To make sure that homeowners are aware of the importance of flood insurance, the I.I.I. recently partnered with the Weather Channel.
A video posted to the Weather Channel’s Facebook page demonstrates just how destructive flooding can be; for example, in the video you can see the devastation from Hurricane Sandy wreaked on Breezy Point, a coastal community in Queens NY.
“What’s remarkable about flood insurance is that only 12 percent of people have it,” says Sean Kevelighan, I.I.I.’s CEO. One misconception that people have about flood insurance is that it’s included in a homeowners policy. But that’s not the case. A separate flood policy must be obtained. Flood insurance is mostly sold by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, but some private insurers have begun offering it as well.
For those savvy enough to have purchased the coverage, it made a world of difference. “If we did not have flood insurance we would have been completely dependent on [government assistance]. It would never have been enough to fix out house”, says one resident of Breezy Point.
The video has garnered over a thousand views so far. We hope it leads to more people getting this invaluable protection. For more information about flood insurance click here.
According to Deutsche Welle, an Austrian court has held a farmer liable after one of his cows killed a hiker walking through his farm. The article reported that the cow grew enraged at the hiker’s dog and charged at them. The farmer will have to pay over $200,000 in restitution for the horrible event to the deceased’s spouse and son.
I’m not well-versed on the nuances of Austrian liability law and insurance. But what if a similar (hopefully non-fatal) accident happened on a farm in the U.S. – how would insurance play a role?
Luckily, there’s a thing called “farm insurance.” It can get complicated, but often a farm insurance policy is just a hodgepodge of property and liability coverages – with a lot of customization in between for the unique needs of each farm.
Today, let’s just focus on the liability part. Imagine Farmer Joe’s cow, Betty, runs wild and breaks the leg of someone visiting his farm. What happens?
Paying for liability damages and medical expenses
The standard farm liability policy will cover damages if someone is hurt on the farm (subject to various limitations and exclusions, of course). So when Betty breaks someone’s leg, Farmer Joe’s insurance will help cover any damages he has to pay. The farm policy will also pay for some medical expenses, regardless of who is at fault for the injury. Medical expenses usually include first aid and other necessary services.
Feats of strength are not covered
Easy enough. But imagine another scenario: Farmer Joe is holding a cow race on his farm and has invited his neighbors to watch. Betty breaks loose from the race track and breaks his neighbor’s leg. In this case, Farmer Joe is probably not covered for any injuries arising out of races, strength contests, or stunts. Nor is he covered if someone got hurt while riding Betty for a fee.
Lots of policies, lots of options
There are many types of farms: dairy farms, cattle ranches, horse farms, poultry farms, agritourism farms. There are many different types of insurance coverages available for each unique situation. Here’s just a taste:
Horse farms and ranches (property and liability)
Commercial equine (liability for horse-breeding operations)
Equine (business coverage if a horse becomes ill or dies)
Livestock insurance (covers animals other than horses)
Farrier (property and liability for people who shoe horses)
Roadside farm stand and farmers’ market insurance
Agritourism (corn mazes, on-premises hay rides, petting zoos)
It’s always important to talk to an insurance agent about your coverage needs. You may not think that you have farm liability exposures, but if you live in a semi-rural or rural area and own livestock, it’s probably a good idea to double check.
You can read more about farm and ranch insurance here.
Most recently, New Jersey legislators reportedly announced a bill that would permit recreational marijuana. If signed into law, New Jersey would join ten other states and D.C. that currently permit recreational marijuana. More than 30 states and D.C. also permit medical marijuana programs of some kind.
But as legalization spreads, concerns about driving under the influence of marijuana continue unabated.
Today, the I.I.I. has published a report that examines the current state of the issue.
“A rocky road so far: Recreational marijuana and impaired driving” dives into the hazy questions surrounding marijuana impairment: its effects on driving abilities, how traffic safety might be impacted, and how states are grappling with the issue of “stoned driving.” (Download the report here.)
Unfortunately, there are still many unknowns when it comes to stoned driving. Marijuana impairment degrades cognitive and motor skills, of course – but marijuana-impaired driving is an evolving issue with many questions and few concrete answers. Legalization is still relatively recent. Data are still being gathered. How to understand and measure marijuana impairment are still open questions.
Do the rates of marijuana-impaired driving increase following recreational legalization? Answer: probably. Does marijuana-impaired driving increase crash risks? Answer: probably, but we still don’t concretely know to what degree. What about traffic fatalities – do those increase after legalization? There’s evidence that traffic fatalities could increase following legalization, but there is still quite a bit of discussion about this issue.
There is active research, discussion and debate being conducted to answer these and other questions. As more states legalize recreational marijuana, forthcoming answers will become ever more critical to help best guide public policy and traffic safety initiatives.
Most people agree that honesty is the best policy, but when it comes to filling out insurance applications, many consumers are willing to fudge the truth to get a better rate. According to a study from finder.com, an estimated 35 million Americans have lied on an insurance application.
Almost one in three (29 percent) of the people who have lied on an insurance application have done so for car insurance. That amounts to 10.2 million Americans who were willing to lie to get the best coverage for the road.
Following car insurance, false information is most likely to appear on applications for health insurance (22 percent), life insurance (21 percent), income protection insurance (8 percent), travel insurance (7 percent), home and contents insurance (7 percent) and pet insurance (5 percent).
More men lie than women, but women are more likely than men to lie on an application in five of seven categories: health insurance, income protection insurance, travel insurance, home and contents insurance and pet insurance. Men lead women when it comes to lying on car insurance and life insurance applications.
“Taking creative liberties on your insurance application may seem like an innocent white lie, but it’s actually considered fraud, and the repercussions can be serious. If found out you may be charged a higher premium, denied a policy or even charged with fraud, requiring you to pay a fine or even do jail time,” said Finder’s consumer advocate Rachel Dix- Kessler.
There are numerous ways to save money on car insurance. The Insurance Information Institute has these tips for shopping around for the best policy.
For more information on insurance fraud click here.
You can’t talk about workers’ compensation insurance these days without mentioning “telemedicine” at least once. It should therefore come as no surprise that telemedicine was given its own panel discussion at the 2019 Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) Annual Issues and Research Conference.
(In case you don’t know, the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) defines telemedicine as the “remote delivery of health care services and clinical information using telecommunications technology.” Think of an app that lets you video chat with a doctor, for example.)
The potential benefits of telemedicine to patients, providers, and employers could be immense. Improved access to healthcare services. Fast, personalized care. Treatment efficiencies. Reduced costs. Dr. Stephen Dawkins of Caduceus USA put it this way: “It’s crystal clear, as a provider, that telemedicine is a tsunami that will change the paradigm of medical care.”
Indeed, as Dr. David Deitz of Deitz & Associates noted, telemedicine is almost the perfect storm of improved healthcare services – and is already experiencing exponential growth in the commercial health sector. Citing the ATA, he noted that there were an estimated 1.25 million telehealth visits in 2016 alone – and that some sources estimate that over 400 million of U.S. medical visits could have been telemedicine encounters.
But has telemedicine made inroads into workers’ compensation?
Dr. Deitz pointed out that there is “essentially no quantitative data on [telemedicine] use in workers’ compensation.” Furthermore, he argued that there are several open questions when it comes to telemedicine: what are the appropriate regulations and reimbursement models? Is there a quality trade-off for telemedicine versus in-person encounters? Are there any privacy or cybersecurity concerns?
Kurt Leisure, vice president of risk services for The Cheesecake Factory, offered some preliminary answers when describing his company’s new telemedicine program for worker injuries, implemented in February 2018.
According to Leisure, the program basically works as follows. An injury occurs. If urgent, the injured worker proceeds directly to urgent care or the emergency room. If it’s non-urgent, the worker calls the company’s nurse triage system for preliminary care. If the phone call isn’t enough, the worker has the option of being escalated to a telemedicine program on their smartphone.
What have been the results so far? Generally positive, with the program leading to $153,000 in hard dollar savings in 2018. But Leisure did note that there are still wrinkles that need to be ironed out. Identification of telemedicine candidates during the triage phase needs improvement. Employee trust in the program could also improve.
But the injured workers seem to approve of the program. “Overall, I’m really excited, there’s a lot of upside potential just in our initial program,” Leisure said. “I think it will explode over time.” One particular benefit of telemedicine could be keeping workers and employers out of the courtroom. “We think the litigation rate is going to drop significantly” with widespread and effective telemedicine, said Leisure.
Indeed, despite some open questions about workers’ compensation adoption of telemedicine, the panel agreed that the industry would benefit tremendously. “Telemedicine basically gives you a conduit through which you can achieve better case management,” said Dr. Dawkins.
Unsurprisingly, the opioid crisis was a major topic of conversation at the 2019 Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) Annual Issues and Research Conference.
Workers’ compensation insurance has been particularly affected by the crisis. Opioid use can, perversely, increase a worker’s risk of disability. Opioid use can lead to dependency, which results in increased dosages and higher costs. Dependency can lead to abuse; abuse can result in on-the-job performance impairment and further injuries – or it can delay a worker’s ability to return to work. In the worst case scenario, abuse leads to addiction and death.
These are just some of the reasons why opioid use can significantly increase the costs of workers’ compensation claims.
The crisis continues
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 70,327 people died from fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2017.
That’s up from 63,632 in 2016 and 23,518 in 2002, a three-fold increase in absolute terms in 15 years. But of course, the U.S. population grew over that time – and the death rate per 100,000 people is also alarming, rising from 8.2 in 2002 to 21.7 in 2017.
More alarming yet, the opioid epidemic continues to drive a significant portion of total drug overdose deaths. 47,600 people died from an opioid-related drug overdose in 2017, making up fully 68 percent of total overdose deaths. That’s up from 11,920 in 2002.
As Dr. Alan Krueger of Princeton University noted, the problem is most concentrated among men and women with lower levels of education: “Americans with diminished economic expectations are particularly vulnerable to the opioid epidemic.”
But no one is immune, he added. “Essentially no group has been spared from this crisis in the U.S.”
Blue-collar trades especially impacted
Dr. Vennela Thumela of the WCRI presented recent findings about the correlates of opioid abuse and overdose. She found that mining and constructions workers were most impacted, representing the highest percentage of opioid prescriptions among all workers receiving pain medications. Higher rates of opioid prescriptions also correlated with workers who are older, male, and live in rural areas.
Dr. Letitia Davis, of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, found Massachusetts-specific evidence agreeing with Dr. Thumela’s findings. The highest opioid overdose death rates in the state are for construction/mining workers and farming/fishing/forestry workers. Construction workers overdosed at six times the rate expected based on average experience.
In fact, per Dr. Davis, 24 percent of all opioid deaths in the state between 2011 to 2015 were construction workers.
The costs are staggering
Dr. Krueger put it bluntly: “This is a human tragedy.”
It has also been a tremendous tragedy to the U.S. economy. Dr. Krueger cited a 2017 Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) report, which estimated that in 2015 alone, the economic cost of the opioid crisis was over $500 billion – or 2.8 percent of GDP. Dr. Krueger noted that the number of opioid-related overdoses in 2017 increased by at least 50 percent since 2015 – implying a cost in 2017 alone of about $750 billion.
As Dr. Krueger put it, “We have not done enough to address the scale of the crisis. Even if it has reached a peak, it has reached a peak of an unacceptably high level.”
I once took an Uber in Fairfield, Ohio. As we sat at a light, the driver pointed to an empty big box storefront.
“What’s that building look like?” he asked. I said it looked like an empty big box storefront.
“That’s right. You know where it went?” I said no, confused. He pointed down the street a few hundred yards away to a brand-new big box store.
“There it is. You know why they moved down the street? Taxes. Lower sales tax across the county line.”
I was reminded of that story of fiscal competition at its finest when reading about Apple’s recent decision to close two of its stores in the Dallas suburbs.
Or more accurately, as Ars Technica reported, Apple’s decision to close two stores within the federal court jurisdiction of the Eastern District of Texas. Rumor has it that Apple’s move could be in response to intellectual property litigation. Per Ars Technica:
The Eastern District is known for its extremely patent-friendly judges, and so for decades patent plaintiffs have set up shop there and sued defendants located all over the country. Prior to 2017, the law allowed a plaintiff based in the Eastern District of Texas to sue defendants there if defendants had even tenuous connections to the district. And, of course, a company of Apple’s size has business ties to every part of the country.
These plaintiffs are often called “patent trolls,” which the Electronic Frontier Foundation defines as companies or individuals that cheaply purchase patents (often “overbroad and vague” patents, at that) and then threaten expensive litigation against companies allegedly in violation of said patents:
These letters threaten legal action unless the alleged infringer agrees to pay a licensing fee, which can often range to the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Many who receive infringement letters will choose to pay the licensing fee, even if they believe the patent is bogus or their product did not infringe. That’s because patent litigation is extremely expensive — often millions of dollars per suit — and can take years of court battles. It’s faster and easier for companies to settle.
The Eastern District has been a favorite venue for this kind of litigation – even after the Supreme Court sought to rein in so-called “venue shopping” in a 2017 decision. Ars Technica explains:
[U]nder the Supreme Court’s 2017 TC Heartland decision, a defendant can only be sued in a district where it “resides”—meaning where it was incorporated—or “has a regular and established place of business.”
Apple’s two stores in the Eastern District would likely count as “regular and established places of business” for patent-law purposes. So under the new rules, continuing to operate the stores makes it easier for patent plaintiffs to sue Apple in the Eastern District.
Apple has not confirmed that its move is related to patent-troll litigation. But, tellingly, the company is replacing its two shuttered stores with a new store…directly across the border of the Eastern District. Sometimes, the best offense is a good defense.