Insurance is a topic no one really wants to talk about. But those who service pools need some kind of coverage.
There are too many things that can go wrong on the job to even attempt working without it. To do so would be, as the phrase goes, tempting the fates.
But dipping one’s toes into the world of insurance can be a daunting task.
What companies are out there? What do they offer? What potential problems should a pool service technician be concerned about?
There are a myriad of options out there, and figuring out which one best suits a business takes some research. Company owners must decide whether to purchase insurance independently or join an association that offers coverage. Then the types of coverage must be decided.
Here, service techs and insurers for the two largest service associations in the country discuss what’s on offer and what kinds of coverage service companies need.
To start, it’s important to consider what kind of coverage is needed.
Of course, the most basic policy a tech should purchase is general liability insurance. Average contractors in the remodeling and repair world usually have this.
General liability is geared towards contractors and small business owners, such as the average pool technician.
“Liability only covers two things: body injury or property damage,” says Ron Carlson, senior vice president of USI Insurance in Los Angeles.
But pool techs aren’t average contractors and thus need more specialized coverage. Brian Duncan, president of Picture Perfect Pool Services, in Martinez, Calif., says the most common problem he worries about is overfilling the pool.
“That’s an aspect of [insurance] that’s important to me,” he says. “It’s always a fear that even with the best of intentions somebody’s [going to] try to add water to a pool and walk away from it and forget it.”
His concern is not unfounded. Overfilling of pools and the subsequent consequences is one of the most common occurrences triggering insurance claims filed by service techs, according to Ray Arouesty, president of Arrow Insurance Service in Simi Valley, Calif.
“It seems the water will always run into a house, even if it’s uphill,” he says.
In many such cases, the overflow can cause mold to grow in the house, he adds. Generally, liability insurance will cover the initial damage from an overfill, but not mold remediation, Arouesty says.
Because they happen from time to time, techs know that overfills are a risk. But some things can’t be foreseen — and yet they should be accounted for.
“It’s the freak claim that worries me,” says Steve Homer, president of United Pool Association. “That out of nowhere you’re getting sued for something that you didn’t do, that you had no knowledge of. You just got thrown in the hopper.”
To protect against such unforeseen situations, Homer aims to be the most covered guy in the room so that, no matter what, he won’t be broken by a litigious homeowner.
The common four
There are many types of coverage available, but some in particular should be seriously considered by those looking for insurance outside the standard property damage and bodily harm categories. Below are four of the bigger risks that service techs face. “If a tech is involved in anything other than maintaining water balance he should be asking if [these issues are] covered,” says Arouesty.
Repair work: From the insurer’s perspective, the service technician does a lot of everything, from electrical work and plumbing to light masonry and chemicals. Obviously, most of it is specific to pool equipment but it’s a wide berth.
Because of this, not every insurance company will cover repair work for service professionals. For insurers, the breadth of work that a pool tech could do is enough to give them pause. It’s a lot of risk to take on because so many disparate things could go wrong during a job.
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Still, because this is such a large part of the job, service professionals should ask insurers if they cover repairs.
“Many, many policies do not cover remodeling, ADA lifts or VGBA replacement,” Arouesty says.
Repair can fall under a number of categories including tile work, masonry, hydraulic issues and plumbing issues to name a few.
Hazmat clean-up: Chemicals are an important aspect of a pool technician’s job, which means that professionals have to transport several gallons of volatile chemicals from job site to job site.
Other than overfilling, the next most important coverage Duncan looks for addresses hazmat risks.
Specifically, this refers to clean up after a chemical spill. Carlson calls it Pollution Liability.
If a tech’s truck is involved in an accident, chemicals can spill. Accidents involving chemicals will, for the most part, involve the police.
“If they call a hazmat team, you’re usually talking between $10,000 and $15,000 for clean up after an auto accident,” Carlson says.
Chemical injury: This is different from hazmat cleanup, because a spill doesn’t have to occur for someone to be injured by chemicals. Such coverage would include the technician and anyone who uses a pool that he or she has worked on.
According to Arouesty, there are two types of chemical claims. First, the hazmat clean up, which many companies will cover with a policy for the service industry, he says, adding that other companies don’t offer as much coverage for the other type of claim — injury.
For example, if a technician overchlorinates a pool, it can cause several adverse health effects, including rashes and burns, when the homeowner goes swimming.
“We had one claim where a chemical feeder put 5 gallons of chlorine in an 800 gallon spa,” Arouesty says. “Two people were sitting in the spa for two hours and received severe alkalinity burns, loss of hair, scalding, and redness.”
They sued the technician, claiming he didn’t properly maintain the feeder. When purchasing insurance, Arouesty advises, double-check to see if such situations are included.
Workmanship: For any service technician who performs repairs, workmanship may be one of the more important coverages to consider.
This addresses damage that a professional may do to something that he or she is working on. A common example includes damage to a pool heater.
If a tech puts in a new heater but strips the threads while installing it, the heater could leak and flood the area. The resulting damage might be repaired but not the cost of replacing the part.
“Pool guys aren’t the richest guys in the world,” Carlson says. “If ... you just got hit with a $2,500 bill for a heater you’re screwed up.”
Not every insurance provider offers workmanship coverage, but it is something to consider.
Specialty contractor policies: Some types of coverage address special tasks that technicians may perform, such as pool inspections before a house is sold. Occasionally, techs who do this get hit with inspection claims for failure to inform the home buyer that the pool has problems. This is called misrepresentation by omission.
One of Arouesty’s clients, for instance, missed a 25-foot crack in the deep end of the pool because of murky water. The buyers sued for $235,000, claiming that that was the amount they overpaid for the house with a working pool.
The Hartford offers VGBA coverage, which protects professionals from claims made regarding retrofits made to comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, in addition to property damage and design and installation errors coverage.
There are two major differences between association and independent insurance. First there are the limits. This refers to the maximum amount of coverage that an individual can recover during an annual insurance cycle.
For most companies, these limits fall between $100,000 and $300,000. Sometimes this means the premium is cheaper, but the plans tend to be more basic.
Trade associations sometimes offer higher limits. The Independent Pool and Spa Service Association, for instance, offers limits of $1 million per member.
Other organizations offer aggregate limits. The United Pool Association offers an aggregate, meaning the total amount that all members combined can claim. UPA’s aggregate limit currently is $2 million, however Carlson said the group plans to raise it to $4 million.
In certain cases, association insurance is less expensive. Arrow Insurance, for instance, offers policies independent of IPSSA, with the same limits. However, the cost to the technician is at least 25 percent higher than for its IPSSA policies, Arouesty says.
There are smaller companies that offer pool technician insurance but they run the gamut from reputable to unscrupulous. It’s highly recommended that technicians perform plenty of research and have lengthy conversations with a provider before considering purchasing their packages.
For background information, check with organizations such as the Better Business Bureau or attempt to figure who an insurance provider’s underwriters are and learn about them before proceeding.