Category Archives: Health & Safety

Sidewalk liability: are you covered?

A friend of mine likes to say that New York City is so expensive that just leaving your apartment will cost you $20. It cost me $100 to leave my apartment the other day – in fines for leaving a piece of furniture by the curb on a day not designated for “bulk trash removal.”

I get it: leaving bulky trash all over the sidewalk for days on end is an antisocial thing to do, especially in a crowded city. I wouldn’t have felt great about myself if a kid had somehow tripped and hurt herself on my discarded garbage.

My landlord could also have landed in legal trouble had that happened. That’s because NYC law makes property owners responsible for keeping sidewalks “reasonably safe” and clear of debris (with some exceptions). “Reasonably safe” also includes shoveling snow and ice – something I’m always grateful for after the occasional NYC blizzard.

New York is not alone. Many jurisdictions across the country put the onus on property owners for maintaining sidewalks, including clearing snow and ice (even if the sidewalks are city property).

If you’re a property owner, it’s important to check your city or homeowner’s association codes to see who is responsible for what. If you rent, you should also check your lease. Some leases make tenants responsible for clearing snow from sidewalks.

Let’s say you do live in a city where you’re responsible for keeping the sidewalk safe. What happens if someone slips and suffers injuries on your sidewalk?

Homeowners insurance could provide some coverage. Depending on the case, there could be coverage for liability and for some medical payments to the injured person. But an insurance company could deny coverage if the homeowner knew about an unsafe sidewalk and did nothing to fix it.

And liability payments can get expensive quickly. That’s why some people will also buy optional “personal umbrella liability coverage,” which has a higher payment cap than standard homeowners.

Renters insurance also provides liability coverage. But whether the tenant or landlord is responsible for a slip and fall on a sidewalk would depend on the terms of the lease and local ordinances.

The upshot is: check if you’re responsible for the sidewalks outside your home. It’s also a good idea to chat with your insurance agent to see if you have the appropriate coverage to protect you from liability costs.

How Insurance Covers Skiing Accidents

If you’re skiing like this guy, you should have health insurance

The holidays are over. It’s time to exercise. If you live in snowy climes, that means it’s time to go skiing.

But flying down a mountain at high speeds on a pair of sticks is…not safe. Between 2006 and 2016, an average of 38 people died skiing or snowboarding each year in the U.S.

And ski injuries are much more common than deaths. So how does insurance cover skiing accidents?

Health insurance: If you are injured in the U.S., your personal health insurance should cover your medical expenses, depending on the specific details of your policy. What if you need to get airlifted out because of a medical emergency? Your health insurance might help cover that, but you should check with your insurance company.

Travel insurance: Your personal health insurance may not cover all your medical expenses if you get injured abroad. (Again, it depends on your policy, so call your health insurer to make sure). That’s where travel insurance can come in handy. Make sure your travel insurance covers emergency medical assistance. This could cover situations like being airlifted off the mountain after a ski accident.

Homeowners insurance: What if you accidentally injure someone else on the slopes? Your homeowners insurance may kick in to cover some of the liability you incur. Ditto renters insurance. But different states determine ski accident liability differently, and your homeowners insurance doesn’t cover everything, so talk to your agent to find out what your coverage is.

Personal umbrella liability: Liability payments can be expensive. That’s why some people will buy a personal umbrella liability policy, which is basically extra liability insurance. It will cover some types of liability your homeowners insurance excludes – and will also cover higher payments, sometimes up to $1 million (homeowners is often limited to $300,000).

What about the ski resorts themselves? They will typically have a commercial insurance policy to cover their liability and property damages. Ski resorts could face liability claims from injured skiers for poor slope maintenance, ski lift accidents, or accidents in, say, the ski lodge.

Stay safe out there!

Sleep and insurance

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.

How safe is your bike helmet? Virginia Tech and IIHS debut new safety rating system

With more people choosing to bike to work and for recreation, accidents and injuries are also on the rise.

Having the right bike helmet can significantly cut the risk of injury, but up until now there was not a standardized rating that consumers could use to determine the effectiveness of a bike helmet.  A new ratings program, based on research by Virginia Tech and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), changes that.

The program used more rigorous tests than required by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), for example, taking into account the angle at which a bicyclist’s head is likely to strike the pavement in a crash.

The number of stars assigned to each helmet represents how effectively that model reduces overall injury risk. Only four of the 30 helmets tested in the initial round earned a 5-star rating. All four are equipped with a Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS). MIPS creates a low-friction layer inside the helmet which helps to reduce rotational forces that can result from certain impacts.

With better ways to gauge helmet safety, there still remains the problem of getting people to wear them. By some estimates only 18 percent of riders regularly wear helmets.

 

The I.I.I. has facts & statistics on bicycle crashes here.

 

Ebola outbreak in the Congo may be eligible for pandemic catastrophe bonds

The unfolding outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo may activate pandemic catastrophe bonds, said a recent Artemis blog post.

Last year, the World Bank launched a “pandemic bond” to support the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF). The cat bonds are designed to payout when an outbreak gets to a stage where emergency aid financing would be required, enabling the mobilization of capital rapidly to help prevent further spread of any eligible disease outbreak.

Pandemic cat bond notes cover a range of pandemic perils including, Coronavirus, Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, Filovirus, Lassa Fever and Rift Valley Fever, with Ebola falling within the Filovirus category.

The current Ebola outbreak appears to be an eligible event under the terms of the transaction, although it’s probably too early for a formal announcement. The number of confirmed deaths remains well below the trigger point which can only begin to payout for a Filovirus like Ebola once the confirmed deaths pass 250.

Pandemics are one of the most certain uninsured risks in the world today, according to the World Bank site. There’s a high probability that the world will experience a severe outbreak in the next 10 to 15 years that could destabilize societies and economies. The annual global cost of moderately severe to severe pandemics is roughly $570 billion, or 0.7 percent of global income. The cost of a severe pandemic like the 1918 Spanish flu could total as much as 5 percent of global GDP.

Reported Causes of Death and Public Perception

By Jennifer Ha, Head of Editorial and Publications, Insurance Information Institute

This capstone project, entitled, “Death: Reality vs. Reported,” prepared by four students for their Data Science in Practice course at the University of California, San Diego, bases its premise on an old study that compared the disparity of the number and causes of deaths reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and those reported in the media. In this case, the students have given the thesis an update: they have also included Google Trends Search Volume, but limited deaths reported by media to two sources: The Guardian, and The New York Times.

The students looked at the top 10 largest causes of mortality, as well as terrorism, overdoses, and homicides, three other causes of death they believed to receive a lot of media coverage. They did take some liberties (which they detail), but overall the findings were as follows:

“The most striking disparities here are that of kidney disease, heart disease, terrorism, and homicide. Kidney disease and heart disease are both about 10 times underrepresented in the news, while homicide is about 31 times overrepresented, and terrorism is a whopping 3,900 times overrepresented…This suggests that general public sentiment is not well-calibrated with the ways that people actually die. Heart disease and kidney disease appear largely underrepresented in the sphere of public attention, while terrorism and homicides capture a far larger share, relative to their share of deaths caused.”

Click on the gif below to see actual causes of death vs. what we worry about and what’s in the media:

Time to check your vehicle for recalls at NHTSA site

Airbags help save thousands of lives every year, but in the case of Takata Corp, the company’s exploding inflators have been linked to at least 16 deaths worldwide and more than 180 injuries.

Takata’s filing for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. and Japan and $1.6 billion sale of its assets to Key Safety Systems is the latest twist in what has been described as the largest and most complex automotive recall in history.

From Bloomberg:

“The Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Delaware listed more than $10 billion in liabilities, including those from automakers like Honda Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Tesla Inc., which have claims over the airbags, and people who have brought class action lawsuits.”

Also:

“In the U.S. alone, about 43 million air bag inflators are currently subject to recall, and only about 38 percent have been repaired as of May 26, according to data on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website.”

This is a reminder of how important it is to check your vehicle for airbag­–and indeed any other recalls–at the NHTSA website.

The NHTSA Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) search tool allows you to access recall information provided by the manufacturer conducting the recall which may not yet be posted on the website.

Finding out fast about safety problems with your vehicles, tires or car seat allows you to get your car repaired (manufacturers are responsible for costs) and to protect you and your passengers.

The National Safety Council and Fiat Chrysler just launched an awareness campaign “Check to Protect” to encourage vehicle owners to make recall checks.

Check out Insurance Information Institute facts and statistics on product recall insurance.

London fire renews focus on prevention and safety

Fire safety officials around the world are reinforcing prevention and evacuation guidance to high-rise residents following the deadly 24-story apartment building fire at Grenfell Tower in West London.

So far, at least 17 people are confirmed dead in the fire (Editor’s note: at least 80 people now confirmed or presumed dead). UK prime minister Theresa May has ordered a public inquiry into the blaze. Insurance will play a role in the recovery.

Officials say that while catastrophic fires on the scale of Grenfell Tower are statistically rare, awareness is key.

GlobalNews.ca reports here, NJ.com here, and the Manchester Evening News reports here. USA Today lists the worst high-rise fires in history here.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that the fire death per 1,000 fires and the average loss per fire are generally lower in high-rise buildings than in other buildings of the same property use.

“A major reason why risks are lower is probably the much greater use of fire protection systems and features in high-rise buildings as compared to shorter buildings.”

High-rise buildings are more likely to have fire detection, sprinklers and to be built of fire-resistive construction and are less likely to spread beyond the room or floor of origin than fires in shorter buildings, the NFPA says.

From 2009 to 2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 14,500 reported structure fires in high-rise buildings per year.

Five property types account for three-quarters (73 percent) of high-rise fires: apartments or other multi-family housing; hotels; dormitories or dormitory type properties; facilities that care for the sick; and office buildings.

NFPA adds that high-rise buildings present several unique challenges not found in traditional low-rise buildings, including longer egress times and distance, evacuation strategies, fire department accessibility, smoke movement and fire control.

The two deadliest high-rise fires in U.S. history were caused by terrorism: the fires and collapse of the twin towers after two planes flew into the World Trade Center, New York City on September 11, 2001, and the April 19, 2005 truck bomb outside a nine-story federal building in Oklahoma City.

I.I.I. fire statistics are here.

Now is the time to invest in pandemic preparedness

Despite progress made since the Zika and Ebola crises, most countries are not adequately prepared for a pandemic and are still investing too little to strengthen preparedness.

A report by the International Working Group on Financing Preparedness (IWG), established by the World Bank, finds that the investment case for financing pandemic preparedness is compelling.

“Failing to invest in preparedness is especially short-sighted given the low cost of preparedness relative to the devastating impact of a pandemic.”

In low- and middle-income countries that have calculated the cost of financing preparedness, the investment required is just $1 per person per year, the IWG says.

Meanwhile, a severe pandemic could result in millions of deaths and cost trillions of dollars, while even smaller outbreaks can cost thousands of lives and immense economic damage.

“The most conservative estimates suggest that pandemics destroy 0.1 to 1.0 percent of global GDP, on par with other global threats such as climate change. Recent economic work suggests that the annual global cost of moderately severe to severe pandemics is roughly $570 billion, or 0.7 percent of global income.”

The report lays out 12 recommendations to ensure the adequate financing of the capabilities and infrastructure required to prevent, identify, contain, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.

Many countries chronically underinvest in critical public health functions like disease surveillance, diagnostic laboratories, and emergency operations centers, which enable the early identification and containment of outbreaks, according to the IWG.

Bike to work with insurance

In honor of National Bike To Work Day here are some key facts for our two-wheeled transportation enthusiasts:

  • The number of cyclists commuting by bike increased by 64 percent between 2000 and 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • An estimated 900,000 U.S. workers rode a bike to work in 2015, up from 730,000 in 2010, Census data reveals
  • Bicyclists accounted for 2 percent of all traffic deaths and 2 percent of all crash-related injuries in 2014. Bicyclist deaths occurred most often in urban areas (71 percent)
  • If your bike is stolen or damaged it will be covered under the personal property section of your homeowners or renters insurance policies
  • If you own a particularly expensive bicycle, you may want to consider getting an endorsement that will provide additional coverage, advises the I.I.I.
  • If you injure someone in a bicycle accident and you get sued, there is liability protection under your homeowners or renters insurance policy that will cover you up to the limits of your policy
  • Your homeowners or renters insurance also includes no-fault medical coverage in the event you injure someone

Check out additional I.I.I. information on bicycle safety and insurance here.

And for those living in NYC, Curbed NY has a handy guide to the city’s five best neighborhoods for cyclists.