Category Archives: Business Risk

Sugar: The Next Tobacco?

Is sugar the next tobacco? Liability insurance experts say it could be.

Excessive, but not always obvious use of sugar (also salt) in food has the potential for systemic loss, a recent Lloyd’s report found.

The potential loss scenario unfolds if excessive levels of sugar are found to be harmful by scientific studies and if courts find food producers and/or the distribution chain liable for resulting damages.

“A societal shift may make the addition of significant amounts of sugar to our food unacceptable, with liability risks affecting food manufacturers (and possibly distributors and retailers).”

A sample footprint in the report (below), starting from sugar beet and cane farming to sugar and confectionary manufacturing and spreading to various other food manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and food and drink outlets shows the widespread distribution of sugar and the potential impact on many customers:

“Historical data suggests that the spread would also be amplified by the presence of large corporates with large insurance cover and funds.”

Businesses address their liability concerns through many types of risk management, of which insurance is an important component, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

A Swiss Re study indicated that the United States in 2013 had the largest commercial liability insurance market in the world both in premium volume ($84 billion) and as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (0.50 percent).

Case Of The Missing Comma

Grammarians and legal eagles among you will want to read about how a punctuation mark known as the Oxford comma is the crucial factor in a class action involving overtime pay for truck drivers.

This is just one of the items covered in our Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) Daily newsletter today, a must-read publication for anyone in and around the insurance industry. (Sign up by emailing daily@iii.org).

Citing the New York Times, the I.I.I. Daily reports that on March 13 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit handed down a lengthy court decision that is seen as a grammar lesson that could lead to an estimated $10 million loss for a dairy company in Portland, Maine.

The backstory: In 2014 three truck drivers filed a lawsuit seeking more than four years of overtime pay they alleged that Oakhurst Dairy had denied them unfairly. Under Maine law, workers have to be paid 1.5 times their normal rate for each hour worked in excess of 40 per week, with some exceptions.

Punctuation refresher: Grammarians are very polarized about whether a comma should be placed before the last of a series of items in a list, and some insist on what is referred to as the Oxford comma, one preceding the final item, while others habitually omit it. The absence of the comma can change meaning.

Comma in question: The state law involved in the case says that overtime rules do not apply to “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: 1) Agricultural produce; 2) Meat and fish products; and 3) Perishable foods.” The question before the court was whether the law intended to exempt distribution of the three categories or packing for their shipping or distribution.

The decision: The appeals court ruled in favor of the drivers, after finding that the absence of a comma after “shipment” led to uncertainty about whether the law exempts applies to delivery drivers who distribute perishable foods, although they do not pack them. The appeals court reversed a lower court decision that denied truckers overtime.

If you’re surprised at the $10 million difference a comma can make, consider how important it is to draft insurance contracts and policy language that use words and punctuation correctly. This Deepwater Horizon coverage dispute is a good example.

Uber Case Highlights Employment Liability Risk

By now you’ll have read the troubling tale of alleged workplace sexual harassment as told by a former Uber employee on her personal blog.

As the LA Times reports, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has called in former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct an independent investigation and claimed that the blog post was the first he knew of the incident.

The allegations are a warning to the tech industry and its so-called rockstar culture, the LA Times notes.

The New York Times goes into more detail here.

In a statement issued following a meeting with Kalanick and staff to discuss diversity and inclusion, Uber board member Arianna Huffington said:

“I view it as my responsibility to hold the leadership team’s feet to the fire on this issue.”

This is not the first time that the ridesharing company has been in the hot seat for behaving badly, as discussed in this earlier blog post.

Charges of sex discrimination, including sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination accounted for 26,934, or 29.4 percent of all job bias charges reported to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2016.

As the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) notes, the number of employee lawsuits has increased in recent years, and any size business is vulnerable to this type of risk.

Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) provides important financial protection to businesses against claims or lawsuits filed by employees, former employees, or potential employees.

EPLI covers legal costs, settlements and judgments that arise from claims of: discrimination (age, sex, race, disability, etc.); wrongful termination of employment; sexual harassment and other employment-related allegations and lawsuits.

In addition to insurance protection, I.I.I. says businesses should take key steps to reduce the risk of an employee lawsuit, such as creating clear workplace practices on employment practices and educating management and employees.

A recent Insurance Journal article took a look at what to expect in EPLI in 2017.

Ransomware: Is Cyber Insurance On Your Radar?

Hotel guests locked out of their rooms at a four-star hotel in the Austrian Alps? Washington DC’s CCTV system disrupted days before Donald Trump’s inauguration? Libraries in St Louis brought to a standstill? Eight years of digital evidence lost by a Texas police department?

Ransomware is not just grabbing headlines, it’s now the favorite method of cyberattack used against businesses, particularly in North America and Europe, according to this Malwarebytes report.

In the fourth quarter of 2016 alone, Malawarebytes catalogued nearly 400 variants of ransomware, and 81 percent of ransomware detected in corporate environments occurred in North America.

Lloyd’s insurer Beazley saw ransomware attacks quadruple in 2016 and projects them to double again in 2017.

“Evolving ransomware variants enable hackers to methodically investigate a company’s system, selectively lock the most critical files, and demand higher ransoms to get the most valuable files unencrypted.”

In its white paper Cyberrisk: Threat and Opportunity, the Insurance Information Institute reports that insurers are issuing an increasing number of cyber insurance policies and coverage for cyber extortion, including payment of a ransom following a ransomware attack, is available.

According to the FBI, ransomware attacks are on the up, particularly targeting organizations because the payoffs are higher.

Hatching A Lawsuit? Protect Your Business With Insurance

If you didn’t think suing over Santa was bad enough shed a tear over the unfortunate case of the Hatchimal.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the latest toy craze (or weren’t lucky enough to find one under the Christmas tree), the Hatchimal is basically an interactive stuffed animal that hatches from an egg.

Created by toy maker Spin Master Corp, each Hatchimal learns how to walk, talk and play games as it goes through the five stages of its life: egg, hatching, baby, toddler and kid.

Cute, right? Yes, but…

What if your Hatchimal fails to hatch?

For my sons, the case of the unhatching Hatchimal was remedied simply by a cuddle and some (admittedly overly exuberant) help breaking open its shell.

But as Business Insurance reports, the failure to perform has led one disappointed parent—Jodie Hejduk of Bakersfield, California, to file a lawsuit seeking class action against Spin Master Corp.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of California charges Spin Master with spoiling the holidays and false advertising after the toy Hedjuk purchased for her daughter failed to hatch.

The suit alleges the hottest toy of the season which retails at $50-$60 was so hard to find that some were selling on the black market for $350:

“For the few children who were lucky enough to receive a Hatchimal, many were left disappointed when their Hatchimal failed to live up to its name. Despite Spin Master’s representations that the toy would “hatch”, many Hatchimals did not hatch.”

The suit asserts violations of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law. It also brings claims for unjust enrichment, breach of express warranty and injunctive relief.

A note on Spin Master’s website says:

“We have had more than a million successful hatches since we first launched Hatchimals on October 7th and we are still hard at work making sure that everyone has a magical hatching experience. We are 100% committed to bringing the magic of Hatchimals to all of our consumers.”

Spin Master also offers some troubleshooting tips on its Support/FAQs page.

And here’s the must-watch video on how to hatch your Hatchimal:

Businesses address their liability concerns through many types of risk management, of which insurance is an important component, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). See I.I.I. facts and statistics on litigiousness.

Most Serious Workplace Injuries Cost More Than You Think

$60 billion is a lot of money. Think about it.

For example, insured losses from global disaster events were around $49 billion in 2016, according to Swiss Re.

That’s a large number too, but not as large as the $59.9 billion cost to U.S. employers of the most serious workplace injuries and accidents in 2014, per the just-released 2017 Liberty Mutual Insurance Workplace Safety Index.

By the way, the most serious ones are injuries that cause employees to miss six or more days of work.

The nearly $60 billion in direct workers compensation costs to U.S. businesses translates into more than $1 billion a week that companies spend on these injuries, the index suggests.

As big as it sounds, the total cost actually fell from $61.9 billion in 2016, according to Liberty Mutual.

The 10 leading causes of the most disabling work-related injuries account for $49.9 billion, or 83.4 percent of the total cost of $59.9 billion.

The top three causes of the most disabling work-related injuries are:

–Overexertion ($13.8 billion, 23 percent)

–Falls on same level ($10.6 billion, 17.7 percent)

–Falls to lower level ($5.5 billion, 9.2 percent)

Collectively, these three causes represent almost half the cost of the leading accidents. Check out the chart:

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Developed annually by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, the index is based on information from Liberty Mutual Insurance, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the National Academy of Social Insurance.

The index helps employers, risk managers and safety practitioners make workplaces safer by identifying critical risk areas so that businesses can better allocate safety resources.

Here are some useful additional facts and statistics on workers compensation from the Insurance Information Institute.

Preparing For The Next Ground Stop To Your Business With Insurance

If you were flying United Airlines Sunday night, chances are you may have been delayed.

A computer outage grounded all of United’s domestic flights for more than two hours, according to this NBC report, though the glitch affected only aircraft on the ground and did not impact international flights.

The ground stop was issued after the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, had issues with low bandwidth, NBC said.

This is not the first time that a computer glitch or system outage has affected United’s operations, or indeed those of other airlines.

Allianz warns that in today’s interconnected industrial world non-physical or non-damage causes of business interruption (BI) are becoming a much bigger issue.

Physical perils like fire and explosion and natural catastrophes are still the top causes of BI that businesses fear most, but preparing for non-damage perils is becoming increasingly critical.

This shift in BI risk means that intangible hazards, such as a cyber incident or interdependencies from global networks, can cause large revenue losses for companies without inflicting property damage.

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With this ever-expanding range of BI risks, it’s good to know insurers have you covered.

Several pertinent BI insurance coverages developed by insurers are outlined in the Allianz Risk Barometer 2017 report:

  • Non-Damage BI (NDBI) insuring loss of income and ongoing costs from interruption of business caused by situations where there is no physical damage to the insured, the supplier or customer and there is no BI claim to be made, this coverage indemnifies a business for lost revenue due to disruption
  • Data Driven (Cyber) BI insuring loss of income and ongoing costs from interruption of business due to unavailability of data and computer systems caused by hacking, technical failure or human error.

Additional resources on covering losses with business interruption insurance are available from the Insurance Information Institute here.

Looking Ahead: Commercial Insurance Pricing

Where are U.S. commercial insurance rates headed in the coming year?

Latest analysis from online insurance exchange MarketScout gives some insight.

This from Richard Kerr, CEO MarketScout:

“We expect more moderate rate reductions for the coming year for all but a few lines of business. If interest rates increase, rate reductions could accelerate.” 

December closed out the year at a composite rate reduction of 1 percent, according to MarketScout.

Employment practices liability insurance and crime were the only coverages with rate increases in December, with increases of 1 to 2 percent.

Workers’ compensation rates decreased from down 1 percent to down 2 percent in December. Commercial property rate decreases moderated from down 3 percent to down 2 percent.

The soft market is now 16 months old, but seems longer because the composite rate in 2015 was flat or plus 1 percent for the first eight months before dipping into negative territory.

Kerr noted that generally the soft or hard market cycles last at least three years.

Most industries are cyclical to some extent and the Insurance Information Institute offers further explanation of the property/casualty insurance market cycle here.

‘Tis The Season…For Lawsuits

In true holiday spirit we just got our kids to the mall to see Santa this week. Its an annual tradition, a visit that helps keep the magic alive in our all-too-knowing six and four-year olds’ minds and more importantly yields the holiday photo that keeps on giving throughout the years.

Every year Santa faces a barrage of questions. This year was no different. Our six year-old started: “Santa, I have a question. How come you know I want a two-wheeled scooter?”

Luckily, the letter from the North Pole had arrived a few days earlier telling him he had made the Nice List and that Santa knew from our elf Chippy just what he was wishing for.

This was confirmed by Santa at the mall who said: “Because you’ve been good and it’s magic.”

But what if the conversation had gone a different way?

Sometimes magic confronts reality and a lawsuit ensues, reminding us what’s at stake for Santa and the mall this Christmas.

Take this post over at Randy Spencer’s Open Mic published in the latest issue of online newsletter Coverage Opinions (edited by attorney Randy Maniloff of White and Williams LLP)

In the post, Court Holds a Mail Santa Liable: Damages Owed For Failure To Deliver A Toy Fire Truck, Randy Spencer – the only stand-up comic to specialize in insurance – tells of a Montana trial court that found a mall and its Santa liable for a child’s emotional injuries after promising a toy that was not left under the tree come Christmas Day.

How much damages did the court award in this case? $95,000.

All of which is a timely reminder that Santa (and the malls that embrace the Christmas spirit) need insurance too.

Which is why the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) urges St. Nick to review his insurance policies to be sure he’s got the right insurance coverage with its Santa’s Insurance Wish List.

And we suggest the I.I.I.’s business insurance checklist would make a great stocking stuffer in this case.

All the best for a happy and safe holiday season!

Workplace Safety Imperative for Truck Drivers

Transportation-related incidents were the leading cause of workplace fatalities in 2015—and by a long way—according to data just-released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Of the total 4,836 workplace fatalities recorded in 2015, transportation-related incidents accounted for 2,054, or 42 percent.

The next closest major cause of workplace fatalities was falls, slips, and trips at 800, or 17 percent.

A key takeaway from the BLS figures: some 745 drivers of heavy and tractor-trailer trucks died because of injuries at work last year, more than any other major civilian occupation. The majority of these fatalities (84 percent) were caused by transportation incidents.

What are some of the factors in large truck crashes?

Truck braking capability for one. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that loaded tractor-trailers take 20-40 percent farther than cars to stop, and the discrepancy is greater on wet and slippery roads or with poorly maintained brakes.

Truck driver fatigue is another known crash risk. Federal regulations allow drivers of large trucks to drive up to 11 hours at a stretch, and up to 77 hours over a seven-day period.

Still surveys suggest many drivers violate the regulations and work longer hours than permitted.

Distracted driving is another key factor impacting the number of accidents.

As for insurers, a recent report by ratings agency A.M. Best noted that commercial auto insurance results continue to underperform the results of the overall property/casualty commercial lines market, due to escalating claim frequency and severity.

With more vehicles on the road, cumulative miles driven increasing, and gas prices at reduced levels, making a profit writing commercial auto insurance is a challenge few insurers have been able to meet, A.M. Best said.

It pointed to the considerable perils associated with larger vehicles, including trucks and buses, noting:

“The increased number of miles traveled over the last three or four years also factors into the rise in the fatalities associated with accidents involving larger vehicles that often produce losses exceeding $100,000 in total claim cost.”

Despite the myriad challenges, leading writers of commercial auto insurance have a track record of profitable operations, according to A.M. Best.

Still, more effective risk management and underwriting techniques focused on both covered drivers and vehicles are needed, the ratings agency said.

The Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program implemented in 2010 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, together with state partners and the trucking industry expanded safety reporting and enforcement measures for large trucks and buses.

Check out the Insurance Information Institute facts and statistics on workplace safety.