Are You at the Insurer’s Mercy If You Total Your Car?

You treat your car like you would a child. You take care of it inside and out and no one could ever tell it recently celebrated its tenth birthday. Over those ten years, you and your auto have had some great times together, but now the unthinkable has happened and your car has been “totaled.” Does that mean that the two of you have to say good-bye?

Totaling your car means that you have wrecked it badly, so much so that it is up to your insurer to decide if it is worth fixing. The insurer’s decision is based on the car’s worth. Minor damage to a very old auto could result in your carrier deciding to total it, while major damage to a brand new one might not. Auto insurance claims adjusters typically determine a car’s cash value through their company’s proprietary database of prices.

The decision to total a car varies with insurers. Some companies will total a vehicle if after the accident it is only worth 51 percent of its cash value. Others will decide to total the car at 80 percent. The insurance company pays you the car’s actual cash value less any deductible and your car is sent to a salvage yard to be auctioned off. The end result is usually an auction bidder buying the car for parts. The insurance company keeps the auction money, which offsets any costs over the amount they have collected in premiums.

If you feel your car has been unjustly condemned to salvage, do you have any way to protest the decision? You do have some rights, but they are limited. You enter into a contract with your insurance company when you buy car insurance. That contract states that you can’t coerce your insurer to pay out more than your car is actually worth. However, your carrier is obliged to ensure that you are “made whole.” That means the company is required to put you in the same condition you were in before the accident happened.

If your car has been wrecked but you want to have it repaired, you should be able to do so. Tell your claims adjuster right away that you want to keep the car. Keep in mind that you will have to pay for the repairs yourself, but your insurer still has to pay you the car’s actual cash value, less the deductible and less whatever the car would have brought at auction.

Before you decide what to do with the car, think it through. If you give up your car but later change your mind, it will be difficult to buy it back when auctioned. In most cases you cannot attend the auction without an auto salvage or auto dealer’s license. Newer model cars bring higher prices at auctions because their parts are highly desirable. That amount is probably more that what the company paid for your claim, so don’t be surprised if your carrier decides to send it to salvage in spite of your objections.

Remember, if you keep the car and it is seriously damaged, you will only have a small part of the money needed to repair it. If it isn’t repairable, you will be left with having to dispose of the vehicle.

If you go ahead with repairs, be sure the car is completely repaired. When the insurer deemed your car to be totaled, your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) was notified. That’s because your policy expired with the loss of the vehicle. Insurers can refuse to completely underwrite a car that’s been totaled and repaired if the vehicle doesn’t pass a DMV inspection. As long as it passes, however, you should have no problem buying liability insurance, although buying comprehensive and collision insurance may be more difficult. Keep in mind, some insurers won’t provide this type of coverage for a previously totaled car.

Do You Know How Your Deductible Affects Your Homeowner’s Insurance Premium?

As elementary school children, we were first introduced to the concept of ratios, or how one number relates to another number.  Back then we tended to think that like almost everything else we were learning, ratios were just one more forgettable piece of information we would never use.  Of course, we were wrong.  Ratios are something we constantly come in to contact with, even when it comes to our homeowner’s insurance.

The ratio between the policy’s deductible and the premium is very real.  When the deductible increases, the premium decreases.  With a higher deductible the carrier is transferring more of the risk to you.  Yet, four out of ten Americans carrying homeowner’s insurance do not understand that simple ratio and its consequences.

The Insurance Research Council (IRC) recently conducted a study that indicated only 37 percent of homeowners and 48 percent of renters, who have homeowner’s insurance, knew their policy had a deductible.  These same respondents also answered incorrectly when asked how a deductible increase affects a premium.  They responded that the premium either increased, stayed the same, or they did not know.

The data for the IRC’s report, Public Attitude Monitor 2005, Issue 2, came from a survey conducted by TNS NFO, a market research company.  The survey was designed as a self-administered checklist mailed on January 1, 2005, to selected households in the U.S.  There were more than 55,000 respondents ages 18 or older who answered six questions about homeowner’s insurance.

Many Americans may overlook the easiest way to reduce insurance costs simply because they do not understand the relationship between their policy’s deductible and the premium.  The Insurance Information Institute, in their publication entitled, 12 Ways To Lower Your Homeowner’s Insurance Costs, has this to say about the relationship between the two:

“Deductibles are the amount of money you have to pay toward a loss before your insurance company starts to pay a claim, according to the terms of your policy.  The higher your deductible, the more money you can save on your premiums.  Nowadays, most insurance companies recommend a deductible of at least $500.  If you can afford to raise your deductible to $1,000, you may save as much as 25 percent.  Remember, if you live in a disaster-prone area, your insurance policy may have a separate deductible for certain kinds of damage.  If you live near the coast in the East, you may have a separate windstorm deductible; if you live in a state vulnerable to hail storms, you may have a separate deductible for hail; and if you live in an earthquake-prone area, your earthquake policy has a deductible.”

The next time you review your homeowner’s coverage, be sure to talk with your agent about how increasing your deductible will impact your premium.  It may surprise you just how much you can save.

Where’s the Insurance? Beware of Uninsured Drivers

About twenty years ago, a famous hamburger chain ran a series of commercials featuring a cute octogenarian named Clara Peller.  This feisty little old lady claimed her fifteen minutes of fame asking that now famous question, “Where’s the beef?”  While it may have been funny to watch her put fast food restaurant owners on the spot, it is not at all funny if you’re in a car accident and you ask the other driver for their insurance card only to find out they have none.

Unfortunately that’s a scenario that happens all too frequently.  As the cost of living rises and paychecks don’t meet needs, people start making decisions about where to cut expenses.  One of those decisions may be to eliminate or greatly reduce the amount of their car insurance.  They need the car and take the calculated risk that they won’t get into an accident, but invariably, they are wrong.  In fact, the possibility of an uninsured motorist hitting you is greater than you may realize.  There are some states in which almost 32 percent of all drivers do not carry automobile insurance.  The national average is 14 percent.

You can protect yourself from an uninsured driver, or even an underinsured driver, whose negligence causes you to be involved in an accident. The first way is with uninsured motorists (UM) coverage.  It provides insurance protection for bodily injury, and in some states, property damage, caused by an uninsured driver.  This type of policy permits you to collect from your own insurance carrier just as if it provided liability coverage for the uninsured driver.

Uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage pays for your medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages when you or your passengers are injured in an accident caused by a driver without car insurance.  Uninsured motorist coverage also pays for injuries that result from a hit-and-run accident.  Policy owners choose the coverage limit when they buy their policy.

Uninsured motorist property damage coverage protects you if your vehicle is damaged in an accident caused by a driver without car insurance.  Other protection provided by this type of policy varies from state to state.  If available, the deductible for uninsured motorist property damage is usually $250.  This is often substantially less than the collision coverage deductible found in your auto insurance policy.

The other policy alternative is underinsured motorists (UIM) coverage.  This provides insurance protection for bodily injury, and in some states, property damage, caused by a negligent motorist who is not sufficiently insured and whose negligence results in an accident.  The bodily injury portion of this kind of coverage pays for your medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages when you or your passengers are injured.  It usually pays the difference between the coverage limit you select and the other driver’s bodily injury coverage limit.

Underinsured motorist property damage coverage protects you if your car is damaged in an accident caused by a driver with insufficient auto insurance coverage.  Other specific protection provided by this type of coverage varies by state.  As with bodily injury, property damage coverage pays the difference between your policy’s coverage limit and the other driver’s property damage coverage limit.

When you are deciding whether or not to buy either of these coverages, keep two very important points in mind.  Both UM and UIM coverage are broad in scope because they provide benefits for you and your family members’ injuries that occur in your own covered car, in cars you don’t own, and as pedestrians.  Despite all of this protection, the cost for this coverage is reasonable compared to liability coverage and physical damage coverage for your own car.

Black Boxes Are No Longer Just for Planes

A black box, also known as the Cockpit Recorder or Flight Data Recorder, documents all of the data transmissions on an airplane, such as altitude, air speed, and voice and sound transmissions.  Typically, black boxes aren’t black at all.  They are brightly colored, which makes them easier to find in the wreckage following an accident.

Everyone knows that airplanes have black boxes.  What you may not know, however, is that your car may have one too.  This box, which is approximately the size of a carpenter’s tape measure, is installed in about 70 percent of all new car models.  It is usually fitted under your dashboard or seat, and it kicks into high gear when your car’s airbags are deployed.

These event data recorders (EDR) as they are known, can record information only in the 5 to 10 seconds before and after it senses an airbag is about to be deployed.  EDRs record the following data:

 

  • Vehicle speed
  • Engine speed 
  • Brake status
  • Throttle position
  • If the driver’s seat belt is on or off
  • If the passenger’s airbag is on or off
  • If the IR Warning Lamp is on or off
  • Time from vehicle impact to airbag deployment
  • Ignition cycle count at time of the crash
  • Ignition cycle count at investigation 
  • Maximum velocity before deployment
  • Velocity vs. time for frontal airbag deployment
  • Time from vehicle impact to time of maximum velocity
  • Time between the air bags about to deploy and deployment if it is within five seconds

 

Insurance carriers and police officers use the information gathered by the box to reconstruct the events leading up to a crash.  General Motors has been installing black boxes in their cars since 1999, and several other car manufacturers have been installing them since 1996.  Crash investigators, insurers, police and government researchers say such information is the cornerstone to learning how to build safer cars.  Privacy advocates say EDRs are a way to obtain data that can be used to incriminate drivers.

The controversial practice of installing black boxes in cars will become even more hotly contested when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issues a new rule in 2006, requiring carmakers to standardize black box technology.  The standardization will necessitate that all data is recorded and stored in the same way, which will make it is easier for researchers to recover the information.  However, only a few states have addressed the privacy concerns associated with black boxes and have enacted laws that ensure the car owner’s ownership rights to the data.

Subcontractor Default Insurance: Don’t Take the Fault for Their Default

If you are a general contractor for a big-budget construction project, you know you’re going to have to hire a number of subcontractors to help bring the project to completion.

So how can you be sure these subcontractors you hire can perform the work? You can’t. When hiring in the past, general contractors shifted the performance risk they assumed themselves to some guarantee form like a surety bond. Now, there is another alternative for risk transference called Subcontractor Default Insurance (SDI).

There are three main differences between a surety bond and SDI:

1.   If the contractor uses surety bonds, each subcontractor provides their individual bond resulting in the general contractor having as many bonds as subcontractors, each with its own coverage terms. With SDI, one policy contracted between the purchaser and an insurance carrier covers all subcontractors. This ensures uniformity of coverage.

2.   Under SDI if a subcontractor defaults, the general contractor and the carrier can immediately take steps to cure the default. With a surety bond, since the contract is between the subcontractor and the surety company, the surety company must investigate the situation and then determine the appropriate remedy. In essence, the surety company acts as a mediator between the general contractor and the subcontractor. This can result in delaying completion and cause possible cost overruns.

3.   A surety bond is a fixed cost. SDI is an insurance product, which utilizes deductibles and co-payments. That means the purchaser assumes a portion of the risk. If there are no defaults, there is a retrospective rating component that allows for the return of a portion of the premium amount.

When you are weighing the pros and cons of a surety bond vs. SDI, it’s important to note that one of the most significant drawbacks of SDI is that there is no prequalification service provided by the insurance carrier as there is with a surety bond company. The responsibility of determining suitability to perform the work and of managing the completion of that work rests entirely with the named insured.

The policy itself has some coverage limitations and there may also be a 15 percent administrative cost for losses charged against the initial premium under certain conditions.

Finally, you may not be able to use SDI at all for certain projects. The Miller Act states that before a contract that exceeds $100,000 for the construction, alteration, or repair of any building or public work of the United States is awarded to any person, that person shall furnish the federal government with a performance bond in an amount that the contracting officer regards as adequate for the protection of the federal government and a separate payment bond for the protection of suppliers of labor and materials.

When you are considering using SDI, it’s best to consult with your insurance carrier to determine if it is right for your particular project.

Wrap-Up Insurance: Keeping Your Construction Project’s Exposures Under Wraps

Covering all of the risks associated with a large-scale construction project can be described as nothing short of daunting. In addition to all of the exposures you personally face as an owner/general contractor, you also have to deal with different forms of insurance coverage for all of your subcontractors. That means having to audit their insurance for terms, conditions and exclusions or face the prospect of unforeseen liabilities emerging down the road.

Given this overwhelming scenario, it’s no wonder that wrap-up insurance programs have steadily increased in popularity. This type of coverage is so named because it is project specific, and it’s designed to insure the owner and all contractors who work on the project under a single insurance package. Wrap-up programs are generally used when the project cost is expected to exceed $100 million. Either the owner or the general contractor can purchase wrap-up insurance. When the owner purchases the wrap-up protection, the program is often referred to as an Owner-Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP). If the general contractor purchases the wrap-up insurance, it is known as a Contractor-Controlled Insurance Program (CCIP). However, keep in mind that regardless of what name it is referred to, the coverage is still underwritten by an insurance carrier.

There are some significant benefits to using this type of insurance. Because the purchaser is granted “named insured” status under the policy, they have the authority to select the insurer and the types and limits of coverage. It also allows the purchaser to set safety standards for the project.Of course, there are cost savings that result from buying all your insurance in a package. Some proponents of this type of insurance also believe that it reduces costs on a net basis because subcontractors do not need to factor insurance costs into their bid.  This is especially true in today’s insurance marketplace, where smaller contractors are having a harder time finding coverage.

Although each wrap-up program is uniquely designed to fit the needs of the project being insured, most wrap-up programs cover workers’ compensation, employer’s liability, general liability and umbrella liability. In addition, you may want to consider adding builder’s risk, contractor’s pollution liability, errors and omissions insurance and subcontractor default insurance coverage when you are working with your carrier to develop a wrap-up program. The cost for this type of coverage is usually about 2% of the cost of the work performed.

There is another factor you may want to consider when contemplating this type of insurance. Wrap-ups increase the purchaser’s administrative tasks. In addition to taking the responsibility for purchasing the insurance, as named insured you must review and approve all program documents, attend quarterly stewardship meetings, meet with underwriters and review claims.

Despite these additional responsibilities, wrap-up programs can be a cost-effective way to insure against the risks and exposures that are inherent to your particular project. It also provides a tool for quality control by giving you the ability to coordinate the performance standards for all the subcontractors who will work for you.

A Complete Approach to Commercial General Liability Coverage

All businesses utilize risk management techniques in some format to reduce liability exposure.  No matter how hard you try, however, you can never fully account for the actions of others. On any given day, your business could be found on the wrong end of a lawsuit for injuries or damages caused to a third party as a result of your operations. Commercial General Liability insurance is your first line of defense in these situations.

Take for example broadcast production employees who ignore safety standards when operating electrical equipment. They are remiss even though they have been thoroughly trained in accepted procedures. The negligent handling of broadcast equipment can not only result in bodily harm to the employee, but injuries or even death to unaffiliated third parties.

As a manufacturer, you are potentially liable for every product you ship.  While quality control may be stressed throughout your organization, the fact remains that no person or machine is perfect. Harm caused to a third party from a faulty product could lead to a lengthy courtroom battle.

Visitors to a long-term care facility can also be the victims of unforeseen events. A floor mat with torn and uplifted edges or an extension cord placed across a heavily trafficked area can certainly be the starting point for an accident.

That’s why, in spite of your best efforts at removing all the obvious potential hazards from your business, you might still find yourself being sued. Commercial General Liability insurance is your best defense against devastating claims that could destroy your business.

Commercial General Liability insurance is designed to protect business owners from a variety of exposures.  It can cover liability arising from accidents on or off premises, to products sold by the insured that result in injury to the user, to contractual liability, leaving an owner free to concentrate on managing their business.

Just as important, Commercial General Liability coverage protects owners even if their company isn’t legally liable for a claim. Legal defense costs are continually rising; and the expense to defend oneself against a claim whether justified or not can be financially devastating to a business. The fact that Commercial General Liability insurance pays for expenses such as attorney’s fees, witness fees, and police reports is an important coverage feature. Another significant consideration is that coverage goes beyond the basic expenses of a legal defense to cover any reasonable expenses the business owner may incur at the insurance company’s request to assist in the planning of their defense. Finally, the liability policy will also fund the premium for any bond the court requires, ensuring that the judgment will be paid if the business owner is found legally liable for an injury or property damage.

Research Proves Using Seat Belts Cuts Hospital Bills

Evidence of the importance of wearing a seat belt while in a moving vehicle is not a recent discovery; many studies have been conducted to compare the hospital costs for victims of crashes that wore seat belts against those who did not wear them.   In 2001, the National Safety Council revealed that the average inpatient costs for crash victims not wearing seat belts were 50% higher than victims who were wearing seat belts during the accident.

In 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that the deaths and injuries that result from not wearing a seat belt cost an estimated $26 billion annually in medical care, lost productivity and other related costs.

Recently, the Minnesota Seat Belt Coalition has been conducting its own research to determine how the use of seat belts impacts the cost of health care. Using Minnesota vehicle crash records from 2002, the group has discovered that hospital costs for unrestrained crash victims were 94% higher than hospital costs for those using seat belts. They estimated that increasing seat belt usage in Minnesota to 94% from the current rate of 84% could reduce the cost of crash-related hospital care an average of $19 million annually over the next 10 years.

Many people might wonder how a simple piece of equipment could be so effective in reducing crash-related hospital costs, and potentially save their life.  To understand how a seatbelt works, one must first examine a basic principle of physics called inertia.

Sir Isaac Newton is credited with refining the concept of inertia in his work entitled Laws of Motion. Newton’s first law stated that, “Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight ahead, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by forces impressed.”  Put simply, an object will continue to move in an straight line until something interferes with its path.

Take that basic premise and apply it to a moving vehicle, which contains a driver and passengers. If a vehicle is traveling at 40 miles per hour, inertia should keep it moving forward at this pace, undisturbed. However, other factors like air resistance and friction caused by the interaction of the tires and the road surface are continually slowing it down. The car’s engine is designed to compensate for this energy loss and keep the car in continuous motion.

Separately, everything inside the car has its own inertia. Even though the passengers’ inertia is separate from the car’s inertia, while the car is traveling at 40 miles per hour, the passengers are traveling at 40 miles per hour as well. At this point, both the car and the passengers have the same inertia.

If the car were to suddenly stop because it impacted with another object, the passengers’ inertia and the car’s inertia would be completely independent. The force of the impact would bring the car to an abrupt stop, but the passengers would still be traveling at 40 miles per hour. Without a seat belt, the inhabitants would continue to move forward at 40 miles per hour until their path was obstructed, usually by a steering wheel, dashboard, or windshield. Depending on where and how the passengers landed, they could be killed instantly, injured severely, or walk away from the crash unharmed.

The deciding factor in this equation is the seat belt. A seat belt applies the stopping force to the sturdier parts of the body over a longer period of time. If it is worn correctly, it will apply the major portion of the stopping force to the rib cage and the pelvis, which are better able to handle it than other body parts. The belts extend across a wide section of the body, so the force is not concentrated on a small section of the body and cannot do as much harm as the impact of an object in the car. In addition, the flexible seat belt material stretches to keep the stop from being too sudden.

This simple piece of equipment relies on the properties of physics to save both lives and millions of dollars in health care annually.  It could save you money in taxes and health insurance costs.  The three extra seconds it takes to reach over and fasten the belt seem insignificant when you consider the many benefits of wearing it.  The next time you ride in a car, check to see if all the passengers are belted in; it could be the difference between life and death.

Employment Practices Liability Insurance – Protection from Litigious Employees

The area of employees’ rights has been a bubbling caldron since the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This federal law prohibits intentional employment discrimination by employers who are engaged in interstate commerce. It also prohibits practices that have the effect of discriminating against individuals.

As new workplace laws have been enacted, the possibility of employers finding themselves on the business end of a lawsuit has increased, especially when it comes to issues regarding discrimination.  It isn’t just about ensuring that all employees have the same rights and opportunities to job access, job security, working conditions and advancement, it also means creating a workplace in compliance with federal guidelines for the employment of disabled and mature workers. According to statistics compiled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, from 1992 to 2004, the total number of individual charges of discrimination increased from 72,302 to 79,432 per year. These figures included filings for all types of discrimination.

Of course, it stands to reason that the more personnel policies employers have in place, the fewer the lawsuits filed against them, especially if these policies are outlined in a handbook provided to new employees. Even with the most careful interpretation of the law, however, there can still be instances when an employee can allege discrimination. That’s when an employer will be thankful and reassured they have Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI).

How important is this type of coverage? The answer to that question lies in an examination of the workplace itself. The changing ethnic and racial composition of the workforce mirrors the changing demographics of America itself. Despite the fact that the U.S. workforce on average has a higher educational level than anytime in its history, some problems evolving in the workplace have discrimination at their root. Cultural differences have become an area ripe for discrimination lawsuits. Add to that sexual harassment, age discrimination and bias against the abilities of handicapped workers and employers can find themselves swimming in a sea of legal proceedings.

The focus on workplace litigation has steadily increased as workers have been awarded large damages in lawsuits against companies; human rights organizations have become more vigilant in reporting the actions of multinational companies; and the greater availability of information has provided more awareness of discriminatory activities that might have gone unnoticed in the past. Even the press closely examines the practices of large corporations in this post-Enron society. With all of these preventative measures in place, an employer needs the protection of Employment Practices Liability Insurance for those times when the best laid plans for a non-discriminatory workplace go awry.

Uncovering Common Misconceptions About Flood Insurance Coverage

According to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), flooding is this country’s most prevalent natural disaster. In the years between 1995 and 2004, flood losses in the U.S. averaged $867 million annually. There are about 4.7 million citizens who have taken advantage of the government’s flood insurance protection, however large numbers of at-risk Americans still refuse to find coverage.  After hurricane Katrina last summer, when nearly 80% of New Orleans was underwater, it is surprising that people would not seek such coverage, since their homeowner’s policies do not insure them against floods.

Part of the problem stems from the innate sense that if it’s offered by the federal government, applying for it must be: a) tied up in red tape, and b) too complicated due to all the exclusions. Both of these statements, however, are not true. Let’s examine some of the commonly held beliefs about flood insurance:

 

  • You can’t buy flood insurance if you are in a high-risk area.  Flood insurance is available to all homeowners and businesses in any community that participates in the NFIP. You can check to see if your community participates by visiting http://www.fema.gov/fema/csb.shtm. The only issue which would prevent you from obtaining flood insurance is if you reside in a Coastal Barrier Resource System location, or a location that is designated as an Otherwise Protected Area. Land that falls under these two categories are undeveloped areas along coastlines. The flood insurance program doesn’t provide coverage in these areas to discourage settlement where there is an extreme risk not only for flooding, but potential loss of life.
  • You can only get flood insurance if you are a homeowner.  Condominium/co-op owners, apartment dwellers, and commercial/non-residential building owners can purchase NFIP coverage. There is a maximum of $250,000 worth of coverage on a one-family residential building. The maximum per-unit coverage limit on a residential condominium/co-op association building is also $250,000. Contents coverage for any residential building is limited to $100,000. Commercial/non-residential structures can be insured for a maximum of $500,000. You can also insure the contents of commercial buildings up to $500,000.
  • You have to wait 30 days for flood insurance protection to take effect. Usually there is a 30-day waiting period from the time a policy is purchased until you are covered. However, there are some exceptions. There is no waiting period if you already have a flood insurance policy, but need more coverage to increase, extend or renew a loan, such as a second mortgage, home equity loan, or refinance. Coverage is effective immediately, as long as you pay the premium at or prior to loan closing. There is a one-day waiting period when additional coverage is requested because of a map revision. This applies when the NFIP revises the map so that a non-Special Flood Hazard Area becomes a Special Flood Hazard Area. Coverage must be purchased within 13 months following the map revision to be applicable for the reduced waiting period.
  • You can get Federal Disaster Assistance even if you don’t have your own flood insurance policy.  The Federal Disaster Program will only provide coverage to uninsured individuals or businesses if the affected area is declared a federal disaster area, which occurs less than 50% of the time.  Statistics show the awards average about $4000 dollars and most are made in the form of a Small Business Administration Loan, which must be paid back with interest.  Furthermore, the award recipient must carry flood insurance for the duration of the loan.

 

To learn more about the terms of flood insurance coverage, log on to http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/faq_policy.jsp.

Source: FEMA Publication F-216 (08/04) and www.floodsmart.gov