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Why product liability insurance is critical for companies

(BUSINESS FINANCE) The best way to protect your company, and more importantly your customers, is product liability insurance. It keeps your standards up, and lawsuits down.

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product liability insurance

If your small business manufactures products, you need to think about product liability insurance. No matter how good your designs are, or how polished your quality assurance strategy is, there’s a chance one of your products could come to harm a customer. And if that happens, your customer could contact a personal injury attorney and bring a case against you. Personal injury cases are somewhat common, and could cost you hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars if you’re not protected.

Product liability insurance coverage could protect you in the event of such a case. But what exactly is it, how does it work, and how are you supposed to get it?

The Basics of Product Liability Coverage

Let’s start with a high-level overview of product liability insurance. While different carriers and different policies will afford you different types and levels of protection, most product liability coverage is designed to shield your business from the fallout of a company-produced product that causes injury or harm to third parties.

Product liability insurance typically covers the legal fees associated with any product liability lawsuit, as well as medical costs, compensatory damages, and business damages that arise from the incident.

How Products Can Fail

How does a business become liable for a harmful product?

There are four main ways consumers can be harmed:

• Design flaws. If your product is designed in some flawed way, and the consumer gets hurt because of it, they could have a case against you. For example, if you create a deep fryer product with a locking mechanism to prevent burns, but that locking mechanism is weak or easily overridden, a customer could get burned as a result of using the product.

• Manufacturing flaws. There could also be manufacturing flaws. The design itself might be practically perfect, but if a batch of products are made with an incorrect material, or aren’t made to specifications, they could still fail in a way that harms a consumer; for example, a skateboard with a loose wheel might cause someone to fall.

• Marketing flaws. Your product could also be marketed or advertised in a way that eventually leads to consumer harm. If you falsely advertise the capabilities of your product, and a consumer follows them and hurts themselves in the process, they could hypothetically sue you. The same is true if you claim there are no downsides to a product that has downsides.

• Misuse. Even if a consumer misuses your product, your company may still be held at fault. For example, if you don’t specifically warn a customer that misuse could lead to harm, and caution them against specific forms of misuse, they could ultimately bring a case against you.

As you can see, there are many ways your products could lead to a customer getting hurt—and some of them are hard to see coming. While you can implement safeguards at every stage of the process, there’s always going to be a chance that one of your products fails in some unseen, unpredictable way.

The Extent of Damages

You may wonder if you truly need product liability insurance. After all, in the unlikely event that a product fails, you may be able to cover the costs yourself. However, this is extremely risky. The costs of a single product liability case can be devastating, and if you face a class-action lawsuit, or multiple lawsuits, there may be no chance of recovery. Remember, you could be responsible not only for compensating the customer for their injury and their pain and suffering, but also for covering the legal fees of both sides.

Some cases can cost millions, or even tens of millions of dollars.

Product Liability Insurance Rates

Most product liability insurance policies require you to pay a monthly, or other type of regular premium for your coverage. These rates will vary based on a number of factors, including the size of your business, the type of product you’re manufacturing, the extent of your distribution, and how much coverage you desire. Some insurance companies may also want to conduct inspections, reviewing the design and manufacturing of your product firsthand so they have a better sense of your safety standards.

Still, product liability insurance rates are typically reasonable. Shop around for the right insurance provider, and consider bundling your product liability insurance policy with other policies to lower your rates even further.

Conclusion

If your business designs or manufacturers products, product liability insurance is a practical must. It’s easy to get a policy, and most policies are relatively inexpensive, but this safety net could save you from shelling out millions as a result of an unforeseen product flaw. No matter how safe your operations are, or how many supervisory checks you conduct, there’s always going to be a chance that someone is injured while using your product—and that’s when your policy will kick in.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he's not consulting, glued to a headset, he's working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Business Finance

The forgivable PPP loan may now not be as forgivable as before

(BUSINESS FINANCE) The SBA were handing out forgivable loans like flyers for your friends band, but after a few months it seems many are not quite as forgivable as before.

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The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a federal forgivable loan program established by the CARES Act, was designed to alleviate the burden of companies who experience business disruptions during the coronavirus pandemic. But of course, with every government loan there are stipulations and guidelines for its use and its forgiveness. The main people that are going to have difficulty here are the small businesses however, which one might have thought that this program was for.

The program has guidelines that stipulate how much of it is forgivable. One of the main criteria is how the money is spent, openly requiring that 75% of the loan must be used to cover payroll for it to be forgivable, RED FLAG. What about small businesses that don’t have employees? Well some people may have thought that for a single person business, retirement and health-care would count towards that payroll total. Therefore, keeping costs down and keeping businesses alive. That’s not the case. Those expenses aren’t counted toward forgivable payroll costs, only salaries are.

Now others may have asked why that matters because someone can see that this type of loan wouldn’t be helpful for someone in those conditions. The problem comes in when the calculation for how much a business is able to borrow is done. The amount that can be borrowed through the PPP is based on payroll but it also includes health-care and retirement plan payments.

This is, as a matter of course, different for independent contractors and self-employed people that run their business income through a checking account. They were given a maximum amount that couldn’t exceed according to an April 20th interim final ruling. That amount is the lesser of eight weeks of their 2019 net profit or no more than ~$15K. As it stands currently neither retirement nor health-care premiums are eligible for forgiveness here either.

Something else that doesn’t seem to have been taken into account is rent and mortgage for these one person companies. The 25% that is stipulated in the program is no where near what is necessary for rent or mortgages in some places. The Small Business Administration (SBA) openly stated that they assumed that “many such individuals operate out of either their homes, vehicles or sheds and thus do not incur qualifying mortgage interests, rent or utility payments.” Personally, that small oversight is enough to make me wonder if these people have ever worked in the real world before.

What this means however is that people who have taken out the full amount that they are allowed and cannot stick to the requirement must pay the loan back in full on a two year deadline with an interest rate of 1%. As lawyers gather to attempt to filter through these murky waters and to hopefully make things better for those that need this relief we can only sit back and wait. Anyone looking to take out a loan from this program I highly recommend caution before jumping in.

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Business Finance

A closer look at the HEROES act, and who stands to benefit the most

(BUSINESS FINANCE) The HEROES act helps specifically unemployed, and those just returning to work, with assistance to get them back on their feet.

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HEROES act

Back in May, House Democrats proposed an economic relief bill to address the widespread consequences of COVID-19. The bill, entitled the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions” Act (HEROES for short), did not pass as quickly as the Democrats had initially hoped–indeed, it is still being examined as of today–but the likelihood that it does pass in some form seems high, according to White House officials. Here’s what you need to know about the HEROES Act and how it may affect you.

Spoiler alert: It’s mostly positive, but you may need to wait awhile.

We discussed recently the proposition to incentivize employees to return to work via a $450 weekly bonus upon reopening of the economy. This is a byproduct of the HEROES Act, which–according to its original conditions–posited that the unemployment bonus of $600 per week be extended past its initial July 2020 expiration. That idea was criticized by many as incentivizing unemployment, thus culminating in the $450 return-to-work bonus revision.

However, the HEROES Act addresses so much more than a weekly bonus that it’s somewhat overwhelming. The 1815-page bill covers a wide array of topics including state and local support, health care, worker protections, business support, and “other government support”, a category which addresses the United States Postal Service and the Census Bureau.

Primarily, Americans will be enthused to hear that the HEROES Act addresses a second round of stimulus checks totaling up to $6000 per household; while some sources (e.g., Forbes) speculated that the delivered amount per individual might be as high as $2000 per month, the HEROES Act in its original form does not appear to corroborate this claim. Additionally, this bill would provide billions in relief funds to the Department of Labor, housing assistance, and SNAP.

To any college students, the bill proposes “up to” $10,000 in student loan forgiveness.
The bill would also see at least $1 trillion in “state, local, territorial and tribal government” relief, with billions more allocated to utilities, highways, transit, and CDC resources. If that weren’t enough, the country would see a sweeping increase in funds to national health care services such as the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, HRSA-funded Health Centers, and–not negligibly–funding to fight back against “COVID-19 fraud”.

As you probably know, first responders and frontline workers have shouldered the brunt of the COVID-19. The HEROES Act looks to establish a $200 billion “Heroes’ Fund” for hazard pay to “workers deemed essential during the pandemic”–a list that would feasibly include emergency workers, maintenance staff, and anyone else who was put at risk by way of their occupation.

Finally, the HEROES Act provides small businesses with some additional relief via expansion of the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program; under this expansion, the PPP would include nonprofits, a move that warrants another $659 billion in aid.

As Forbes’ Jeff Rose reports, the current status of the HEROES Act is relatively healthy, if not entirely true to its original form. For example, House Republicans have proposed financial relief in the form of a tax cut instead of sending out checks, and some are suggesting cutting the unemployment bonus of $600 per week to $300 per week (or less) until 2021 instead of the aforementioned $450 weekly return bonus.

It’s also worth noting that the HEROES Act, a bill valued at around $3 trillion, is a bit on the pricey side where Republicans are concerned–which is why their counter-offer runs closer to $1 trillion. President Trump has, in the past, postulated that a $2 trillion price tag is actually feasible, so it appears that there is some wiggle room in how this bill proceeds.

If you’re waiting for another stimulus check, it’s best not to hold your breath–conservative estimates place the next round, if acted upon, no sooner than late July. Waiting to see how the economy responds to the invariable spike in COVID-19 cases is something for which Republicans have demonstrated a propensity, so don’t count your chickens just yet.

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Business Finance

How business owners should handle the trend of COVID-19 surcharges

(BUSINESS FINANCE) COVID-19 has caused a lot of money problems, but some places have decided to counter this with new surcharges, and hopefully they told customers about them.

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COVID-19 surcharges

Hidden surcharges have long been a subject of discussion among consumers. Banks, car dealers, hotels, and credit card companies are much more transparent than they once were. According to a 2019 survey by Consumer Reports, 85% percent of adult consumers were hit by an unexpected fee when paying for a service, so the practice is not completely gone. With COVID-19, some businesses are turning to surcharges to balance out their profit margins.

Can businesses add a COVID surcharge legally?

The impact of COVID-19 is continuing to unravel. FOX8 reports that a Missouri steakhouse and sushi restaurant included a surcharge related to the rising costs of food under the pandemic. A CBS affiliate in Midland, TX reminds consumers to check their bills, because restaurants and salons are adding surcharges. Some businesses are saying that state restrictions are increasing operational costs, while others relate it to the cost of goods. Even UPS has added surcharges to peak delivery slots. According to a librarian at the State Law Library, a private business in Texas has a lot of leeway in deciding what to charge.

A surcharge isn’t necessarily price gouging

In Texas, price gouging following a natural disaster is illegal. The surcharges that we’re discussing aren’t price gouging, just a way for businesses to temporarily raise prices without changing their menu or listing new prices. The Houston BBB recommends that if your business does add a surcharge, it should notify consumers about the charge before the bill arrives. Consumers who believe that they’ve been a victim of price gouging should file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General.

Transparency is part of good customer service

According to Consumer Reports, 96% of the consumers surveyed were annoyed with a hidden fee. I want to talk to the 4%, and find out why they weren’t. A surcharge under COVID-19 conditions can make sense. Cleaning and sanitizing takes time and money. Prices have increased. What’s bad business is trying to hide those surcharges until after the customer checks out. That’s not fair. Be transparent.

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