You have insurance to cover damage to, loss of, or theft of your photography equipment, or do you? We have all heard the words of warning, look both ways before you cross the street, don’t talk to strangers, and read the fine print. Maybe for photographers it should be read the fine print before you sell a print. Recently a friend of mine (who, for the purposes of this post we’ll call Bill), learned about insurance and the fine print found in policies in an unfortunate way. Bill had his home broken into and some of his expensive photography equipment stolen. Having someone violate your home is hard enough, but the loss of valuable items is like salt in a wound. Finding out that the insurance you purchased and thought protected your loss doesn’t have you covered, might take you to a different state of mind and not in a good way. Read the fine print.
It turns out that Bill, like many of us, insured his valuables on his homeowner’s insurance policy. Being careful types, we as photographers often take the time and go to the expense to declare our gear and take out additional coverage (a rider or addendum to the insurance to cover the specific property) to protect us from loss. However, we really don’t know how good (or bad) our insurance is until we need a claim paid. We assume that as good, conscientious citizens, if we pay our premiums, our property is protected. After the theft, Bill got over the initial emotions (violation, fright, shock, anger, etc) of being a victim and made a claim with his insurance that he thought would reimburse him for his loss.
Surprises can be fun, such as when receiving a gift or having a good friend show up unexpectedly. Unfortunately, to my friend’s surprise, he found out that the claims adjuster did a quick web search and saw that Bill has advertised prints for sale. Because he sells a few prints a year, his gear is now considered “commercial” equipment and as such, not covered by his homeowner’s insurance policy which is intended to cover “personal” property. Bill countered with the claim adjuster, “But I’ve rarely sold a print”. To which the adjuster countered, “It doesn’t matter, even if you just attempt to sell a print, it becomes considered commercial or professional and is no longer covered”. Hmmm, so the $1 you earned from the stock agency that just sold one copy of your print, could now void your insurance. Sadly, I have heard of this scenario being played out more than once.
This is a painful, expensive lesson that is better learned before there is a loss. Please, if you sell or even advertise your prints for sale, check your policy and make sure your coverage is appropriate. I am sure your insurance company will be happy to convert your coverage to a commercial policy if needed, but it will likely be at a higher cost. There are alternatives available, check with your insurance agent as well as some professional groups or associations such as NANPA or PPA which offer insurance options for their members. Another thing to consider, and is a whole other topic, is the need for liability insurance to protect you in case someone trips over a light stand or power cord, etc. Some of the policies available from these organizations also offer liability insurance.
Your insurance agent can help, but be your own advocate and read the actual policy for “coverages” and “exclusions”. Usually, the policy will state specifically what is and what isn’t covered. In addition to coverage amounts, deductibles and limits, you should find out if the policy will cover you should you travel out of the country.
Check the replacement value. Will they pay you the original purchase price or the cost to replace it? Is there a depreciation schedule? Is there a formula that is used to determine the benefits paid? I once hired a small firm to help with a move I was making. They showed up late and exhausted from two previous moves that day and it was clear that they didn’t care about the job or my furniture. Immediately, they dropped a piece and broke the corner off. I asked them about insurance and they said, yep, they were covered, 50 cents a pound. At that point I told them that they were finished and could leave. While I knew that they were insured when I hired them, I didn’t ask what the insurance specifically covered or how it paid. A 100 pound piece of furniture that cost $1500 would hardly be replaced for $50 based on their insurance!
These are just a few things to consider as you review your insurance and make sure that your policy actually has you covered based on your needs. This public service announcement was brought to you by the folks here at Photography Life in the hope that we can help prevent an unwelcome surprise.