Litigation Trends

U.S. companies may afford themselves a sigh of relief, albeit brief, when they take in the headline findings of the fourth annual Litigation Trends Survey by Fulbright & Jaworski showing a distinct drop in the number of new lawsuits and regulatory actions filed against them. Based on interviews with in-house counsel at 250 major U.S. corporations, 17 percent of respondents said their companies had escaped the past year without having to defend a single new lawsuit, a sharp increase from just 11 percent in 2005-06. But despite the fact that internal investigations are down and fewer businesses are filing suit, Fulbright cautions that the litigation landscape remains fully loaded, with one-third of U.S. companies facing at least 25 lawsuits, and 18 percent defending 100+ cases domestically. As industries go, it appears insurers along with retailers faced the most litigation. Some 93 percent reported having to defend at least one new case this past year, and more than half from both sectors got stung with one or more $20 million dispute – the highest of 10 industry segments represented. Insurers contended with the most $20 million-plus cases with 54 percent taking on more than 20 such actions. The upshot is that even with fewer companies reporting new lawsuits this past year, Fulbright notes that the vast majority of U.S. businesses remain significantly exposed to litigation. Check out further I.I.I.  facts  & stats  on  litigiousness.

Terrorism and Flood Bills Before Senate Committee

Keep your eye on Capitol Hill tomorrow where the U.S. Senate Banking Committee will consider both further extension of the federal terrorism risk insurance program and reform of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Votes on both measures are expected  in the  morning. The House passed its version of the terrorism bill on September 19 (see our September 20 posting). Word on the street is that the Senate version is very different to the House bill in scope, as it would extend the program for seven years and not extend coverage to group life. The debate on extending coverage to chemical, nuclear, biological and radiological (CNBR) terrorism also remains undecided. Check out I.I.I. information on terrorism risk and NFIP  facts & stats  online.

Global Insurance Regulators Meet

“A Global Climate for Change: The Future of Insurance Regulation† is the billing for the 2007 annual conference of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS) which kicks off in Fort Lauderdale later this week. For a conference that promises global perspectives on future trends in insurance regulation, we note with interest that Florida Governor Charlie Christ is scheduled as one of the keynote speakers. Other keynote speeches will be delivered by: Zhou Yanli, vice chairman, China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC); Dr. Fariborz Ghadar, director of the center for global business studies, Penn State University; and Dr. Evan Mills, staff scientist, Berkeley National Lab, who will speak on insurance and climate change. Additional panel discussions will focus on a range of topics including: emerging markets and regulation; reform of reinsurance regulation in the U.S.; global accounting standards; Solvency II and its impact; and the use of securitization in insurance markets. Check out I.I.I. updates on reinsurance and accounting and  our International Fact Book for further related info.

Firm Foundation 2008

For those of you looking for tangible numbers telling the important story of how the insurance industry contributes to state, local and national economies, look no further. The I.I.I. has just released an updated edition of its online publication “A Firm Foundation†. The 2008 edition again shows the myriad ways in which insurance supports the economy, from offering employment and fueling the capital markets, to defraying the cost of catastrophes and providing financial security and income to individuals and businesses through the payment of claims. State-specific editions also highlight the industry’s role as a key player in a number of state economies, including California, Florida and Texas. The latest state edition focuses on New Jersey and can be accessed on the I.I.I. Web site at http://www.iii.org/static/statepdfs/newjersey.pdf.  

NY Cat Fund Debate

The availability and affordability of coastal property insurance is an issue that elicits a wide range of viewpoints. Insurers, legislators and regulators face growing challenges in managing this problem because of the escalating values at stake. Even in a hurricane season without a major U.S. landfalling storm, the numbers at play are of grave concern. Let’s revisit some of the figures: total value of insured coastal exposure nationwide is more than $7 trillion and growing; Florida and New York — with more than $1.9 trillion insured coastal property each — have the highest coastal exposure as a share of all insured exposure in their states; coastal populations continue to surge; natural disasters cost insurers $14.5 billion annually in the 20-year period from 1986-2005, and since 2000 the toll has increased to $20 billion annually, mostly due to hurricane damage. To-date many proposals have been put forward to deal with the coastal property insurance problem. The latest solution, unveiled late last week by New York insurance superintendent Eric Dinallo, would require insurers to create a catastrophe reserve fund to help pay claims from hurricanes and other natural disasters. Like many issues in our industry, there  are varied responses to this plan. National Underwriter’s October 9 online article by Daniel Hays “Insurers of Three Minds on N.Y. Cat Fund Proposal† sums up where we are right now. We welcome more feedback on this topic.  

Avian Flu Update

In the four months since his last update on H5N1 (the Avian flu), I.I.I.’s chief economist and resident bird flu expert Dr. Steven Weisbart notes that 22 more people have been confirmed to have been infected with the disease, and 15 of them have died. This brings the cumulative total to at least 201 dead and 329 confirmed infected since December 2003 (the start of the current outbreak) through October 2, 2007. In 2007 alone there have been 66 infections and 43 deaths (65 percent), roughly the same pace of infections and deaths as in 2006 (69 percent death rate). Dr. Weisbart explains that the lethality rate of the virus varies substantially: in 2007, 25 percent of those infected in Egypt died, compared to 87.5% of those infected in Indonesia. Human infection is still believed to be mainly from birds to humans, basically from very close contact with infected chickens and similar birds in home environments. Virtually all of the cases continue to be under 40 years old. There are still no cases of birds or people in the U.S. with this flu virus.  

Considering Stoneridge

Today the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing a major securities litigation case with potentially enormous implications for businesses. The outcome of Stoneridge Investment Partners LLC v. Scientific-Atlanta Inc. will decide whether shareholders can sue third parties (such as accountants and lawyers) charged with aiding a corporation that has defrauded its investors. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) already has the ability to sue third parties for aiding corporate fraud, but a decision in favor of investors in this case would likely expose U.S. companies as well as  those doing business with them to significant additional costly shareholder suits. We don’t need to remind you of how much litigation costs U.S. businesses. For more on this, check out I.I.I.’s liability issues update. Further commentary on the Stoneridge case can be found at The D&O Diary, a blog focused on D&O liability issues.

Auto Theft Cools

So Columbus Day brings some good news and not so good news for auto owners and their insurers. Vehicle thefts have declined for the third year in a row, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) Hot Wheels study. The headline stats are 1,192,809 motor vehicles reported stolen in 2006, some 42,417 fewer than in 2005. That’s one vehicle every 26.4 seconds. Based on the FBI’s average valuation of $6,649 per stolen vehicle, this amounts to over $7.9 billion in losses just in vehicle value alone for 2006. But the other side of the coin is that only 59 percent of stolen vehicles were recovered last year — the lowest recovery rate in over a decade. More than 700,000 vehicles remain outstanding, which as the NICB points out, fuel a number of related insurance fraud and vehicle theft activities. Exports of stolen vehicles to foreign countries are part of the problem. In 2006, over 4,000 vehicles valued at nearly $42 million were returned to the U.S. from various countries. A trend to monitor.  NICB’s advice to owners is to take a layered approach to theft prevention, and that doesn’t have to be costly. The cheapest form of defense? Locking your car and taking your keys. Warning devices, immobilizing devices, and tracking devices are other effective tools. I.I.I.’s auto theft update has more details.

MLB Champ Forecast

With the World Series all but upon us, we happily give away the pen for today’s posting to I.I.I. executive vice president and resident baseball expert Cary Schneider for his take on the 2007 postseason finale: “Defying all odds, the team with the fewest wins among all the division champs went on to win the World Series last year. So predicting the outcome of the World Series is a riskier task than ever. Rather than speculate on which team should win, I prefer to identify the team that should lose. My overwhelming pick is the sentimental favorite, the Chicago Cubs. After all, they have not been in the fall classic since 1945 and have not won one since 1908.  I believe the team’s historic futility must continue. A Cubs victory in the World Series would alter the natural balance of the universe, the laws of physics as well as all established actuarial principles, particularly Simpson’s Paradox of Confounding Variables.  Besides, I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan.  World Series winner?  Anyone but the Cubs.†Ã‚  

Obesity Update

Evidence of the growing economic and social costs of obesity continues to dominate the news. Research by Emory University published in the journal Health Affairs reveals that Americans are nearly twice as likely as Europeans to be obese. Apparently while 17.1 percent of European adults are obese, the rate is 33.1 percent for U.S. adults. Older U.S. adults are also more likely than their European counterparts to be diagnosed with costly chronic diseases and to be treated for those diseases, adding about $100 billion to $150 billion per year to the U.S. health care tab, according to the study. Interesting stat: Emory professors believe the U.S. could save $100 billion a year if it could bring its obesity rates more in line with Europe. Point to bear in mind: explanations for the TransAtlantic differences in disease prevalence remain varied. While  it’s possible Americans are actually sicker than Europeans, it’s also possible that more aggressive diagnosis and pretreatment of chronic diseases in this country raises disease prevalence rates, researchers say. Meanwhile, another  study of 663 patients with HIV at Navy hospitals in San Diego and Bethesda, Maryland, found that 63 percent of them were overweight or obese, while only 3 percent were underweight.  Check out further information from the I.I.I. on obesity.

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