Don't Shoot in the Dark
A Risk Management Guide for Self-Employed Photographers and Videographers

Chapter 2: Special Insurance Considerations for Photography and Videography Professionals
Part 1: What Are the Most Important Insurance Policies for Photographers and Videographers?
Professional Liability Insurance for Photographers and Videographers

Professional Liability Insurance (sometimes called Errors & Omissions Insurance) is a coverage that freelance photographers and videographers shouldn't overlook. That's because it protects your assets from one of the most uncontrollable risk factors you'll ever encounter: your clients.

Professional Liability Insurance was designed to protect photographers and videographers in the event that something goes wrong in the delivery of your professional services. Here's how the situation usually progresses:

  • You make a mistake.
  • The mistake causes your client a loss, whether financial or emotional.
  • The client sues you for damages.

Or, worse:

  • You do everything right.
  • Your client is unhappy with your work and blames your performance.
  • The client sues you for damages.

$50,000 - $100,000 = average cost of a civil suit New browser window icon. for a small business.

Of course, no one is perfect. Legitimate mistakes are bound to happen every once in a while. But in this business, there is little room for error. Photographers and videographers are often charged with memorializing their clients' most special days — a responsibility that comes with high expectations. If a client's expectations aren't met, you risk a Professional Liability lawsuit. And even if the suit is ultimately dismissed by a court, you'll be responsible for paying a lawyer for preparing your initial defense.

Take a look at some of the areas of Professional Liability risk that most often affect photographers and videographers:

  • Professional Negligence. This includes any professional oversight or error that you might make during the course of your services. Perhaps one of your cameras malfunctions during a wedding shoot and you forgot your backup. Or maybe you accidently break you fish-eye lens, which means you can't get some of the shots your clients wanted of their wedding party. Or maybe you accidently format a memory card in the middle of a wedding — erasing most of the photos you've already taken. Mistakes do happen and they can cost you time, money, and credibility.
  • Freak Accidents. You're probably familiar with the "trash the dress" trend in wedding photography, where brides request unconventional wedding pictures set in unexpected locales. While this type of photography can lead to some amazing photos, it can also end in tragedy. Several of these cases have cropped up over the last few years, like the 2012 death of a bride who drowned in a Quebec river New browser window icon.. CBCNews New browser window icon., a Canadian news organization, reports that the bride was dragged under the surface when her dressed filled with water and became too heavy. The photographer tried to save her, but couldn't. A tragedy like this could easily end in a lawsuit, especially when the bereaved are searching for someone to blame. Yes, this is an extreme situation. But imagine that you suggest a bride pose in a field. Her heels sink in the soft earth and she twists her ankle. Less severe, same category of risk exposure.
  • Missed Deadlines. Photographers and videographers often can't afford to be late — many of the events they document only happen once. But sometimes things happen and you can't arrive on time. Imagine that your car breaks down on the way to a Bat Mitzvah. You try to get to the event, but you end up missing half of it. Many people would understand, but you can't always guarantee understanding. The same goes for clients who are waiting to see their finished photos or videos. If you're behind on editing and don't get the product to the client within a reasonable timeframe, you may be on the hook for a Professional Liability claim.
  • Breaches of Contract. If you use contracts (and you should), then a breach-of-contract claim can happen any time a client feels like you didn't uphold your end of the bargain. Usually contracts outline the services you'll provide, how much the client will pay, and details about the legal rights of photos and videos. So if a client signs a contract that stipulates that a mother will pay $450 for her son's senior pictures, which includes two hours of photo time and two wardrobe changes, then she could file a claim if she only gets one hour of photo time. More realistically, a client may try to add on extras at the time of the shoot — like an extra 30 minutes of photo time — and be surprised when her bill is higher than expected.
  • Failure to manage expectations. In the end, most Professional Liability claims stem from a photographer's or videographer's failure to manage a client's expectations. We've all heard of bridezillas. And we've all experienced the consequences of miscommunication. It could be that's you've done nothing legally wrong, but a client still sues because they feel they've been cheated. (For a closer look at this issue, check out our blog post, "Wedding Photographers Should Protect Themselves from Bridezillas New browser window icon..")

Even if the claim is unmerited, Professional Liability Insurance can help you pay for legal costs and other expenses, including…

  • Reshoot costs.
  • Legal defense.
  • Legal investigation.
  • Judgments.
  • Settlements.

There's one more aspect of Professional Liability that freelance photographers and videographers should be aware of: vicarious liability. Vicarious liability is when you are found partially at fault for someone else's mistake.

Take the case of a model who sued Getty Images for selling her photo New browser window icon. to the New York State Division of Human Rights without her permission. The group used her picture in an ad about the rights of people with HIV. The New York Daily News New browser window icon. reports that the model is suing for $450,000 in damages and that the original photographer also contributed to this series of unfortunate events.

The photographer never had the model sign a release that said she could sell the photo to third parties, like Getty. But the photo was sold, and then Getty sold it again without the model's permission. Although this particular lawsuit it directed at Getty, the photographer could have easily been sued as well for, as she states in the article, not understanding her contract with Getty.

Next: Cyber Liability Insurance for Photographers and Videographers

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