What is an Omnibus Clause?

Businessman at desk surrounded by question marks

The standard business auto policy contains wording that is often referred to as the omnibus clause. This clause appears under the heading Who Is An Insured in Section II, Auto Liability Coverage. It eliminates the need for additional insured endorsements under a commercial auto policy.

Omnibus Clause

The ISO business auto policy describes three categories of parties (people or entities) that qualify as insureds under liability coverage. These are listed below. The omnibus clause describes the third category. It automatically covers anyone that meets its description.

  1. You. This is the named insured, meaning the person or entity listed in the declarations.
  2. Permissive Users. This includes anyone using a covered auto with your permission. For example, an employee of yours drives a company-owned vehicle to make a delivery.
  3. Vicariously Liable Parties. This category includes anyone who is liable for the conduct of an insured described above. That is, it includes anyone liable for the conduct of the named insured or a permissive user.

Covers Vicarious Liability

The omnibus clause automatically covers anyone who could be held liable for your negligence or the negligence of a permissive user. That is, it covers anyone who is vicariously liable for negligence committed by the named insured or an authorized driver. These parties are covered only to the extent of their liability for acts of the named insured or a permissive user. They are not covered for their direct liability for an auto accident.

Vicarious liability means liability that is attributed to someone who did not directly commit a negligent act. A person or company may be held vicariously liability for negligence committed by someone with whom he or she has a legal relationship.

An employer may be held vicariously liable for an auto accident caused by a negligent employee. This is because employers are liable under common law for negligent acts their employees commit in the course of their employment. In most cases, general contractors aren't liable for the negligence of independent contractors. However, there are some exceptions. If a general contractor is deemed liable for an accident caused by a subcontractor, he or she might be covered for the suit under the omnibus clause in the subcontractor's auto policy.

Here is an example.

Example

Capital Construction is a general contractor that has been hired to construct a commercial building. Capital hires Peerless Paving to create a new parking lot at the facility. Capital requires all contractors involved in the project to enter and exit the construction site via a narrow driveway. The driveway is difficult to access, especially for large trucks. To enter the site, truck drivers must make a U-turn, pass through a pedestrian crosswalk, and then drive over a sidewalk.

Peerless Paving owns six trucks, all of which are insured for liability under a standard business auto policy. Peerless Paving begins constructing the parking lot. It completes the excavation and grading work and lays the subbase. The next step is to install the aggregate base layer. A Peerless employee picks up a load of aggregate in a company truck and heads back to the construction site. He is entering the narrow driveway when he accidentally hits a pedestrian. The pedestrian is seriously injured and sues Peerless Paving and Capital Construction for bodily injury.

The suit against Peerless is covered under the paving company's auto liability insurance.

In her suit against the general contractor, the pedestrian contends that Capital created a peculiar risk when it required the contractors to use the narrow driveway. She alleges that the driveway was inherently dangerous and that Capital is liable for the accident because it failed to take precautions to protect the public from injury. Capital seeks coverage for the suit under Peerless Paving's auto liability insurance.

If Capital is liable for the accident caused by the Peerless driver, it should be covered for the pedestrian's claim under the paving contractor's auto liability coverage. The auto policy automatically covers anyone liable for the conduct of an insured. Both Peerless and its employee driver are insureds under Peerless' auto liability insurance.

No Endorsements Needed

As noted above, the omnibus clause eliminates the need for additional insured endorsements under commercial auto liability coverage. The policy automatically covers anyone liable for the conduct of the named insured or a permissive driver. In the previous example, Capital Construction is automatically covered as an insured under Peerless Paving's auto policy. No endorsement is needed.