Insurance & Water Damage

Courtesy of iii.org

Pop quiz: what’s one of the most common types of homeowners insurance claims? (Hint: it’s not fire.)

It’s water damage. Maybe that’s not surprising – it rains a lot in many places. But what may surprise you is that things like pipe bursts and broken appliances are increasingly the main causes of water damage in homes.

In insurance-speak, these are called “non-weather water damage claims.” Worryingly, these claims are happening more often and are getting a lot more expensive. A Best’s Review article reports that the average homeowners water damage claim is now over $6,700. Large losses (over $500,000) have doubled in number over the past three years. Non-weather water damage is now costing insurers (and their policyholders) billions in losses every year.

This is happening for several reasons. Our housing stock is aging, as is our infrastructure. More houses are being built and they’re getting bigger – many houses now have extra bathrooms and second-floor laundry rooms, which means more piping. (The story is probably different in Florida. You can read why that is here.)

But the worst part is that many – if not most – water damage claims are preventable. Inspecting pipes or conducting routine maintenance can go a long way. That’s where the internet of things (IoT) comes in. Smart devices and connected sensors installed on piping can detect leaks before they occur or before they cause too much damage. They’re basically smoke detectors, but for water.

And they work. Best’s Review noted that installing IoT devices can reduce water losses by up to 93 percent.

The Review quoted an IoT company CEO who claimed that leak detection devices could save insurers and their customers $10 billion every year.

Homeowners have admittedly been slow to install IoT to help detect leaks. But insurers are hopeful that raising awareness about the issue, offering policyholder incentives like premium discounts, and encouraging IoT installation during home construction will begin to turn the tide.

Update: Of interest, Washington state adopted a rule in 2018 that specifically mentions water monitors and water shut-off systems as permissible tools for an insurer’s risk reduction program.

Gap Insurance-What Is

Courtesy of iii.org

How gap insurance works

When you buy or lease a new car or truck, the vehicle starts to depreciate in value the moment it leaves the car lot. In fact, most cars lose 20 percent of their value within a year. Standard auto insurance policies cover the depreciated value of a car—in other words, a standard policy pays the current market value of the vehicle at the time of a claim.

If, when you finance the purchase of a new car and put down only a small deposit, in the early years of the vehicle’s ownership the amount of the loan may exceed the market value of the vehicle itself.

In the event of an accident in which you’ve badly damaged or totaled your car, gap insurance covers the difference between what a vehicle is currently worth (which your standard insurance will pay) and the amount you actually owe on it.

When you might need gap insurance

It’s a good idea to consider buying gap insurance for your new car or truck purchase if you:

  • Made less than a 20 percent down payment
  • Financed for 60 months or longer
  • Leased the vehicle (carrying gap insurance is generally required for a lease)
  • Purchased a vehicle that depreciates faster than the average
  • Rolled over negative equity from an old car loan into the new loan

Where you can get gap insurance

Your car dealer may offer to sell you gap insurance on your new vehicle. However, most car insurers also offer it, and they typically charge less than the dealer. On most auto insurance policies, including gap insurance with collision and comprehensive coverage adds only about $20 a year to the annual premium.

Cold Weather Tips

Courtesy of iii.org

Ice, snow and wind can have devastating consequences to your home—and to your household budget. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take to avoid the expense and inconvenience of winter damage—and even help you save on heating costs. Get started when the leaves begin to turn so your home is well prepared when the cold, harsh weather hits.


Winter weather prep for the outside of your home

When temperatures drop dramatically and the snow flies, you’ll be glad to have taken these measures to safeguard your house.

  • Clean out the gutters. Remove leaves, sticks and other debris from gutters, so melting snow and ice can flow freely. This can prevent ice damming, which is what happens when water is unable to drain through the gutters and instead seeps into the house causing water to drip from the ceiling and walls.
  • Install gutter guards. Gutter guards prevent debris from entering the gutter and interfering with the flow of water away from the house and into the ground.
  • Trim trees and remove dead branches. Ice, snow and, wind could cause weak trees or branches to break free and damage your home or car, or injure someone walking by your property.
  • Repair steps and handrails. Broken stairs and banisters can become lethal when covered with snow and ice.
  • Use caulking to seal cracks and wall openings to prevent cold air and moisture from entering your home. Caulk and install weather stripping around windows and doors to prevent warm air from leaking out and cold air from blowing in.

Winter weather prep for the inside of your home

Frigid temperatures, snow and ice can wreak havoc on water pipes and tax heating systems. Ensure all your home’s internal systems are “go” for winter safety and efficiency.

  • Add extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. If too much heat escapes through the attic, it can cause snow or ice to melt on the roof. Water then can refreeze, leading to more ice build-up—and may even lead to ice dams that can damage your roof. Well-insulated basements and crawl spaces will also help protect pipes. Consider insulating garages and other unfinished areas to keep pipes from freezing.
  • Provide a reliable back-up power source. In the event of a power outage, continuous power will keep you warm and help to prevent frozen pipes, or a frozen battery operated sump-pump. Consider purchasing a portable power generator to ensure safety—and be sure to follow all guidelines for safe operation.
  • Have your heating system serviced. Furnaces, boilers and chimneys should be serviced at least once a year to prevent fire and smoke damage.
  • Check pipes closely for the presence of cracks and leaks. Have any compromised pipe repaired immediately.
  • Protect pipes in attics and crawl spaces with insulation or plug-in heating cable. Be sure to purchase UL®-listed models of heating cables with built-in thermostats; these will turn on the heat on when it is needed. When using the cables, always follow manufacturers instructions closely.
  • Install an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system. This will protect the system against increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can help prevent your pipes from bursting.
  • Move combustible items away from near any heat sources that you’ll likely be using. This includes fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters.
  • Install or check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Not only do residential fires increase in the winter, but so does carbon monoxide poisoning—so regularly check that your detectors are in working condition.
  • Know where your pipes are located and learn how to shut the water off. If your pipes freeze, speed is critical. The quicker you shut off water or direct your plumber to the problem, the better your chance of preventing major damage.
  • Hire a licensed contractor to look for structural damage. If damage is found, have all necessary repairs performed as soon as possible.
  • Take steps to prevent flooding. Your licensed contractor can also advise you about measures to prevent flooding from melted snow and ice runoff. Plastic coatings for internal basement walls, sump pumps and other improvements can prevent water damage to your home and belongings.
  • Consider insuring yourself for a sewer backup. Flooding related to melting snow can overburden sewer systems. Raw sewage backed up into the drains in your home can cause thousands of dollars in damage to floors, walls, furniture and electrical systems. Sewer backup is not covered under standard homeowners insurance or renters insurance policies, nor is it covered by flood insurance but can be purchased as either a separate product, or an endorsement.

Fire Hazards and the Holidays

Courtesy of iii.org

HOLIDAY FIRE LOSSES

Fireworks

On Independence Day in a typical year, far more U.S. fires are reported than on any other day, and fireworks account for two out of five of those fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Fireworks caused an estimated 17,800 reported fires, including 1,200 total structure fires, 400 vehicle fires, and 16,300 outside and other fires in 2011, according to a fireworks fact sheet from the NFPA. Key stats include:

  • Fireworks fires resulted in an estimated eight reported civilian deaths, 40 civilian injuries and $32 million in direct property damage.
  • In 2013, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 11,400 people for fireworks related injuries; 55 percent of those injuries were to the extremities, and 38 percent were to the head.
  • The risk of fireworks injury is highest for young people under age 4, followed by children 10 to 14.
  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says Thanksgiving Day is the leading day for home cooking fires, with three times as many occurring on Thanksgiving as any other day of the year. In 2013, there were 1,550 fires on Thanksgiving, a 230 percent increase over the daily average.

Home Fires

  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says Thanksgiving Day is the leading day for home cooking fires, with three times as many occurring on Thanksgiving as any other day of the year. In 2013, there were 1,550 fires on Thanksgiving, a 230 percent increase over the daily average.
  • U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 210 home structure fires that began with Christmas trees from 2009 to 2013, according to a fact sheet from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
  • Home Christmas tree fires caused an average of seven civilian deaths, 19 civilian injuries and $17.5 million in direct property damage annually from 2009 to 2013.
  • Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 38 percent of the home Christmas tree structure fires. About one-quarter (24 percent) occurred because some type of heat source was too close to the tree. Decorative lights were involved in 18 percent of these incidents. Eight percent of home Christmas tree fires were started by candles.
  • The top three days for home candle fires were Christmas, New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve, according to another NFPA fact sheet.
  • During the five-year-period of 2009-2013, the NFPA estimates that decorations were the item first ignited in an estimated average of 860 reported home structure fires per year. These fires caused an estimated average of one civilian death, 41 civilian injuries and $13.4 million in direct property damage per year, according to an NFPA fact sheet.

For information about Holiday Safety and Preparedness, see our Pinterest board.

FIRE LOSSES

Great strides have been made in constructing fire-resistant buildings and improving fire-suppression techniques, both of which have reduced the incidence of fire. However, in terms of property losses, these advances have been somewhat offset by increases in the number of and value of buildings. In 2014, on average, a fire department responded to a fire every 24 seconds in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association. A structure fire occurs every 64 seconds; a residential structure fire occurs every 86 seconds and an outside property fire occurs every 52 seconds.

STRUCTURE FIRES

There are about a half million fires in structures each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In 2014, 78 percent of structure fires were in residential properties and 22 percent were in non-residential structures, including storage facilities, stores and offices, and industrial properties, and public assembly. Public assembly fires include fires in eating and drinking places and other entertainment venues, houses of worship and other places where people congregate. There are approximately 7,600 structure fires in eating and drinking establishments each year, according to a NFPA report based on data between 2006 and 2010.

According to the NFPA, fires in nightclubs are among the most deadly public occupancy fires, because they contain a large number of people in one main space. In January, 2013 a deadly nightclub fire in Brazil claimed over 230 lives, making it one of the most deadly nightclub fires on record. The deadliest nightclub fire in world history was the 1903 Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago, Illinois in which 602 people were killed, followed by a 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, Massachusetts which claimed 492 lives and a fire at the Conway’s Theater in Brooklyn, New York in 1876 which killed 285 people. The 2003 Station Fire in Rhode Island claimed 100 lives, and ranks as number eight. The complete top ten ranking is posted at NFPA: Nightclub Fires.

Crisis with Florida Insurance Rates

Courtesy of iii.org

It is a standard practice throughout the insurance world: As a convenience, a policyholder grants a third party – an auto glass repair company, a medical practitioner, a home contractor – permission to directly bill an insurer to settle a claim. That practice is called an assignment of benefits, usually known by the acronym, AOB.

In Florida, abuse of AOBs has fueled an insurance crisis. The state’s legal environment has encouraged vendors and their attorneys to solicit unwarranted AOBs from tens of thousands of Floridians, conduct unnecessary or unnecessarily expensive work, then file tens of thousands of lawsuits against insurance companies that deny or dispute the claims. This mini-industry has cost consumers billions of dollars as they are forced to pay higher premiums to cover needless repairs and excessive legal fees. And consumers often do not even know that their claims are driving these cost increases.

The abuse therefore acts somewhat like a hidden tax on consumers, helping to increase what are already some of the highest insurance premiums in the country.

This report discusses how AOB abuse works, how and why it is spreading, and how it is contributing to higher insurance costs for Florida consumers.

Please click on the file name below to view the white paper in PDF format. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the file.

Download aobfl_wp_121118.pdf

You can download Adobe Acrobat Reader, free of charge, from the Adobe website (https://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep.html).

2018-How Bad Was the Hurricane Damage?

Courtesy of iii.org

The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season was less active than the 2017 season but still caused extensive property damage across the southeastern United States, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

The 2018 hurricane season officially concludes tomorrow (Nov. 30) and saw the formation of 15 named storms. Eight of the 15 became hurricanes, and two (Florence and Michael) became major hurricanes, according to Philip Klotzbach, Ph.D., a research scientist with the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University (CSU). Klotzbach is also a non-resident scholar with the I.I.I.

The original CSU forecast for 2018, presented in April, predicted slightly above-average hurricane activity with three major hurricanes. The seasonal outlooks CSU subsequently released in the summer envisioned less hurricane activity, with CSU forecasting 12 named storms, five hurricanes, and one major hurricane on Aug. 2.

“Even in what ended up as an average year for major hurricane activity, 2018 was record-setting, with Hurricane Florence spurring statewide rainfall records in North and South Carolina. In addition, Hurricane Michael was the first time on record a Category 4 hurricane made landfall in the Florida Panhandle,” said Sean Kevelighan, I.I.I. CEO. “As financial first responders, the insurance industry continues to be on the ground, helping to rebuild our customers’ livelihoods and economies more broadly. Nonetheless, these extraordinary hurricanes highlighted for coastal residents and businesses the importance of disaster preparedness, building resilient structures and insuring properties against both flood and wind-caused damage.”

A named storm is considered a hurricane when its sustained wind speeds are at least 74 miles per hour. Major hurricanes are those that are designated as a Category 3 storm or higher, with sustained wind speeds of at least 111 mph.

Florence made landfall as a Category 1 storm on Sept. 14 near Wilmington, North Carolina. It was categorized as a major hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean, but the storm’s wind speeds diminished significantly before striking the U.S. coastline. The weather system lingered for days in the Carolinas, dumping as much as 36 inches of rain in North Carolina and 24 inches in South Carolina, the most ever recorded there after a hurricane.

Michael made landfall on Oct. 10 near Mexico Beach, Florida. More than 85,000 of the 125,000-plus claims Florida’s insurers received as of Nov. 16 as a result of Hurricane Michael were for insured residential properties, and the total estimated insured claim payouts currently are estimated at $3.4 billion.

An average Atlantic hurricane season produces 12 named storms and six hurricanes, including three major hurricanes. The 2017 hurricane season had 17 named storms. Ten of the 17 reached hurricane strength and six became major hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Sleep & Insurance

Courtesy of iii.org

I came across this from Swiss Re around 2 a.m., which helps explain why it caught my (sleepy) eye:

Consider these two facts: Firstly, two out of three man-made losses worldwide are due to human failure. Based on Swiss Re’s sigma research, this would mean that people trigger a loss volume of around USD 3 billion per year.

Secondly, life insurance generated premiums of USD 2.6 trillion in 2017. These two facts are linked because tired people make more errors and insomniacs are at a greater risk of dying earlier than would otherwise be the case.

That’s right – the insurance angle on sleep.

The lack of sleep is associated with increased rates of heart attacks, strokes, obesity and other diseases. Sleeping less can also contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. And recent research found that chronic sleep restriction increases risk seeking behaviour.

If these trends change the loss patterns in property and casualty or mortality rates, this could have a multi-billion dollar impact on the insurance industry in the long run.

The lack of sleep has caused some high profile accidents, the most notable in my world being a New Jersey Transit train that in 2016 crashed into Hoboken terminal because the engineer, suffering from sleep apnea, zoned out at a crucial moment. One woman died, dozens were injured.

Swiss Re posits that society, ever accelerating, robs us of ever more sleep. The less we sleep, the woozier we become. And the more errors we make. (Our bodies wear out faster too, becoming susceptible to the maladies Swiss Re mentions above.)

A good dose of resilience helps here. New York area railroads are installing (by federal mandate) positive train control systems, which automatically stop trains in any sort of peril, including that of a tired engineer. The illustration above describes how the system works.

As for my own struggles – an e-book of white text on black background, and perhaps a cup of chamomile tea.

Facts on Distracted Driving

Courtesy of http://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/distracted-driving

Activities that take drivers’ attention off the road, including talking or texting on cellphones, eating, conversing with passengers and other distractions, are a major safety threat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gauges distracted driving by collecting data on distraction-affected crashes, which focuses on distractions that are most likely to affect crash involvement such as dialing a cellphone or texting and being distracted by another person or an outside event. In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in distraction-affected crashes, and 424,000 people were injured. There were 2,910 distraction-affected fatal crashes, accounting for 10 percent of all fatal crashes in the nation, 18 percent of injury crashes and 16 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in 2013.

FATAL CRASHES AFFECTED BY DISTRACTED DRIVERS, 2013

CrashesDriversFatalities
Total fatal crashes30,05744,57432,719
Distracted-affected fatal crashes
Number2,9102,9593,154
Percent of total fatal crashes10%7%10%
Cellphone in use in distracted-affected fatal crashes
Number411427445
Percent of fatal distracted-affected crashes14%14%14%

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

View Archived Tables

NHTSA says that in 2013, 14 percent of distraction-affected crashes occurred while a cell phone was in use. The chart below shows driver hand-held phone use by age.

DRIVER HAND-HELD CELLPHONE USE BY AGE, 2005-2014 (1)

 

(1) Percent of drivers using hand-held cellphones.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

View Archived Graphs

NHTSA’s website, Distraction.gov has more information on distracted driving. “It Can Wait”, a public awareness campaign funded by four by wireless carriers, provides resources on the dangers of distracted driving, including “From One Second to the Next”, a film by director Werner Herzog profiling the victims of distracted driving.

Insuring a Classic Car

Courtesy of iii.org

A classic, custom, collectible or antique car requires insurance that reflects your vehicle’s uniqueness and value. If you own—or are thinking of owning—a special set of wheels, find out about the kind of policy you need.


What types of vehicles need special insurance?

A classic, collectible or antique car is no ordinary car—and regular auto insurance is not sufficient to protect such a vehicle against damage or loss.

That said, there is no uniform definition of a classic car. If a car’s value exceeds its original selling price, then it might be considered collectible and a candidate for specialized classic car insurance. In general, vehicles that might warrant classic car auto insurance include:

  • Antique and classic cars, usually at least 25 to 30 years old
  • Hotrods and modified vehicles
  • Exotic and luxury autos—think James Bond
  • Muscle cars
  • Classic trucks

You might also seek specialized insurance for vintage military vehicles, classic motorcycles and antique tractors.

Qualifying for classic car coverage

A car’s age is not enough to qualify for specialized classic car insurance. While requirements differ from company to company, most cars need to meet the following criteria in order to qualify:

  • Limited use – Your classic car cannot be used for everyday commuting or errands, and your policy may include mileage limitations and proof the car is being properly garaged if you do travel with it. In some cases, insurers may require that you also own a primary car for everyday use.
  • Car shows and meetings – The limited use provision of a classic car policy allows for travel to car shows and auto club meet-ups; however, this coverage may be restricted by some insurers. If this is the case, there are insurers that can provide specialized coverage for car shows and meetings. Before choosing a classic car insurer, it’s worth checking whether they have travel restrictions if you plan to take your car on regular, multi-day, high mileage drives.
  • Secure storage – When not in use, your special vehicle must be stored in a locked, enclosed, private structure, such as a residential garage or storage unit.
  • A clean driving record – You may be disqualified from classic auto insurance if you have serious offenses on your driving record, such as reckless driving, repeat speeding violations or driving while intoxicated.

Not every vehicle, however special, will meet the qualifications of every insurer. For instance, some insurers may not cover vintage off-road vehicles. Insurers may also decline to insure vehicles that are in poor condition or have been previously damaged.

What you should know about classic car policies

Your classic car policy will include provisions found in standard auto insurance policies, notably property damage and bodily injury liability coverage. But there are some differences, as well:

  • Your car’s value – Because each car’s condition is unique, there is no set “book value” for specific makes and models. The first step in insuring your classic car is for you and your insurer to reach an agreement on the value of the vehicle. This value will be specified in your policy and your car will be covered up to that value without depreciation.

Note that, unlike everyday vehicles that depreciate over time as you add miles to them, classic cars may gain value. Make sure you adjust your coverage as the value of your auto appreciates.

  • Specialized repair or restoration – Your policy should you the flexibility to bring your vintage Mercedes, Ferrari or Corvette to a specialist—even if the rates may be twice, or three times, the cost of a typical car repair at a traditional auto body shop.
  • Special towing and spare parts – Coverage for towing is commensurate with the special demands of transporting a classic car. Spare parts coverage, too, needs to be aligned with the cost of replacing valuable and perhaps hard-to-find vehicle components, such as wheels, transmissions, and engine parts.

Liability and Parties

Courtesy of iii.org

Whether you’re hosting a Super Bowl party for 50 or greeting the New Year with a few friends, if you’re planning to serve alcohol at your home take steps to limit your liquor liability and make sure you have the proper insurance.


Social host liability is the legal term for the criminal and civil responsibility of a person who furnishes liquor to a guest. Social host liability can have serious consequences for party throwers.

Social host liability law

Also known as “Dram Shop Liability,” social host liability laws vary widely from state to state, but 43 states have them on the books. Most of these laws also offer an injured person, such as the victim of a drunk driver, a method to sue the person who served the alcohol. There are circumstances under these laws where criminal charges may also apply.

While a social host is not liable for injuries sustained by a drunken guest (as the guest is also negligent), the host can be held liable for harm to third parties, and even for passengers of the guest who have been injured in their car.

Social host liability—insurance considerations

Homeowners insurance usually provides some liquor liability coverage, but limits are typically $100,000 to $300,000, which, depending on your assets, might not be enough. Before planning a party in your home, speak to your insurance professional to review your homeowners coverage for any exclusions, conditions or limitations your policy might have that would affect your social liability risk.

Protect yourself and your guests

Remember that a good host is a responsible host. If you plan to serve alcohol at a party, promote safe alcohol consumption and take these steps to reduce your social host liability exposure:

  • Make sure you understand your state laws. These laws vary widely from state to state (see final chart). Some states do not impose any liability on social hosts. Others limit liability to injuries that occur on the host’s premises. Some extend the host’s liability to injuries that occur anywhere a guest who has consumed alcohol goes. Many states have laws that pertain specifically to furnishing alcohol to minors.
  • Consider venues other than your home for the party. Hosting your party at a restaurant or bar with a liquor license, rather than at your home, will help minimize liquor liability risks.
  • Hire a professional bartender. Most bartenders are trained to recognize signs of intoxication and are better able to limit consumption by partygoers.
  • Encourage guests to pick a designated driver who will refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages so that he or she can drive other guests home.
  • Limit your own alcohol intake as a responsible host/hostess, so that you will be better able to judge your guests’ sobriety.
  • Offer non-alcoholic beverages and always serve food. Eating and drinking plenty of water, or other non-alcoholic beverages, can help counter the effects of alcohol.
  • Do not pressure guests to drink or rush to refill their glasses when empty. And never serve alcohol to guests who are visibly intoxicated.
  • Stop serving liquor toward the end of the evening. Switch to coffee, tea and soft drinks.
  • If guests drink too much or seem too tired to drive home, call a cab, arrange a ride with a sober guest or have them sleep at your home.
  • Encourage all your guests to wear seatbelts as they drive home. Studies show that seatbelts save lives.