Photographers: Here’s What You Need to Know About Subcontracting

By RVNA In Insurance Tips December 1, 2013

As you’ve probably noticed, the photography business is staffed by plenty of subcontracting arrangements. However, if a session results in a lawsuit, your exposure and risk can greatly vary depending on your subcontracting status. There are two important rules to keep in mind.

Rule 1: From an insurance point of view, an employed photographer is one that must be supplied with equipment in order to perform the photo shoot at the venue. An independent contractor photographer is one that has his or her own equipment, and does not have to be supplied with equipment by the insured photographer. Insurance coverage only protects the insured photographer and its employees. It will not provide defense or judgment coverage to a subcontractor or independent contractor.

Rule 2: When purchasing insurance, an accurate photographer count is essential. If a claim occurs and it is discovered that there are more photographers working for you than reported on the policy, the insurance company will deny coverage based on misreporting of photographers, and you’ll have no protection.

Below are two examples of these rules in action

Rule 1 example – Subcontractor loses her business
A-One Photography had a family portrait session scheduled for Thursday night. When owner Jon Andersen received a request to work a wedding at the same time, he hired subcontractor Angela Pederson Photography to work on his behalf, covering the wedding under the A-One Photography company brand.

While Angela was working the wedding, she went out onto the floor to snap some spontaneous shots. Unfortunately, an elderly guest doing the electric slide didn’t see her and knocked into her. The guest ultimately fell to the ground and broke his hip. He subsequently sued A-One Photography and Angela Pederson Photography for damages of $350,000. The court determined that it was a contributory loss. A-One Photography was responsible for $125,000 because the company had hired Angela Pederson Photography to work on its behalf. Angela Pederson Photography was held liable for $225,000 of the loss.

A-One Photography’s liability insurance policy provided defense and judgment coverage for A-One Photography, but not Angela Pederson Photography as she was a subcontractor and should have had her own liability insurance policy. Furthermore, A-One Photography had purchased liability insurance for only one photographer, so even if Angela had exclusively worked for A-One Photography as an employee, the coverage wouldn’t apply due to inaccurate reporting. As a subcontractor, Angela had assumed she would be protected by A-One Photography’s policy. Because she had no liability insurance, Angela became personally responsible for her portion of the loss. Needless to say, it was financially devastating.

Rule 2 example – Help has unintended consequences
Frank Ryan’s photography business was booming. To help meet demand, Frank subcontracted Vern Miller to work for his company exclusively. Frank thought it was the ideal situation – he could grow without hiring and paying payroll taxes.

One night, Frank and Vern both had family portrait sessions. They knew Vern’s event was going to be lively – he was shooting a large family reunion. All was going according to plan until one of the aunts tripped on a camera cord and injured her back. She slipped a couple of discs and was out of work for several months.

Although Vern had worked the event, Frank was sued for $300,000 because Vern was working on behalf of Frank’s business. In the eyes of the insurer, the exclusive subcontracting arrangement made Vern an employee. During the claim investigation, it was discovered that Frank’s business had two photographers when he had only purchased coverage for one. The insurance carrier denied coverage on the basis of mis-reporting the correct number of photographers. In the end, it was determined there was no coverage and Frank’s business had to pay the $300,000, which sent him and his business into a financial tail spin.

How can you avoid these costly situations?

  1. If you work as a subcontractor, secure your own liability insurance. In the first scenario, Angela could have avoided a $225,000 bill if she had her own liability policy.
  2. If you hire subcontractors, obtain a Certificate of Insurance from the subcontractor as proof of liability coverage. A liability limit of $1,000,000 or more is recommended.
  3. Regardless of whether you have subcontractors or employees, make sure you purchase insurance to cover the correct number of photographers. If you don’t, your insurance may not protect you as intended.

Need coverage for your business?

The RVNA Professional Photographer’s Insurance Program, exclusively available through R.V. Nuccio and Associates provides everything you need in one convenient place: Liability Plus, Property Plus, and Crime Plus Insurance. Underwritten by one of the largest property and casualty insurance groups of the world, this tailored package provides specialized “A” rated protection. Endorsed by the National Alliance of Special Event Planners, R.V. Nuccio and Associates is the only online nationwide insurance source for photographers offering the most customized protection at the most competitive rates.

Note: These examples are based on real claims scenarios. However, the details have been fictionalized to protect the privacy of those involved.