Action News Troubleshooters: Warning for business owners looking to pivot during pandemic

A lot of business owners are trying to be nimble changing their products to fit the needs of our new normal. But before you make or offer something new, you need to check with your insurance company.

"Normally I run a lawn and garden products manufacturing company," said James Messina of Messinas Garden Products.

Messina is local, so proud of his connection to New Jersey that his tagline is "The Garden Company from the Garden State."

"We specialize in things like herbicides, fertilizers, animal repellents," he said.

But when the pandemic hit, Messina quickly pivoted.

"We were, I think, probably one of the first movers in the hand sanitizer area. We had product ready to ship by the first of April," he said.
Before making the change, Messina had the forethought to contact his insurance agent.

"And we were given the green light to say, yeah, you're covered. There's no restrictions on what you should be manufacturing. Go ahead and proceed," he explained.

But months later he got a different message that one stating his insurance carrier was canceling his company's coverage after all.

That's when the Troubleshooters got involved and realized many other businesses and entrepreneurs could find themselves in the same position.

"Whenever you're changing your business model, you're potentially changing the risks associated with that business," said Sean Kevelighan, CEO of the Insurance Information Institute.

That could impact your costs and your liability, especially with a product like hand sanitizer.

"Liability insurance will help pay in case there are lawsuits that stem if there's bodily injury from the product or damage to the property," said Kevelighan.

Another way a number of people are pivoting is by becoming drivers for a car-share or food delivery service.

"If you decide to take that route of unemployment in the longer term, in the future, you'll want to communicate with your insurance professional for that as well," said Kevelighan.

The Troubleshooters do have good news for Messinas. After we and Governor Murphy's office reached out to Messinas' insurance company, it did do an about-face and Messinas was able to retain his insurance without disruption or penalty.
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