UN Climate Change Convention

Top officials from more than 150 countries gather at United Nations HQ in New York City today, to address the leadership challenge of climate change. The event, billed as the largest meeting ever of world leaders on climate change, takes place on the eve of the opening of the UN General Assembly’s annual General Debate. The discussion is intended to build momentum for the UN Climate Change conference in Bali this December where negotiations about a new international climate agreement should start. Sessions will cover adaptation, mitigation, technology, and financing. For our industry’s part, Jacques Aigrain, chief executive officer and member of the executive board committee of Swiss Re, will be speaking.  

Shareholder Suits Poised to Rise?

The overall trend of lower securities class action filings has continued through the first six months of 2007, but that trend may be reversing. That’s the upshot of a recent study from NERA Economic Consulting. The report notes that from 1998 through 2005 there were well over 200 federal class action filings each year, but filings dropped to 136 in 2006. While this general pattern has continued through June 30, 2007, NERA projects there will be 152 filings in 2007, a 12 percent increase on 2006. In the first half of 2007 there have been 76 filings, a 47 percent increase on the second half of 2006. A few other points of interest: the probability of a corporation facing at least one shareholder class action suit over a five-year period has declined to 6.4 percent; for the first time, all of the top 10 shareholder class action settlements exceeded $1 billion; eight of the top 10 settlements of all time were resolved in 2006/07, with Enron’s $7.2 billion settlement top of the list; excluding the top 10 settlements, average settlement values doubled to $23.2 million in the 2002-2007 period. As for future trends, NERA notes that recent turmoil in the subprime market has led to seven claims in the first half of 2007. For our take on the subprime issue, check out a new paper authored by Dr. Steven Weisbart, I.I.I. vice president and chief economist. Further commentary on the NERA study can be found at The D&O Diary, a blog focused on D&O liability issues.

TRIA Extension Latest

For anyone who missed the news, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Revision and Extension Act of 2007 (H.R. 2761) passed the House yesterday afternoon, by a final vote of 312-110. Key elements of the House bill are that it would extend the program for an additional 15 years (until December 31, 2022), and expand coverage under the program to include domestic acts of terrorism, group life losses and chemical, nuclear, biological and radiological (CNBR) terrorism. We hasten to add that the general consensus among insurers that a continuing federal role is essential to ensuring that terrorism risk insurance remains available to businesses is not a view shared by all. Earlier this week the Administration said TRIA should be phased out in favor of a private market for terrorism insurance. That said, the Administration did say it is willing to work with Congress as the bill moves through the legislative process so that H.R. 2761 meets the critical elements of an acceptable extension. As the clock counts down to TRIA expiration on December 31, 2007, we’ll be watching this issue closely, so let us know your views. Check out I.I.I. information on terrorism risk online.

Wildlife Strike Hazards

Bird hazard may not be the first risk that comes to mind when stepping aboard an aircraft today, but bird strikes (i.e. aircraft collisions with birds and other wildlife) are a major risk exposure for airlines and their insurers. Consider the following: flying is an increasingly popular mode of transportation; air traffic worldwide is increasing and natural habitats around airports tend to be home to wildlife. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), some 72,526 strikes were reported to civil aircraft in the U.S. from 1990 to 2006. Birds were involved in 97.5 percent of the strikes, terrestrial mammals in 2.2 percent, bats in 0.2 percent, and reptiles in 0.1 percent. The number of strikes annually has quadrupled from 1,743 in 1990 to 7,089 in 2006. Further, the annual cost of wildlife strikes to the U.S. civil aviation industry is estimated at in excess of $603 million and experts say the risk is growing. The Bird Strike Committee annual meeting features a wide variety of presentations on how to mitigate the bird strike hazard. Check out further I.I.I. facts on aviation.  

RI Lead Paint Plan

The next step following the landmark February 2006 Rhode Island lawsuit against three former lead paint manufacturers unfolded Friday with the release of a state proposal detailing cleanup and related costs. In short, the RI Lead Nuisance Abatement Plan would require the paint manufacturers to pay out $2.4 billion to clean up 240,000 housing units. It is, however, subject to court approval. Wherever this plan takes the lead paint issue in RI, it’s worth remembering that recent court decisions in other states, including New Jersey, Missouri and Ohio, have rejected the public nuisance legal theory on which the RI lead paint suit was based. Time will tell how future lead paint litigation will develop, but clearly this issue has emerging consequences for a number of industries, including ours. Check out more I.I.I. info on products liability emerging exposures.

U.K. Climate Initiative

We bring the week to a close by noting that a number of leading insurers and industry organizations (38 at last count) have signed on to a U.K. initiative aimed at addressing climate change. Known as the ClimateWise Principles, the initiative has been launched by the Association of British Insurers (ABI). It was developed following discussions between insurers and HRH the Prince of Wales. The principles commit insurers that sign up to: lead the way in analyzing and reducing risks; support climate awareness among their customers; incorporate climate change into their investment strategies; inform and engage in public policy debate; and reduce the environmental impact of their businesses. Specifically, insurers will be required to incorporate climate risk into their business strategy and planning, and to publish a statement as part of their annual report detailing the actions that have been taken in support of the principles. Check out more on this at: http://www.climatewise.org.uk/Â  

Marine Matters

The annual gathering of the International Union of Marine Insurers (IUMI) took place in Copenhagen, Denmark this week. One of the featured speakers was I.I.I. president Dr. Robert Hartwig, who gave a presentation focused on issues relating to the global maritime industry. As well as marine insurance trends,  such as  premiums, pricing and underwriting performance, Dr. Hartwig spoke on the economic environment for marine insurers in the context of a relatively healthy global economy and a depreciating U.S. dollar. The important role China is likely to play as a trading partner in the 21st century was another focus of his discussion. Catastrophe loss activity, the energy market and terrorism and liability-related issues in the maritime sector were other topics of discussion. Access the full report on the I.I.I. Web site.  

Revisiting Terrorism Risk

On the sixth anniversary of September 11, we take a look at a timely new Marsh risk survey of Fortune 1000 companies. The survey findings offer us an insight into how board-level executives at these companies view international terrorism attacks among seven other risk scenarios, including natural disasters, rapidly rising oil prices and pandemics. While terrorism ranks second only to natural disasters in terms of the most likely crisis scenario to occur, just 38 percent of Fortune 1000 executives felt that international terrorist attacks were likely to occur in the next eight to 10 years. This compares with 65 percent who felt that natural disasters were the most likely to occur. At the same time, 39 percent said a terrorist attack would have a catastrophic impact on their business. When asked if they had taken steps to prepare, roughly four in 10 (44 percent) of those surveyed said their company has prepared for a terrorist attack, compared to 58 percent for natural disasters. On the flip side, very few executives believe it is likely that a housing market collapse, reduced access to water or a pandemic disease, will occur in the coming decade. Encouragingly, in the event of one or more of the eight crisis situations, 74 percent of those surveyed say their company has prepared a business continuity plan. Check out further I.I.I. terrorism risk information  online.

Popcorn Concerns

Reports that four of the largest microwave popcorn manufacturers in the U.S. are working to remove the butter flavoring chemical diacetyl from their products due to health risks to workers is good news for everybody it appears. It’s been acknowledged for some time that a potentially significant exposure arises from factories packaging butter-flavored popcorn. Already a number of lawsuits have been pursued by workers at these factories due to alleged exposure to diacetyl. Further, various federal agencies have said they believe the butter-flavored chemical may result in bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as “popcorn packers lung.† Now Dr. Cecile Rose, a pulmonary specialist at Denver’s National Jewish Medical and Research Center  has written to federal agencies, saying that doctors  believe they have identified  the first case of a consumer who developed lung disease from the fumes of microwaving popcorn several times a day for years. The letter was first published by fellow blogger David Michaels, of the George Washington University School of Public Health on his public health policy blog (http://thepumphandle.wordpress.com). An emerging products liability exposure to keep our eye on.  

Information Insecurity

This week online job search site Monster Worldwide announced that it would be boosting its security measures following a significant data breach earlier this month. Apparently Monster recently became aware of illegal downloads of personal information of at least 1.3 million job seekers with resumes posted on Monster.com, including names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. The delay between finding out about the breach and notifying those affected is still being explained by the company. Part of the answer may lie in the fact that it can take months for companies to uncover  data loss incidents.  Many breaches also go unreported as companies try to limit the damage to their reputation. Meanwhile, we read that the Ohio Court of Claims has dismissed a lawsuit by two Ohio University graduates seeking to compel the school to pay for credit monitoring following a 2005 computer breach. The judge decided that the two original plaintiffs could not prove harm because they have not experienced identity theft. Needless to say, attorneys now plan on refiling the complaint with new plaintiffs who are victims of identity theft. Both stories highlight the continuing liability facing corporations when a breach in data security occurs. Insurance is one of the tools available to help corporations prepare and recover. Check out further I.I.I. info on this topic.  

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