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I am wondering from both sides of the table, how or what to ask a professional photographer in regards to insurance, and what document is typically produced by a photographer?

Specifically I want to ask my future potential wedding photographer for proof of insurance as suggested by multiple websites.

I am not interested in legal advice and do not expect any answers to come from a lawyer. I am interested in basic common interactions in the US.

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Can you clarify? Insurance against what? Do you mean liability insurance? I would imagine they would have a contract that limits their liability to refunding your deposit should they fail to fulfill their contract due to acts of god or whatever else. I would be more concerned with their responsibilities in the contract more than if they're insured. –  MikeW Jan 17 '12 at 22:45
    
The question is more, "I don't know what I don't know", as in - should I be asking about liability insurance? Or should I be asking about any kind of insurance? Or is the contract enough? Basically, I am hiring a photographer for a wedding, what should I ask so I don't get sued, they do their job, and if someone trips people are covered? Sorry if this doesn't clarify. –  dpollitt Jan 17 '12 at 22:49
    
Are you asking for something above and beyond the contract between you and your photographer? IANAL, but a contract IS a binding legal agreement, and when it comes to law (at least in the US), that should be sufficient. If you are concerned about anything special, you should make sure there are stipulations about them in the contract, such that if anything does go to court, you have a binding legal agreement that both you and the photographer have signed backing you up (and the same would go for the photographer.) –  jrista Jan 18 '12 at 0:20
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@jrista - For example, when you hire a general contractor to do work on your house, you can ask them if they are licensed and ask for a document to prove it. You can also ask if they have liability insurance, or any other insurance. Are you suggesting that nothing above the contract is necessary typically? No need to produce any "liability" form from any source other then stating such items in the contract? If so, I think this is the "accepted answer", could you write that up in a short answer so I can select it? –  dpollitt Jan 18 '12 at 0:48

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Are you asking for something above and beyond the contract between you and your photographer? IANAL, but a contract IS a binding legal agreement, and when it comes to law (at least in the US), that should be sufficient. If you are concerned about anything special, you should make sure there are stipulations about them in the contract, such that if anything does go to court, you have a binding legal agreement that both you and the photographer have signed backing you up (and the same would go for the photographer.)

When it comes to general contractors, they are often required by some level of government to BE licensed so they can pursue their trade, as there are often significant safety considerations involved...both for the customer and often for the public at large. I don't believe there is any requirement that a professional photographer be licensed to pursue their trade as I don't think there are many, if any, scenarios where it might pose a safety risk.

I guess I don't understand how liability insurance would apply to wedding photography, unless you are worried they might sue you over damage to their equipment. Again, I would think that is a contractual issue, waiving any responsibility you may have for equipment damage. On the flip side, the photographer may wish to protect themselves from the cost of certain kinds of damage that ARE the direct result of wedding invitees or what-have-you. The two of you would have to agree on where the boundary lies, and both of you are likely going to have to accommodate some level of risk and responsibility there.

These things are generally all a matter of contract, which is the legally binding document that outlines the agreements, liabilities, waivers, and arbitration process between you and the photographer. Use the contract to protect yourself, agree with the photographer about where liabilities lie, how you might arbitrate a dispute, how payment will be handled with (i.e. partial payment up-front, with the bulk of payment due upon receipt of product...which may simply be a set of photographs, or something more complex like a set of photographic prints of a certain quality, a photobook of a certain design, and copies of the RAW images. Insufficient product, incomplete product, etc. could then all be grounds to withhold all or part of the final payment, which should provide incentive to the photographer to produce what they agreed to produce, and not skimp out or produce crappy results, etc.) Once signed by all parties, everyone is bound to conform. ALL participants should be willing to accommodate their part of risk and responsibility in the event that they violate the contract in any way...that includes you, as well as the photographer.

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IANAL.

jrista's answer agrees with my thinking that most issues would be contract issues. But since you mentioned several websites suggested asking for proof of insurance, I had a look around to see what you were referring to.

There are a few issues involving insurance:

  • in some states it may be required that the photographer have insurance if taking photographs in places like public parks

  • apparently many wedding venues require all vendors (caterers, photographers and such) to have insurance. Otherwise either the vendor or the couple would have to sign waivers

  • if the photographer has a good contract, IMO he/she will limit liabilty to simply refunding your money if he should fail to deliver on the contract (due to illness or accident, gear failure, whatever). You may still be able to sue him for breach of contract and damages. His carrying insurance would improve your chances of getting a decent settlement.

  • if a wedding guest or vendor damages any of the photographer's gear, or it's stolen, or the photographer gets injured by a guest, you'd want to know that he, the vendor or the venue have insurance to cover it, so that he doesn't come after you.

I have seen a lot of discussions (dpreview and other places) in the past about contracts, but little about insurance. I would think that a good commercial photographer would have decent coverage, so if a prospective wedding photographer has a well written contract and insurance, they are good at the business side of things, which I think is a good sign that they are reliable and will deliver.

I'm guessing that the venue requiring proof of coverage is probably the main reason these websites you mention suggest asking prospective photographers about their covereage.

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There are two common forms of insurance that may apply:

Liability insurance, which protects them against people tripping over their gear or even if the photographer knocks over a candle stand and burns down the cathedral. You would ask to see his COI, Certificate of Insurance.

While not insurance, Professional Photographers of America has an Indemnification Trust, for its members, which helps pay for restaging and reshooting the wedding in the event that the photographer physically can't deliver the images, for whatever reason: he had amnesia the morning of the wedding and didn't show up, the memory cards get stolen, all kinds of scenarios where the photographer may be sued. To ask the photographer about this, you can ask if they are PPA members, and verify their membership here, if they are full members, or by phone (800-786-6277), aspiring members don't show up in the online search.

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By the way, I see from another question that you're a wedding shooter already looking to become more of a mainstream pro. Note that PPA members can get liability insurance for around $350 a year, the coverage is $1 million. PPA membership is pretty useful. A full member also gets $15,000 in equipment insurance coverage for their gear (bodies, lenses, even computers) included in the membership; they just added that in the past year. –  jfklein13 Jan 18 '12 at 20:55

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