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Striking a Chord: Offering Coverage for Dropping a Piano

If piano mover clients dropped and destroyed a piano and were held liable, would the business auto policy respond in any way during the "handling of property" to load and unload onto their vehicles?
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Our agency recently received an inquiry from a company that offers piano moving services to review their insurance portfolio. The movers maintain a basic commercial general liability policy and a business auto policy. With their existing agent, they always assumed that if they accidentally dropped a client’s piano down a flight of stairs and the client sued for damages to the piano, they would be covered for the cost of the piano.

However, as we reviewed their policy, we advised them that the CGL excludes coverage for property damage in their care, custody or control. We recommended a cargo policy. However that only appears to provide coverage in transit. No carrier is willing to offer a bailee form of coverage.

Q: If they dropped and destroyed a piano and were held liable, would the BAP respond in any way during the "handling of property" to load and unload onto their vehicles?

Response 1: The BAP excludes property in the care of the insured. You need some type of bailee’s coverage. Will your carrier add some care, custody or control coverage to the CGL?

Response 2: Even if the BAP covered the cargo—which it doesn't because of the care, custody and control exclusion—it wouldn't cover the damage caused by dropping a piano down a flight of stairs. This is a classic use for an inland marine policy. You need to broaden your carrier search for an insurer with experience in the fine furniture or musical instruments business. This should be a no-brainer for a good inland marine underwriter.

Response 3: Your provision of a cargo policy is well-advised. Assuming that the company moves pianos, but does not store or perform work on them, I would think it should provide the right protection, also assuming that any instruments of particular value can be scheduled for an appropriate premium.

That said, I would like to see the definition of “in transit” for any policy used. I would not look to a BAP in the situation described.

Response 4: The liability section of the BAP form excludes damage to property “transported by the insured” or in the insured’s “care, custody or control.” Is your client a common or contract motor carrier operating under its tariff or billing receipt? I can’t imagine it is. 

One option might be to search for a company offering an optional endorsement to the CGL that provides coverage for damage to property in the insured’s care, custody or control. These are proprietary coverage forms offered at different limits by different insurers. Another option is to use an inland marine coverage form.

Response 5: Most carriers view loading and unloading as part of occupying. The problem is that "dropping" may not be a covered peril. This is a question to take up with your preferred carrier. Remember to carefully document their answers. 

Response 6: Have you explored the excess & surplus markets? Have you reached out to underwriting for care, custody and control at a higher limit than normally offered?

You could have your moving customer’s attorney draft a hold harmless agreement that the piano owner would sign, but that may be not allowed in your state and may not be good for business.

This question was originally submitted by an agent through the Big “I” Virtual University’s (VU) Ask an Expert Service, with responses curated from multiple VU faculty members. Answers to other coverage questions are available on the VU website. If you need help accessing the website, request login information.

Thursday, July 2, 2020
Commercial Lines