By Virginia Reames
The Policy Center
Jackson, MS

One of the requirements for getting a contractor’s license is showing the Board of Contrators that you have liability insurance. Because technically, every board that issues any kind of license can be held liable if one of their licensees proves himself to be incompetent and—here’s the kicker—costs somebody money!

Safety is important, of course, and so are good job performance and great customer service – but the thing that makes the wheels turn is costing somebody money because you did something wrong.

It keeps lawyers driving Mercedes and Lincolns. If you do something wrong that costs someone money, they are going to step into a courtroom and get it back for their clients, PLUS. And a little for their efforts, of course.

How do you protect yourself? Mistakes are going to happen, aren’t they? Safety minded contractors hold regular safety meetings, they have manuals, they have regular training meetings. they do everything they possibly can to make sure their guys know what they are doing and how to not only do the job but do it safely. When they fire up that Ditch Witch, they have to know what’s below or it’s not going to be a safe job. And if it isn’t safe, it’s gonna cost someone a lot of money and that’s what “liability” means. Whomever didn’t do it right is the one who is liable to make it right, no matter what it takes.

That’s why you have liability insurance. “Well,” you say, “I’ve been doing this for 15 years and never had to use my insurance.” Good for you! Then comes the day when someone doesn’t do something they were supposed to do, and now thankfully you have insurance, right? If we knew when there was going to be a problem, we’d make sure it never happened, wouldn’t we?

Yet the fastest way to run into a problem is failure to call 811. (Drinking on the job would be a close second!) If you are going to disturb that surface soil, you had better know what’s under your trencher or excavator…before it goes “BOOM!”

“I don’t have time for that” “Time is money.” “They take too long” “I ain’t had a problem, yet” – yep, heard you. But, as a businessman – and you are a businessman whether you have four crews or it’s just you out there – fixing a problem after it happens isn’t making money, it’s costing money. You didn’t save money when you saved time by not waiting for the utilities lines to be marked, now you have to come back and fix the water lines, go to the enforcement board hearing, pay the fine. Why? If you called and the lines were marked and you hit them anyway, now it isn’t your fault, not your liability. You followed the law, did what you were supposed to do and now it’s on somebody else.

If you didn’t call 811 and you hit those fiber optic lines—you can’t fix it. That’s going to take other, more expensive, folks. Notice where it said “expensive”? That’s means coming out of your pocket if you didn’t call. And no, you can’t turn it into your insurance either, because you broke the law and there is NO coverage if a law was broken. Yes, insurance companies are newly enforcing this exclusion.

A broken law becomes an intentional act and intentional acts are never covered. And yes, now you have to deal with your state’s enforcement board because, like it or not, everybody is getting real serious about compliance these days.

There was a contractor who subbed out a short little stretch of road to trench and well, no they didn’t call and yes, they hit a fiber line and yes, it took out 911 and no, it couldn’t have been much worse. But wait! Yes, it could— the sub wasn’t insured (surprised?) and the contractor’s insurance declined to pay the claim because 811 wasn’t called. Because “intentional acts are never covered.” It doesn’t say “malice,” it says “intentional.” When you don’t comply with the law, it isn’t accidental. And only sudden and accidental acts are covered.

If you know what your insurance covers and doesn’t cover, you are better equipped to take care of your business! Build calling 811 into all your procedures. Don’t accept “I didn’t have time” from your people. It’s just not acceptable anymore.