shield at least six feet up from the roof edge and two to three feet up the side walls of dormers. Work with your roofer to choose a good-quality material, one that’s substantial in thickness and self-seals around the roofing nails.

Confirm with your contractor that the shield will be installed over the fascia board and into your gutters, with the roof’s drip edge installed on top of the shield. This helps prevent water from finding a path behind your gutters and into your walls. Now is also a good time to have old flashing around any dormers or roof valleys replaced because older flashing becomes brittle and can let water enter.

But before you start any work, it’s important to use a qualified, licensed, professional contractor. There are several questions you should ask to help you choose the right roofer for you.

Once the snow starts – the roof rake

All property owners still need to keep on top of the snow when it starts to fall. A roof rake is an essential tool in this battle. Once you have one to two feet of snow on your roof, rake it off as high as you can safely reach and watch out for any wires. If you need to have your roof professionally cleared, make sure to use a qualified roofer as they understand the right way to clear your roof, mitigating any damage and subsequent repairs or leaks.

We hope these tips help you prepare as we head into winter.

Cyber Security Tips for Small Businesses

Man Holding Credit Card With Laptop Shopping Online
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

In 2014, tens of millions of personal records were compromised by various data breaches. According to The Identity Theft Resource Center, there were 783 recorded data breaches last year, hitting a record high. But while these breaches were headlined by some of the more high-profile cases of JP Morgan Chase, Home Depot, Sony, and Staples, the vast majority of them occur within the small business community, and can cost a small business proportionally much more than the bigger guys. Last year, the average cost of a small retail business data breach exceeded $36,000, and perhaps more worrying, these businesses saw almost a third of their customers leave for good. People often lose trust and confidence in a business that has been hacked or has otherwise mishandled their personal information. This kind of event can also result in lost relationships with key partners and vendors, damage to your brand, and of course, a lot of lost time and stress.

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and in an effort to help protect you and your small business, here are some steps you can take:

  • Install updated POS systems with (Europay, MasterCard, and Visa) EMV “chip and pin” credit cards which prevent hackers from stealing data contained in standard magnetic strips.
  • Make sure all data being transferred online is encrypted. This includes any emails or files you may send to customers, vendors, or partners.
  • Avoid using Wi-Fi networks to prevent third-party interception of transferred data. If you must use a Wi-Fi, make sure it’s secured with a firewall and a WPA2 encryption.
  • Frequently back up your data to an offsite location to avoid a loss in the event of a fire or burglary.
  • Use common sense with password management as well as email accounts. Don’t use obvious or simple passwords, and don’t open any links that may appear malicious.
  • Shred all outdated or obsolete documents that may still contain sensitive or personal data.
  • Make sure you’re up to date on anti-virus software, and stay current by understanding what the latest security threats and protocols are.
  • Educate your employees to safeguard their own information, accounts, passwords, and shared data.

To learn more about how The N&D® Group can help protect your small business from a devastating data breach, click here.

 

Identity Theft Resource Center Breach Report Hits Record High in 2014.” ID Theft Center. IDT911, 12 Jan. 2015. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.

Small Businesses: The Cost of a Data Breach Is Higher Than You Think.” First Data. N.p., 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.

Stop.Think.Connect. Small Business Resources.” US Department of Homeland Security. US Department of Homeland Security, 2 July 2015. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.