So sue me. (Please don’t).

A freelancer recently told me he had been advised by a lawyer to take out public liability insurance.

If you went to a meeting and someone tripped over your bag, the lawyer warned, someone could sue you.

Public liability insurance, for the uninitiated, protects you if a client or member of the public is injured or has their property damaged because of your business. It is supposed to cover any legal costs or compensation pay outs made.

The lawyer’s caution seemed a bit extreme to me. I mean, surely the same is true of any situation in life? I could be at a friend’s house, in a cinema or restaurant, or sitting in a park and someone could easily trip over my belongings and presumably sue if they were that way inclined. Employed or not employed, in that instance you’re on your own. Should everyone have a policy to protect themselves against the litigious?

I would even argue that if you were in full-time employment and managed to trip someone over at a meeting and get yourself sued, many employers might not be particularly inclined to provide you with legal protection. Or are they obliged to if you’re on company business? I don’t know.

Either way, the conversation did leave me wondering about the hidden dangers of freelancing.

We already know that freelancers have to factor in the fact they don’t get paid annual leave or maternity pay, that they have to employ accountants and are responsible for their own pensions. But I hadn’t really considered before that I have to provide my own legal protection.

Where does the burden of responsibility lie, for example, if someone tries to sue over an article I’ve written? Is it the job of the publication to ensure that what it prints is beyond reproof, or does the blame fall to the journalist whose name is at the top of the article?

I can see both sides of the argument: the publication should be able to trust that what is filed is accurate – if it has to fact check every sentence then the piece may as well have been written in-house – but, from a journalist’s point of view, all too often what you wrote is not the final version that ends up in print by the time it has gone through an editor and subbing; sometimes mistakes are written in to pieces.

To the journalist fretting over the potential price of public liability and personal indemnity insurance, I suggested that union membership might provide an element of guidance and protection for a similar cost. It could also help to dodge that all-important worry of any insurance policy: will it pay out when I need it?

For now, I’m going to be sure to keep my over-sized rucksack tucked safely under my chair when I’m out and about.

One comment

  1. I had to take out public liability, professional indemnity and employers’ liability insurance as I’m a contractor rather than a freelancer – it was much less expensive than I thought, thank goodness! Hopefully I’ll never need it…

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