Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tattoo and Piercing Insurance

Even though this form of insurance has been regularly available across the United States for more than a decade, tattoo and piercing insurance is still an esoteric idea to some bemoaning how tattooing became popular. Is this insurance really useful?


By: Vanessa Uy


Toward the end of the 1980’s, when the rise of the Los Angeles Hair Metal Scene epitomized by bands like Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, LA Guns, and Poison started to made tattoos – even body piercings - a part of Madison Avenue’s “Fashion Ethic”. Tattoo insurance was virtually nonexistent. A few years later with the rise of the Seattle Grunge scene, the concept of a “Tattoo Insurance” began to take shape.

Many in the tattoo art world credit insurance agents Ray Pearson and Susan Preston for making tattoo insurance an economically viable product. Ray Pearson is the self-proclaimed “short, hairy, fat guy in a suit that you see at the conventions behind the Alliance of Professional Tattooists or APT booth” of O.S. Bruner. While Susan Preston of Professional Program Insurance Brokerage for their hard work during the mid-1990’s to make tattoo insurance a reality. Both Ray and Susan have tattoos themselves, which make them in a privileged position understand their respective clients’ point of view. At the time, Ray Pearson and Susan Preston were very busy in providing tattoo shops with coverage at a minimum cost. The coverage also includes piercing, since this body-modification artform has risen in popularity when the 1990’s began.

Tattoo insurance starts with two basic types of coverage. The first is general liability, which provides coverage similar to that of a standard homeowner’s policy – i.e. coverage against fire, flooding etc. General liability coverage is available to professional tattoo and piercing studios that meet the eligibility requirements.

Next is professional liability, which protects an individual tattooist or piercer much like the malpractice insurance that covers physicians. Professional liability has been proved very important in most cases since judging “artistic merit” is largely a matter of taste. This coverage mainly provides legal defense costs (which can be substantial) especially in cases when a client is not satisfied with his or her tattoo. Professional liability also covers various “mistake” claims, like the perennially publicized “Fighting Irish” debacle.

Insurance companies basically judge professional liability eligibility on the normal, commercial underwriting standards. Like the cleanliness of the shop? The type of neighborhood is the shop in since geographic profiling / gentrification / red lining can be an issue (Have you observed the 2008 US presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s Chicago South Side neighborhood’s “arrested development” via Machiavellian-style political machinations?). Are there any immediate hazardous exposures next door? (Like Monsanto’s undocumented PCB dump sites). Insurance companies also look for legitimate, professional, permanently located tattoo / piercing studios as opposed to an artist working out of his or her own basement.

Some insurance companies require a tattoo shop to routinely register their clients in a log to prove that the specific person were tattooed by them on a specific date. This is distinct from the paperwork of liability waivers most tattooists and piercers require their customers to sign. Courts have been recognizing the validity of these waivers and had been enforcing them for over a decade now. When an adult enters into another contract with another adult, signed with a full understanding and approval, the artist is free of responsibility. The cost to the tattooist is then limited to legal fees, which the insurance company pays for.

As the cornerstone of a good “beauty business” has always been repeat customers and referrals. Tattooists and piercers can be considered an excellent example of a beauty business for reasons previously described, but they also did a good job of policing themselves over the years by consistently and universally operating on a safe and professional level that there haven’t been many claims. This resulted in a business that operates on minimal loss and high profit margins that insurance costs by way of premiums can be considered minimal.

Professional Program Insurance Brokerage offer insurance premiums that start as low as $615 to insure a tattoo shop or individual artist. They usually charge 10% more if a shop does facial or cosmetic tattooing – like permanent eyebrows and lipcolor - which is considered riskier than regular body tattooing.

Some insurance companies offer group policies. O.S. Bruner offers such a policy to eligible Alliance of Professional Tattooists or APT members, which significantly lower the costs of availing one. Ray Pearson says O.S. Bruner’s average shop policy with $30,000 of contents coverage, a $500,000 limit of general liability, and special perils coverage - which is “all risk”, including theft - costs around $1,175, inclusive of taxes and other fees.

Most companies offer tattoo liability limits available from $100,000 to a million dollars. And property coverage can be scaled-up for basically whatever the client needs. Premiums can be paid in a lumped sum – i.e. all at once - or through a more manageable monthly financing. Looks like the tattoo and piercing insurance providers are really looking out for both the shops and their customers, how’s that for corporate social responsibility.

The short but crowded history of tattoo and piercing artform’s assault on the money driven media mainstream – from the late 1980’s Hair Metal scene to the mid 1990’s Riot Grrrl movement epitomized by Theo Kogan and the rest of Lunachicks. With anything that had gone before, between, or after has really popularized both tattoos and body piercings. Some might be jaded, but for better or for worse (I say better) tattooing might outlast anything – the US Navy, Bike Gangs / Enthusiasts, etc - that had helped it become popular in the first place.

5 comments:

Letiche said...

As a first hand witness of the rise of 1980's "Hair Metal" (I'm showing my age here), I'ts quite inconceivable to think that the idea of tattoo insurance didn't took off until the Alliance of Professional Tattooists was started/established around January 1992. Was Slash and Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses getting tattooed and pierced without insurance. Speaking of Lunachicks - which is one of my favorite punk bands of the 1990's by the way - you should start a photo blog about Theo Kogan and the rest of Lunachicks focusing on their tattoos. There still isn't a single site on the Internet (a one stop Lunachicks tattoo art "fanblog" would be nice) that exhibits the bands "skin art".

Girlie May said...

Maybe one of the reasons why tattoos and piercings became somewhat "mainstream" around 1998 to 1999 because of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists' establishment of a tattoo insurance system during 1992. Near the end of the 1990's, it seems like everyone and their dog are getting some kind of tattoo and piercing. Looks like we who have "Virgin Skin" were a minority back then.
P.S. please do a photo blog about Lunachicks highlighting their various tattoos. On-line Lunachicks photo blogs are still few and far between.

Claire said...

I don't know if tattooing and piercing is part of the "Visual Kei" aesthetic, but Lunachicks really did qualify as such.
Thanks by the way for this informative blog about tattooing and piercing insurance. I do find it a bit strange that Motley Crue and Guns N' Roses - the big-wigs of 80's Hair Metal - are gettiing tattooed and pierced without any insurance.

Casey said...

I'd like to comment on the author's inaccurate description of liability insurance. It is not a coverage for fire or flood to the insured's building as described. It is intended to protect the insured party from liability suits alleging bodily injury or property damage to a third party.

Varsha Pawar said...

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