Category Archives: Social Inflation

IRC Study: Social Inflation
Is Real, And It Hurts Consumers, Businesses

“Social inflation” is the name used to describe growth in liability risks and costs related to litigation trends. A new white paper by the Insurance Research Council  (IRC) examines this phenomenon and shows that insurers’ losses across several business lines have accelerated rapidly in recent years – much more rapidly than economic inflation alone can explain. 

Some have tried to downplay the importance of social inflation and even cast doubt on its existence. The IRC study draws from a range of industry and scholarly resources to show that it does exist and hurts individuals and businesses who rely on insurance. 

Among the drivers the IRC examines are: 

  • Shifts in public sentiment about litigation 
  • Increasing numbers of very large jury verdicts  
  • Tort reform rollbacks 
  • Legislative actions to retroactively extend or repeal statutes of limitationIncreased attorney advertising and involvement in liability claims 
  • Proliferation of class actions  
  • Emergence and growth of third-party litigation financing

Using loss data published by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the IRC documents loss trends in several key insurance lines, including commercial and personal auto insurance and product liability coverage. The report notes that loss trends reflected in the data “are consistent with anecdotal observations and concerns about the impact of social inflation on insurance claims costs.” 

The IRC draws extensively from scholarly and industry resources to document the trends referenced above and link them to rising claims and losses that in turn lead to more expensive insurance for businesses and consumers. While the analysis is based on data and trends that predate the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRC notes that state efforts to impose business interruption coverage for economic losses under insurance policies that specifically exclude bacteria and virus-related losses are a current example of the forces that drive social inflation. 

Social Inflation: Evidence and Impact on Property-Casualty Insurance is a valuable resource that explains the causes and impacts of social inflation. It can be downloaded from the IRC website. 

Further reading: 

Florida’s AOB Crisis: A Social-Inflation Microcosm 

Florida Dropped From 2020 “Judicial Hellholes” List 

Florida’s AOB Crisis:
A Social-Inflation Microcosm

Never heard of “social inflation”? It’s a fancy term to describe rising litigation costs and their impact on insurers’ claim payouts, loss ratios, and, ultimately, how much policyholders pay for coverage.

The number of auto glass AOB lawsuits statewide in 2013 was over 3,800; by 2017, that number had grown to more than 20,000.

While there’s no universally agreed-upon definition, frequently mentioned aspects of social inflation are growing awards from sympathetic juries and a trend called “litigation funding”, in which investors pay plaintiffs to sue large companies – often insurers – in return for a share in the settlement.

Less discussed are state initiatives that inadvertently invite costly abuse. Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis is an excellent example.

Assignment of benefits (AOB) is a standard insurance practice and an efficient, customer-friendly way to settle claims. As a convenience, a policyholder lets a third party – say, an auto glass repair company – directly bill the insurer.

Easy.

In Florida, however, legislative wrinkles have spawned a crisis.

The state’s “David and Goliath” law was meant to level the playing field between policyholders and economically powerful insurers. It lets plaintiffs’ attorneys collect fees from the insurer if they win their case – but not vice versa. If the insurer wins, the plaintiff owes the insurer nothing.  This creates an incentive for attorneys to file thousands of AOB-related suits because there is no limit on the fees they can collect and no risk. Legal fees can dwarf actual damages paid to the policyholder – sometimes tens of thousands of dollars for a single low-damage claim.

AOBs are an efficient, customer-friendly way to settle claims…. In Florida, however, legislative wrinkles have spawned a crisis.

This type of arrangement is unique to Florida. And, despite efforts to contain it through reforms to the state’s personal injury protection (PIP) program, the abuse has spread beyond its origins in the southern part of the state and to other lines than personal auto and homeowner’s insurance. More than 153,000 AOB suits were filed in Florida in 2018 – a 94% increase from about 1,300 five years earlier.

Contributing to the crisis is the ease with which unscrupulous contractors can “find” damage unrelated to an insured incident or overbill for work done and file a claim. Florida statutes let policyholders assign benefits to a third party without insurer consent – which limits the insurer’s ability to monitor a claim to make sure costs aren’t inflated.

A measure signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year aimed to curb AOB litigation by putting new requirements on contractors and letting insurers offer policies with limited AOB rights, or none at all.  However, it excludes auto glass repairs. The number of auto glass AOB lawsuits statewide in 2013 was over 3,800; by 2017, that number had grown to more than 20,000.

Florida’s experience provides an ongoing study into how hard it can be to stuff the social inflation genie back into its bottle.

For more details, see I.I.I.’s white paper, “Florida’s Assignment of Benefits Crisis: Runaway Litigation Is Spreading, and Consumers are Paying the Price”.