While general liability insurance and professional liability insurance both provide coverage against financial losses, the main difference lies in the risks they address. General liability insurance shields businesses from bodily injury, property damage and personal injury claims. On the other hand, professional liability insurance, sometimes knowns as errors and omissions (E&O), focuses on protecting professionals from claims related to errors, omissions or negligence when providing specialized services or advice.

Understanding the nuances between general liability and professional liability allows business owners to make informed decisions about the specific risks their business may face and ensure appropriate coverage.

General Liability and Professional Liability Insurance Comparison

The primary difference between the business insurance types lies in what they cover: General liability centers on physical injuries and property damage, while professional liability focuses on service-related errors or negligence. Certain businesses may require one over the other, depending on their operations.

How General Liability and Professional Liability Are Similar

While general liability insurance and professional liability insurance have distinct purposes, there are some similarities between the two:

  • Both types of insurance policies are designed to address third-party claims and provide coverage for legal defense costs, settlements, and judgments.
  • Both aim to protect policyholders from potential financial burdens associated with legal disputes.
  • Both types of insurance are typically obtained by businesses and professionals to mitigate risks and provide a layer of financial protection. They can both help safeguard assets, reputation and financial stability.
  • The cost of both general liability and professional insurance is based on the type of industry, business size, risk exposure, claims history, coverage limits and deductible amounts.

It's important to note that while professional liability insurance focuses on claims related to professional services and general liability insurance covers a broader range of risks, these similarities highlight the shared purpose of protecting policyholders from legal and financial challenges.

How General Liability and Professional Liability Are Different

Professional liability insurance and general liability insurance serve different purposes and address different types of risks:

  • General liability insurance applies to a wide range of businesses and industries, while professional liability insurance is tailored to professionals who provide specialized services or advice.
  • General liability insurance primarily addresses claims related to bodily injury, property damage, and personal injury arising from everyday business operations. Professional liability insurance specifically covers claims arising from professional services, such as errors, omissions, or negligence in performing specialized duties or providing professional advice.
  • The scope of coverage differs: General liability insurance encompasses a broad range of risks associated with business operations, such as accidents, premises liability, product liability, and advertising injury claims. On the other hand, professional liability insurance focuses on the insured professional's actions and their impact on clients.

Understanding these differences can help you make informed decisions when choosing between general and professional liability insurance to manage specific risks and protect your interests.

What General Liability Insurance Covers

General liability insurance is a foundational insurance policy that provides coverage for common risks, including:

  • Bodily injuries on your premises or resulting from your operations
  • Property damage caused by your operations or occurring on your premises
  • Personal and advertising injuries, such as slander, libel or copyright infringement

Let's consider some scenarios:

  • A customer slips on a wet floor at a café and breaks an arm.
  • A contractor accidentally damages a client's property while installing a new HVAC system.
  • An advertising campaign inadvertently uses copyrighted images, leading to a lawsuit.

Liability insurance is crucial for businesses with physical premises or those interacting directly with customers, such as retailers, restaurants or contractors.

Advantages include a wide coverage range and meeting contractual requirements, such as leases or client agreements. However, a key limitation is that it doesn't cover professional mistakes or negligence in service delivery.

What Professional Liability Insurance Covers

Professional liability insurance, or errors and omissions (E&O) insurance, covers mistakes or negligence in professional services:

  • Errors and omissions in services provided
  • Failure to deliver promised services
  • Misrepresentation or violation of good faith and fair dealing

For instance:

  • A consulting firm's flawed advice leads to a client's financial loss.
  • An architect's error in blueprints causes a construction delay.
  • A real estate agent mistakenly misrepresents property specifications.

Professional liability insurance is important for businesses or professionals providing advice or services, like consultants, architects or real estate agents. Its benefits include protection against claims of poor or negligent service. But, it does not cover physical injuries or property damage.

When You May Want Both Types

Deciding whether your business requires both general and professional liability insurance necessitates careful consideration of your specific business risks and operations. Here are some criteria to help guide your decision:

  • Nature of your services: If your business provides both physical products or services and professional advice or services, you may need both insurance types. This dual coverage protects against physical harm and property damage (general liability) as well as claims related to your professional advice or service delivery (professional liability).
  • Customer interaction: If your business regularly interacts with customers, either at your location or theirs, general liability insurance is crucial. If you also provide professional advice or services to these customers, professional liability insurance becomes equally important.
  • Regulatory or contractual requirements: Sometimes, both types of insurance may be required by laws or contractual agreements specific to your industry.

Now, let's consider a few business types that might need both insurances and why:

  • IT companies: These firms often provide hardware installation services and software consulting. The physical aspect of hardware installation could lead to general liability claims for property damage or bodily injury, while flawed software recommendations or services could lead to professional liability claims.
  • Contractors with consultancy services: These businesses face physical risks through their on-site work and professional risks through the advisory portion of their services. For instance, a construction error could result in physical injury (general liability), while flawed construction plans could lead to a failed project (professional liability).
  • Fitness studios offering personal training: In this case, an accident involving gym equipment could lead to general liability claims, while incorrect professional advice or a flawed personal training plan could lead to professional liability claims.
  • Healthcare clinics: These establishments often face both physical risks (like a patient slipping and falling) and professional risks (like claims of incorrect diagnosis or treatment).

By carefully assessing the nature of your services, your level of customer interaction, and any specific legal or contractual requirements, you can make an informed decision about whether your business might benefit from carrying both general and professional liability insurance.

When to Choose General Liability vs. Professional Liability

Here are a few examples to help you understand when you may want to buy each type of insurance.

Examples of Benefitting From General Liability Insurance


Examples of Benefitting From Professional Liability Insurance


Examples of Businesses Benefitting from Both


Final Thoughts on General Liability vs. Professional Liability

In the end, getting the right insurance is all about protecting your business. Whether you need general liability insurance, professional liability insurance, or both, depends on what kind of work you do and what kind of risks you might run into. As your business changes and grows, you should always check to see if your insurance still fits your needs. Making sure you're properly insured helps you keep your business stable and successful. So, take the time to think about what coverage you need—it's worth it.

About Melissa Wylie

Melissa Wylie headshot

Melissa Wylie is a Content and SEO Manager at MoneyGeek. Melissa has worked in the financial content space since 2018 and has spent much of that time focused on all things small business.

Prior to joining MoneyGeek, Melissa held SEO positions at Bankrate and LendingTree. Melissa’s work has also appeared on LendingTree-owned websites ValuePenguin and MagnifyMoney.

Melissa began her career at American City Business Journals in 2015 as a reporter for the company’s women-focused publication Bizwomen. Melissa has a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of North Texas. Melissa relies on her foundation in journalism to craft content that simplifies complex financial topics to help everyone feel confident when making decisions with their money.

Melissa's other work can be read on LendingTree and Bizwomen.