Millions are prepared annually. People ask for them, people prepare them. They are so much a part of the business environment that people take them for granted. But like anything that is taken for granted, carelessness and indiscretion often follow. And then comes liability and state regulation.
This is the state of affairs for certificates of insurance—those documents that purport to describe the particulars of a party’s existing insurance coverage. In the last four years alone, 44 states have enacted legislation, adopted rules or issued clarifying bulletins through their departments of insurance addressing certificates of insurance. All but five states now have laws, regulations or guidance addressing them.
While not all states regulate certificates the same way, enough principles remain in common to be suitable guides for knowing what not to do with a certificate. Yet misunderstandings still arise. For instance, many certificate requestors have thought they can require a policyholder, through a certificate of insurance, to advise them of any changes to, or cancellation of, the policy. Naturally, the requestor has a valid concern. If a party wishes to know whether insurance coverage is in place, it very reasonably would wish to know if that coverage will change or cease. But a certificate is not the document to address that concern. If a party wishes to be notified of changes in the policy or cancellation notices, the party should obtain an endorsement from the insurance company to that effect. For this reason, many states warn that a certificate cannot promise policy notices; the certificate holder gets what the insurance policy says the holder gets. As the form states: “Should any of the above described policies be cancelled before the expiration date thereof, notice will be delivered in accordance with the policy provisions.”
If one is not using a broker, the risk manager should ensure that all individuals preparing certificates are using the most current form and that they are not altering it in any way. Examples include, altering the form to reflect that: 1) a contracting party will receive advance notice of any change to, or cancellation of, the insurance policy; 2) the company will indemnify the other party for general liability arising from the contract; 3) the insurance coverage referenced in the certificate will be provided according to the contract between the parties; or 4) language that says the certificate confers no rights to insurance will be deleted.
In short, do not mess with the forms. Prepare them accurately and let them speak for themselves. Anything more can result in trouble.