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From the Front Lines: General Liability

Independent agent Marty Clark spends ample time getting to know his customers' business operations because, when offering general liability coverage, "it's not OK to assume you know their risks," he says.
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Marty Clark

BHC Insurance
Fort Smith, Arkansas

How did you get started at your agency?

I started in the insurance business in 1991 in the risk management division at Walmart. In 1993, I joined what was then known as Brown-Hiller-Clark & Associates, which was established in 1915. My father Larry Clark was one of two principals in the firm, and my brother Scott had started there in 1990.

Why general liability?

General liability is one of the bedrock insurance coverages that virtually all commercial clients rely upon. At BHC Insurance, we perceive our job as being the protector of a client’s largest asset: their business. Exposures vary from business to business, so it takes a really committed insurance professional to truly understand how to safeguard a client from outside threats and lawsuits.

Biggest GL changes over the years?

Policies evolve as the market responds to the hot-button legal issues of the time. Issues like asbestos, silicosis and complex product liability litigation are outside forces that threaten the sustained viability of all commercial clients, whether they are a manufacturer, contractor, distributor, retail business or virtually any kind of business.

Biggest GL challenges?

GL losses continue to trend upwards. Since 2014, U.S. carriers have had combined ratios over 100%. In 2017, the industry combined ratio was 108%. There is a big concern out there for manufacturers about how courts will apply existing product liability laws to new technologies.

Furthermore, traditional problems like medical inflation, increased allegations of traumatic brain injuries, litigation funding from unrelated parties and larger verdicts are threats to continued GL affordability for some industry segments.

Future of GL?

Autonomous vehicles could shift liability from the auto policy to the auto manufacturer’s GL. Car software providers, logistics operators and other third parties are going to have issues. Also, larger verdicts and class actions will continue to apply stress to the insurance marketplace.

GL advice for a fellow agent?

Get to know your customers’ business operations. It’s not OK to assume you know their risks. Get out in the field with them and see how they make their products, how they conduct their work on a jobsite. Be a true professional by educating yourself to understand problematic exclusions and find solutions for those coverage gaps.

Favorite GL success story?

I was involved in helping pass anti-indemnification litigation reform in Arkansas in 2015. Essentially, we were able to protect contractors and downstream subcontractors from being contractually obligated to accept liability on behalf of upstream owners or contractors. This helps level the playing field by requiring that lower-stream parties indemnify upstream parties only to the extent of their actual negligence.

Will Jones is IA assistant editor.

Sunday, August 2, 2020
General Liability