Knowing the legal responsibilities of garage-keepers

By Tim O’Bryan

The continuing series with Tim O’Bryan, president of Service Insurance Agency, Richmond, VA, now centers on the legal responsibilities of garage-keepers. We discussed what operators need to know, expanded liabilities and the ins and outs of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections.

Please describe the garage-keepers’ liability component in a typical garage insurance policy.

The garage policy is the liability portion for the work you perform to repair or maintain a bus or motorcoach of others. The garage-keepers’ portion of the policy covers any physical damage to the vehicle while the bus is in the maintenance facility. For example, a technician backs the bus out of the garage and hits a light pole. The garage-keepers’ liability covers only the physical damage specific to that accident; not a mechanical issue, or having anything to do with the repairs. It is basically comp and collision coverage.


What do operators and maintenance personnel need to know about garage-keepers’ insurance?

Because the shop is responsible for any damage to any vehicle in its care, a garage-keeper’s policy is generally in tandem with the garage policy, and operators must be cognizant of its legal requisites. The garage policy covers liability for the parts and labor involved in the actual maintenance and repairs. Any damages to the vehicle during that time fall under the garage-keepers’ portion, not unlike an auto liability policy that has the liability amount and the physical damage part.


What expanded liabilities consider the work environment and garage personnel?

The garage is a dangerous work setting. In accordance with OSHA standards for heavy-duty equipment and fixtures such as lifts and maintenance pits require strict compliancy to ensure their safe operation. The safest garage is always clean and well-maintained with proper storage to help avert trips and falls; as well as safety signage and warning markings; and specified safety gear and emergency mechanisms. Additionally, compliancy includes safety training on the proper use of all shop equipment and safety gear and equipment.


What is your “first order” to bus and coach operators in terms of their maintenance operations? 

While every bus maintenance facility of any size should of course construct, equip and maintain their garage facilities to OSHA standards, this is particularly important for larger operations which are typically most likely to receive periodic inspections from OSHA. It’s less like OSHA will routinely inspect the smaller operations. Nonetheless, they cannot afford to ignore or take lightly OSHA requirements, as the risks to property and personnel are the same.


What do OSHA inspectors look for?

OSHA inspectors check to ensure the facility, equipment and tools and products all carry the required safety labels, markings and warnings; safe storage of flammable and hazardous materials; and equipment and tools are in their proper place and in working order. We’ve seen mechanics written up because they took the shields off the grinders.

Everyone must be mindful that safety mandates and regulations are in place for a reason. Continual care to the facility and the equipment is the best way to ensure good State of Repair and is not a safety hazard. No one wants the headache that comes with a worker’s comp claim.


In your dealings with clients, what issues must keep walking each one through and explaining?

The marketplace is well-defined as far as necessary coverage. We seem to keep re-educating the small companies on their need to carry workman’s comp. More than a few companies think they are too small to require it. It’s simply a head count. Whether their employees are full-time or part-time, once the staff reaches a certain number, state laws require the company to have workman’s comp.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is working around a conditional rating where that company becomes more difficult to find insurance.

It comes down to taking all compliance matters seriously, and being educated on what it all means and the correct steps and procedures to remain compliant. It is totally upon the company to have it right.


Tim O’Bryan serves as president of Service Insurance Agency. Since 1952, the company has been committed to the transportation industry. Service Insurance Agency strives to provide the most knowledgeable advice and personal service to all of its valued customers.