Category Archives: Health & Safety

Don’t get burned by e-cigarettes

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Electronic cigarettes have been marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking tobacco, but a recent outbreak of lung disease linked to e-cigarettes shows that smoking is unsafe in any form, and insurers are cautioned to review their books of business for exposures to e-cigarettes.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported 12 deaths and 805 cases of lung injury linked to e-cigarettes (or vaping) as of this week.  Of the 373 cases where data on the patients was available, about three-quarters were male, two-thirds were 18 years to 34 years old and 16 percent were younger than 18 years

The cause of the illnesses has not been linked to any specific ingredients or devices. And while health officials continue to investigate, people are cautioned to refrain from using e-cigarettes altogether, and particularly to stay away from vaping liquids or devices sold on the street.

And if the outbreak of lung disease is not bad enough, e-cigarette batteries have been known to explode, causing serious injuries and a few deaths. A study from George Mason University estimated there were more than 2,000 visits to U.S. emergency rooms from 2015 to 2017 for e-cigarette burns and explosion-related injuries.

In a recent blog post, Tim Fletcher, Senior Emerging Issues Specialist at Gen Re suggests that in response to the situation insurers should review their small commercial retail book to determine whether any are selling e-cigarettes. Such retailers could include convenience stores, gas stations, and liquor stores. The blog lists several forms and ISO exclusions for e-cigarettes.

The Gen Re blogger reminds insurers that the duty to defend exists in all standard CGL occurrence forms with the potential to incur uncapped defense costs.

Commercial insurance, diseases and epidemics

In a previous article, we discussed how personal insurance policies address communicable diseases and epidemics. In this article, we’ll look at how commercial insurance policies handle these issues.

Between 1918 and 1919 the so-called Spanish influenza pandemic* killed at least 50 million people worldwide and infected about 500 million people – or about 1/3 of the entire world’s population at the time.

While the Spanish flu’s destructiveness has been an outlier over the last several decades, epidemics and pandemics on a smaller scale do still happen (avian flu, swine flu, Ebola, etc.).

How could disease outbreaks impact commercial property and general liability insurance?

[Content warning: wonky]

Continue reading Commercial insurance, diseases and epidemics

Personal insurance: diseases and epidemics

In this article, we discuss how personal insurance policies address communicable diseases and epidemics. In a later article, we’ll look at how commercial insurance policies address these issues.

Measles are back with a vengeance. It’s gotten so bad in one New York county that the local government tried to ban unvaccinated children from public spaces.

Little known fact to people outside the insurance world: many personal insurance policies address communicable diseases and epidemics. Let’s walk through some of them.

Homeowners liability insurance: probably not covered

If you crack open your handy HO-3 standard homeowners policy and flip to Section II – Liability Coverages, you’ll notice that the transmission of a communicable diseases that causes any bodily injury or property damage is not covered by the policy. What this basically means is that if you (the insured) cause someone to get hurt (i.e. sick) via a communicable disease, whether you knew you were sick or not, then the policy won’t cover you for any liability if you get sued.

So if someone without a measles vaccination throws a party and ends up getting several guests sick, that person’s homeowners policy probably won’t cover any liability arising out of their actions. Doubly so if the person did this purposely: intentional acts are excluded from pretty much every insurance policy on earth.

Personal liability umbrella: probably not covered, but it depends

A personal liability umbrella policy is basically an extra layer of 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).

Personal umbrella policies will also often exclude liability arising out of the transmission of a communicable disease. But not always, since what constitutes a communicable disease often depends on the specific policy. Some policies only exclude sexually transmitted diseases; others will exclude any communicable disease.

Travel insurance: could be covered, depending on the situation

Travel insurance policies can vary dramatically, depending on the insured’s needs. Two of the more common coverages are for trip cancellation and emergency medical treatment.

Will travel insurance cover you if a trip gets cancelled due to an epidemic or pandemic? Again, depends on the policy, but probably not. Many travel policies will exclude losses caused by disease outbreaks.

What if you get sick and need to cancel your trip? Unfortunately, you’re probably not covered if you got sick because of an epidemic. But for other diseases, you could be covered, depending on the insurer and a whole laundry list of conditions. For example, a sickness that would be covered often requires that the sick person be so ill that they can’t travel (a mild cough won’t pay out); the sick person is also often required to have a medical professional confirm that they were, in fact, too sick to travel.

If you have emergency medical treatment coverage, then you’ll be covered for any covered medical care, including illness. However, these kinds of policies can get very complicated; it’s important to talk to your agent to make sure you are getting the coverage that you need.

I.I.I. Report: Marijuana legalization raises concerns about drugged driving

The “green gold rush” shows no sign of slowing.

Most recently, New Jersey legislators reportedly announced a bill that would permit recreational marijuana. If signed into law, New Jersey would join ten other states and D.C. that currently permit recreational marijuana. More than 30 states and D.C. also permit medical marijuana programs of some kind.

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But as legalization spreads, concerns about driving under the influence of marijuana continue unabated.

Today, the I.I.I. has published a report that examines the current state of the issue.

A rocky road so far: Recreational marijuana and impaired driving” dives into the hazy questions surrounding marijuana impairment: its effects on driving abilities, how traffic safety might be impacted, and how states are grappling with the issue of “stoned driving.” (Download the report here.)

Unfortunately, there are still many unknowns when it comes to stoned driving. Marijuana impairment degrades cognitive and motor skills, of course – but marijuana-impaired driving is an evolving issue with many questions and few concrete answers. Legalization is still relatively recent. Data are still being gathered. How to understand and measure marijuana impairment are still open questions.

Do the rates of marijuana-impaired driving increase following recreational legalization? Answer: probably. Does marijuana-impaired driving increase crash risks? Answer: probably, but we still don’t concretely know to what degree. What about traffic fatalities – do those increase after legalization? There’s evidence that traffic fatalities could increase following legalization, but there is still quite a bit of discussion about this issue.

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There is active research, discussion and debate being conducted to answer these and other questions. As more states legalize recreational marijuana, forthcoming answers will become ever more critical to help best guide public policy and traffic safety initiatives.

To learn more, download the report here.

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: