With more people getting body art, there's a lot that can go wrong. What happens when a tattoo leads to an infection, or when a client is unhappy with the result and decides to sue? Is there insurance to protect the artist? What about the client?
If a tattoo artist slips up and inks "I love Moom," a client may be able to recover some dough from the artist's insurance company. That is, of course, if the artist has liability insurance to begin with.
The insurance issue is arising more often as the popularity of tattoos climbs. Nearly four in 10 Americans age 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo, according to a Pew Research Center report.
Coverage often not required
Although most states don't require a tattoo shop or artist to carry business insurance coverage, many professional shops and artists are insured, says Susan Preston, president of Professional Program Insurance Brokerage in Novato, Calif., which offers tattoo insurance.
Maggie Phillips is a business insurance consultant with ISU Insurance Services of Westlake in Westlake Village, Calif., who helps tattoo artists and shop owners buy specialty insurance. She says consumers never should assume a tattoo artist carries insurance. If a shop or artist lacks insurance, you're left with the medical bills for removing a botched tattoo or treating an infection. Filing a lawsuit may be your only route for getting money to cover those expenses.
“I carry coverage just in case. Despite being careful and taking all safety precautions, you never know. Something can go wrong,” says Max Fine, a tattoo artist in the Chicago area.
On the flip side, South Carolina tattoo artist Teri Yaki says she doesn't have liability coverage. And neither does anyone she knows who does tattooing.
Phillips says that if a tattoo artist is insured, infections are covered under the policy's professional liability section. "Inker's remorse," on the other hand, might not be covered. "Some insurance policies won't cover a claim if you decide you don't like the color of your tattoo or you regret getting it," Phillips says. "It may only cover claims where the artist injures the client."
Inking a deal for coverage
Just like people who are considered "high risk" and have trouble getting auto, health or life insurance, tattoo artists and shop owners also may have trouble obtaining coverage. That's because their trade is so risky. "Mainstream carriers like State Farm won't touch these folks," Phillips says.
So what's a tattoo artist to do?
Preston recommends that tattoo shop owners and individual artists look into coverage from specialty insurers. The types of liability coverage available are:
- Professional liability insurance (often called errors-and-omissions insurance). This coverage protects individual artists if they're sued by a client.
- Individual general liability insurance. This type of insurance covers an artist's tools and machinery.
- Business liability insurance. This protects the assets of the shop and the owner if a client sues.
"If all of the tattooers and piercers working there are independent contractors, the shop owner is generally the one who gets sued if something goes wrong, even when it was a tattoo or piercing done by their independent contractor," Preston says.
Business liability insurance also covers clients who slip and fall and, in some cases, clients who say a tattoo isn't what they wanted.
Phillips says most tattoo business owners and independent artists seek business liability limits of $500,000 or $1 million, although insurance companies can set higher or lower limits depending on the needs.
What does it cost?
Insurance for tattoo artists is relatively affordable. In fact, it may cost less than auto insurance. Annual premiums generally start around $650, Phillips says. Preston says that's nothing compared with the cost of hiring an attorney to fight a lawsuit, which easily can run $250 an hour.