The dog ate my couch: animal damage and insurance

always scheming

You may have read the recent story featured in the I.I.I. Daily about raccoon damage and homeowners insurance. The gist: raccoons got into a house and caused $80,000 worth of damage. The homeowners were surprised to learn that their insurance wouldn’t cover any of it.

So what’s the deal with animal damage and insurance?

Homeowners insurance

Let’s start with the easy stuff. If your dog Fido rips through your couch or pees all over the wall, you’re out of luck. Standard homeowners policies won’t cover any damage to your house or personal property caused by a pet. And”pet” is a pretty broad term. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Shih Tzu or a Clydesdale horse, pets are any animal you own.

What about animals that aren’t pets, like deer or birds or – God forbid – rats? That’s where things get interesting.

Building damage: You probably aren’t covered for any damage to the building caused by birds, rodents, insects, or vermin. There also probably won’t be coverage for any nesting or infestation. Insurance policies can vary widely, however, so make sure you ask your agent what is and isn’t considered a rodent or vermin (some insurers will say raccoons are vermin, some will say they’re not). The specific details of your policy will determine your coverage.

Damage to the building from other wild animals could be covered, though. If a moose runs through the sliding door to your deck, the damaged door would be covered.

Personal property damage: Unfortunately, your personal property is probably not covered no matter what kind of animal does the damaging. If a moose runs through your sliding door and wreaks havoc on grandma’s china, then you’re covered for damage to the door, but not the china.

Liability: You go to your friend’s house and bring Fido for a dog playdate. Fido then rips through your friend’s couch. Are you covered? Yes. Homeowners liability protection will cover the damage to other people’s property caused by your pets. Just not your property. Friendship saved.

Personal auto insurance

A squirrel chews through the wiring in your car. Fido dents your door chasing after a squirrel. A moose rams your car in a fit of rage, smashing the windshield. (Why do I keep thinking of moose scenarios?)

Does personal auto insurance cover animal damage? Yes, if you have optional comprehensive coverage. If you only have collision coverage, then you’re not covered.

Collision only covers damage when a car overturns or hits another car or object. Comprehensive covers…more or less everything else: damage from falling objects, fire, explosions – and birds and animals.

So if you paid the extra premium for comprehensive coverage (like most Americans do), then you’re covered for damage from chewing squirrels, incautious Fidos, and rampaging moose (meese?).

Reminder: your smart home security system is hackable

Doors that can be locked remotely with a smartphone app. Facial recognition cameras that alert you when certain people arrive at your front door. Motion sensors that trigger video recordings when someone steals your Amazon packages.

If we’re being honest, smart home security systems sound extremely creepy to me.

But I understand the sell: smart home security devices can keep people safe and offer peace of mind – did I remember to lock the door? Doesn’t matter, my phone can lock it.

Nothing in this world is perfect, though. Unlike smart home security systems, you can’t use a computer to hack into and unlock a standard deadbolt.

The Insurance Journal recently ran a piece describing yet another experiment where researchers easily hacked into someone’s smart home security system. In one scenario, a researcher hacked into a person’s phone using a coffee shop’s free WiFi. Once inside, he accessed their smart light switch app, and then jumped from there into the smart home’s security devices. Voila, smart door unlocked. All that’s missing is a red carpet to welcome thieves as they waltz in the front door.

This shouldn’t be news. Here’s a video from 2016 of researchers hacking into a smart lock:

Everything is a trade-off. As informed consumers, we can’t assume that a solution to one security problem (forgetting to lock our doors) will solve every other security problem – or that it won’t create new ones (hacking into our front doors). It’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of smart home security, and to conduct due diligence in researching the cybersecurity protections of each system. It’s also important to consider additional protections, like purchasing cybersecurity insurance coverage, just in case.

If that sounds onerous, it’s nothing compared to dealing with a robbed house.

Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis: PowerPoint slides now available

On December 11, 2018 the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) published a report documenting Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis – what the crisis is, how it’s spreading and how it’s costing Florida consumers billions of dollars.

You can download and read the full report, “Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis: runaway litigation is spreading, and consumers are paying the price,” here.

Today we also published PowerPoint slides accompanying the report. We hope the slides will help illustrate the depth and breadth of the abuse. You can download the slides via this link.

An assignment of benefits (AOB) is a contract that allows a third party – a contractor, a medical provider, an auto repair shop – to bill an insurance company directly for repairs or other services done for the policyholder.

The process is innocuous and common throughout the country. But as our report notes, Florida’s unique legal systems richly rewards plaintiff’s attorneys and vendors when they submit inflated bills to insurance companies and then file lawsuits when those bills are disputed.

Not just a few lawsuits. Lots of lawsuits. The numbers are staggering. There were roughly 1,300 AOB lawsuits statewide in 2000.  There were more than 79,000 in 2013, and nearly 135,000 through November 9, 2018, a 70 percent increase in just five years.

Inflated claims and massive volumes of lawsuits have the predictable result of driving up insurance companies’ legal costs. Insurers are forced to then pass those costs on to consumers. In the study, we estimate that Florida’s auto and homeowners policyholders have paid about $2.5 billion more for insurance over the past dozen years to cover the increase in legal costs.

That doesn’t even count the billions more in excess claim settlements that are at the heart of the problem.

Many of these inflated bills and lawsuits are driven by a select number of contractors and their attorneys. Florida insurance customers can protect themselves – and their fellow citizens – by being very cautious when signing away their benefits under an AOB.

From the I.I.I. Daily: Our most popular content, January 4 to January 10

Here are the 5 most clicked on articles from this week’s I.I.I. Daily newsletter.

To subscribe to the I.I.I. Daily email daily@iii.org.

 

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.

Roundup: How the federal government shutdown is affecting its agencies

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

According to the New York Times, the current shutdown is one of the longest ever. While there have been 21 gaps in government funding since 1976, the level of shutdown has varied. Before 1981 most agencies could continue operations by cutting non-essential functions. In the media, various reports have emerged how different agencies have been affected.

While some agencies also receive funding from elsewhere, and have limited operations, others have mandated employee furloughs. On January 9 Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, announced that the agency had ceased routine food safety inspections of seafood, fruits, vegetables and many other foods at high risk of contamination, such as clams, mussels, oysters and other bivalves. The seafood inspection program is run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose inspectors are working without pay, as are meat and poultry inspectors. 

The National Transportation Safety Board has been unable to investigate 10 new crashes in which 22 people died, and the circumstances of seven plane crashes in which 13 people were killed, two fatal railroad crashes, a highway crash in which seven people died and an incident in which a school bus collided with a tractor-trailer, injuring 15. According to the Transportation Security Administration, there has been “no degradation in security effectiveness” and staffing is adequate, amid warnings from U.S. airport security workers and air traffic controllers that security and safety could be compromised and employee call-outs.

On Dec. 28 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reversed its decision to halt the issuing and renewal of federal flood insurance plans, which could have disrupted up to 40,000 new home sales each month, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). However, rural and suburban homebuyers who depend on mortgage loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through private lenders have been stymied by the shutdown. The post-Hurricane Maria recovery will be unaffected, according to a FEMA spokesperson.

The newly created Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency will be unable to protect against cyber and physical threats to infrastructure, according to a report. Another report from NBC News provides an overview of how other agencies are being affected.

 

The Insurance Information Institute’s 37th Annual Property/Casualty Joint Industry Forum

Next Thursday (1/17) the I.I.I. will be proud to host the 37th Annual Property/Casualty Joint Industry Forum, an annual gathering of insurers, reinsurers and other industry leaders.

The event allows top executives in the insurance industry to network, exchange vital knowledge, and discuss emerging trends that will impact the future of the industry.

With this year’s theme of ‘Leading the Way Forward,’ insurance leaders will provide helpful insight on how the industry is paving the way into the future.

JIF 2019’s formal agenda will feature panel discussions, keynote addresses and the first-ever JIF Town Hall addressing flood and catastrophe resilience.

We will be hosting retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal and former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu as speakers to discuss their personal experiences with adversity and resilience. Additionally, Randal Quarles, a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, will join Sean Kevelighan, CEO of the I.I.I., to discuss current issues of the day.

Panel discussions will cover a wide array of insurance topics, including:

  • Economic Impact – How a charged political environment will affect regulatory environments, international alliances and trade partnerships, and the likely ramifications of heightened political risk for insurers and reinsurers.
  • Artificial Intelligence’s Risks, Ethics, and Opportunities – The benefits, drawbacks and ethical concerns as insurance seeks to manage risk in what some are calling the “Fifth Industrial Revolution.”
  • Talent and Leadership – McChrystal will share candid observations on innovative leadership and insights he gained while developing and implementing successful strategies including the creation of a comprehensive counterterrorism organization that has revolutionized the way military agencies interact and collaborate.
  • Resilience Town Hall – In this inaugural JIF Town Hall session, experts share perspectives on national and regional efforts to build community resilience in disaster-prone areas.

 

 EVENT DETAILS:

WHEN:

Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019 from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. ET

  • Registration: 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. ET
  • Forum: 10:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. ET
  • Reception: 5:30 pm – 7:00 p.m. ET

 

WHERE:

Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square, 9th Floor, New York City, NY

Media room will be in the “Jolson Room” on the 9th floor

 

For more information visit https://iii.swoogo.com/2019jif/registration. Registration is open to executives at P/C and life insurance companies, reinsurance companies, intermediaries and other related service organizations, including: CEOs; presidents; public and government affairs executives; insurance trade association leaders; regulators; and state and federal government representatives. Interviews with I.I.I. spokespeople and panelists are available upon request.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

From the I.I.I. Daily: Our most popular content, December 28 to January 3

 

Here are the 5 most clicked on articles from this week’s I.I.I. Daily newsletter.

 

To subscribe to the I.I.I. Daily email daily@iii.org.

 

Water damage is costing homeowners billions. Could IoT help?

Pop quiz: what’s one of the most common types of homeowners insurance claims? (Hint: it’s not fire.)

It’s water damage. Maybe that’s not surprising – it rains a lot in many places. But what may surprise you is that things like pipe bursts and broken appliances are increasingly the main causes of water damage in homes.  

In insurance-speak, these are called “non-weather water damage claims.” Worryingly, these claims are happening more often and are getting a lot more expensive. A Best’s Review article reports that the average homeowners water damage claim is now over $6,700. Large losses (over $500,000) have doubled in number over the past three years. Non-weather water damage is now costing insurers (and their policyholders) billions in losses every year.

This is happening for several reasons. Our housing stock is aging, as is our infrastructure. More houses are being built and they’re getting bigger – many houses now have extra bathrooms and second-floor laundry rooms, which means more piping. (The story is probably different in Florida. You can read why that is here.)

But the worst part is that many – if not most – water damage claims are preventable. Inspecting pipes or conducting routine maintenance can go a long way. That’s where the internet of things (IoT) comes in. Smart devices and connected sensors installed on piping can detect leaks before they occur or before they cause too much damage. They’re basically smoke detectors, but for water.

And they work. Best’s Review noted that installing IoT devices can reduce water losses by up to 93 percent.

The Review quoted an IoT company CEO who claimed that leak detection devices could save insurers and their customers $10 billion every year.

Homeowners have admittedly been slow to install IoT to help detect leaks. But insurers are hopeful that raising awareness about the issue, offering policyholder incentives like premium discounts, and encouraging IoT installation during home construction will begin to turn the tide.

 Update: Of interest, Washington state adopted a rule in 2018 that specifically mentions water monitors and water shut-off systems as permissible tools for an insurer’s risk reduction program.

Latest research and analysis