Water Crisis

Water Crisis Damages Flint Businesses

Flint businesses are seeing a loss of revenues and continue to face reputational damage.
By: | March 11, 2016 • 3 min read
Flint water crisis

Early this year, President Obama declared a state of emergency due to the water crisis in Flint, Mich., making the city and its residents eligible for federal disaster aid.

Officials eventually took action to make Flint’s water supply safer, but businesses still face reputational damage, loss of revenue and for the most part, no insurance coverage due to pollution exclusions.

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In April 2014, Flint switched from using Detroit’s water system to draw its own drinking water from the Flint River. Since then, the river’s acidic water corroded lead pipes, leaking lead into the city’s drinking water.

While residents began complaining in 2015 about the odd smell, taste, and discoloration of the water, public officials insisted it was safe to drink. That was until a September 2015 study by the Hurley Medical Center found that the number of children with above-average levels of lead in their blood nearly doubled after the city changed its water source.

Flint officials acknowledged the problem and the city started getting water from Detroit again the following month.

But the damage had already been done, not just to the thousands of residents who were exposed to high levels of lead, but to homes and businesses with lead plumbing that began to corrode from the acidity.

While a safer source of water is now in place, the physical and economic damages could mount for years.

Businesses in the city are “significantly impacted,” said George Wilkinson, group vice president of the Flint and Genese Chamber of Commerce.

The event is not only a public health crisis but an economic crisis that is resulting in a loss of sales and a halting of business operations, he said. It has been especially problematic for restaurants, hotels and those in the hospitality industry.

“They’re seeing a significant decline in [revenue]. There’s also an increase in expenses because they’re buying bottled water and having to install filtration systems,” Wilkinson said.

Flint’s restaurants now regularly test their water and some installed filtration systems that can cost up to $2,000 each.

While business owners can act to ensure their water is lead-free, the real problem is the reputational damage that the city faces, he said.

“They can be cleared by the Health Department but the real problem is the negative perception. The media is portraying Flint as a war zone,” Wilkinson said.

Flint business owners are largely left exposed because business interruption insurance has stringent pollution exclusions, said Micha Knapp, a producer at the Graham Co. in Philadelphia.

Most general liability and property policies preclude any business interruption or property damage arguments a customer could make, he said. In addition, commercial general liability policies do not cover risks associated with polluted water as they often contain an Absolute Pollution Exclusion or a Total Pollution Exclusion specific to lead.

“From a liability and property perspective, there’s often a suite of pollution exclusions that will remove any coverage for a pollutant or containment like lead. It can leave a company susceptible,” Knapp said.

Dave Walker, president of Hartland Insurance Agency in Hartland, Mich., said few businesses in Flint have the specialized insurance necessary to cover businesses losses.

“They would have to have expected this to have that kind of coverage in place. It’s not something most businesses carry,” he said. “Most will have to [cover losses] out of pocket.”

Knapp said it’s important for Flint businesses to continue to effectively test the water for environmental hazards that could impact customers’ health. He recommended they also consider eventually removing and replacing lead pipes on their properties.

Companies can also consider a Pollution Legal Liability insurance policy, which is geared specifically to the restaurant, hospitality and real estate sectors. Such coverage will also protect companies against liability and property damage associated with Legionella.

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“Most don’t have it but there are markets out there that will pick up that coverage,” Knapp said.

Flint’s water crisis could be a glimpse into a mounting national problem, according to experts.

Fitch Ratings said in early-March that there are more than 6 million lead water service lines in existence around the country, most of which are located in the Northeast and Midwest.

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths, a professor of public health at Tufts University and a former chairman of an advisory board for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water Committee, said in an article for the Detroit Free Press that many of the nation’s pipes can not be located or tested.

Craig Guillot is a writer and photographer, based in New Orleans. He can be reached at [email protected]
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Risk Insider: Dan Holden

Oklahoma’s Pretzel Logic

By: | March 2, 2016 • 2 min read
Dan Holden is Manager of Corporate Risk & Insurance for Daimler Trucks North America (formerly “Freightliner”). He manages the risk management program in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. He can be reached at [email protected]

As a veteran of the workers’ compensation claims trenches, I saw first-hand how the expensive nature of the system drove employers out of business. Not only was it sad to see businesses go belly-up, it was equally sad for the workers who were suddenly unemployed.

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It was definitely a case of lose-lose.

One way to combat the high costs of workers’ compensation was to opt-out of the traditionally expensive system in states that allowed it. By opting out, employers were forced to be more engaged in the administration of their program and focus more on the outcomes.

The result was a less expensive system; providing quality benefits to the injured workers; thus improving the overall outcome.

Oklahoma was one of the states that seemed to have found the right mix. So I was quite dismayed to learn of the recent decision by the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC).

The case, Vasquez v. Dillard’s Inc., involved a worker for Dillard’s who was denied benefits after a work injury that was determined to be an aggravation of a pre-existing injury.

Oklahoma was one of the states that seemed to have found the right mix. So I was quite dismayed to learn of the recent decision by the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC).

The WCC declared the opt-out portion of the workers’ compensation system unconstitutional because they felt it created a dual system whereupon the injured worker is treated differently.

The most intriguing facet is how the WCC abandoned their traditional administrative role for that of a judiciary in deciding what law is, and is not, constitutional.

That, I suppose, is another story.

However, they completely ignored the already approved opt-out option and remanded the case back to the Administrative Law Judge within the traditional workers’ compensation system.

Not only am I concerned about that sort of pretzel logic, but I also see it as another attack on exclusive remedy.

Right now my company doesn’t do business in any of the opt-out states. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t consider it if that option presented itself down the road.

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But that is probably on hold as any state considering moving forward with the opt-out system has now been stopped dead in their tracks. Best to sit tight for now.

As for whether the Oklahoma ruling will change what I do in regards to workers’ compensation remains to be seen. As I’m sure many employers will do now, I’ll wait on the sidelines and see how this plays out.

This is basically what I was doing before the Oklahoma ruling … observing from afar to see if the opt-out system (if/when it came to my states) was not only cost-effective but also fair to the workers.

To be honest, I would never consider an alternate workers’ compensation system unless I was convinced it offered our injured workers the same, or better, benefits as the traditional system. I would also need to be convinced that it produced better outcomes.

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Sponsored: Liberty Mutual Insurance

Commercial Auto Warning: Emerging Frequency and Severity Trends Threaten Policyholders

Commercial auto policyholders should consider utilizing a consultative approach and tools to better manage their transportation exposures.
By: | June 1, 2016 • 6 min read

The slow but steady climb out of the Great Recession means businesses can finally transition out of survival mode and set their sights on growth and expansion.

The construction, retail and energy sectors in particular are enjoying an influx of business — but getting back on their feet doesn’t come free of challenges.

Increasingly, expensive commercial auto losses hamper the upward trend. From 2012 to 2015, auto loss costs increased a cumulative 20 percent, according to the Insurance Services Office.

“Since the recession ended, commercial auto losses have challenged businesses trying to grow,” said David Blessing, SVP and Chief Underwriting Officer for National Insurance Casualty at Liberty Mutual Insurance. “As the economy improves and businesses expand, it means there are more vehicles on the road covering more miles. That is pushing up the frequency of auto accidents.”

For companies with transportation exposure, costly auto losses can hinder continued growth. Buyers who partner closely with their insurance brokers and carriers to understand these risks – and the consultative support and tools available to manage them – are better positioned to protect their employees, fleets, and businesses.

Liberty Mutual’s David Blessing discusses key challenges in the commercial auto market.

LM_SponsoredContent“Since the recession ended, commercial auto losses have challenged businesses trying to grow. As the economy improves and businesses expand, it means there are more vehicles on the road covering more miles. That is pushing up the frequency of auto accidents.”
–David Blessing, SVP and Chief Underwriting Officer for National Insurance Casualty, Liberty Mutual Insurance

More Accidents, More Dollars

Rising claims costs typically stem from either increased frequency or severity — but in the case of commercial auto, it’s both. This presents risk managers with the unique challenge of blunting a double-edged sword.

Cumulative miles driven in February, 2016, were up 5.6 percent compared to February, 2015, Blessing said. Unfortunately, inexperienced drivers are at the helm for a good portion of those miles.

A severe shortage of experienced commercial drivers — nearing 50,000 by the end of 2015, according to the American Trucking Association — means a limited pool to choose from. Drivers completing unfamiliar routes or lacking practice behind the wheel translate into more accidents, but companies facing intense competition for experienced drivers with good driving records may be tempted to let risk management best practices slip, like proper driver screening and training.

Distracted driving, whether it’s as a result of using a phone, eating, or reading directions, is another factor contributing to the number of accidents on the road. Recent findings from the National Safety Council indicate that as much as 27% of crashes involved drivers talking or texting on cell phones.

The factors driving increased frequency in the commercial auto market.

In addition to increased frequency, a variety of other factors are driving up claim severity, resulting in higher payments for both bodily injury and property damage.

Treating those injured in a commercial auto accident is more expensive than ever as medical costs rise at a faster rate than the overall Consumer Price Index.

“Medical inflation continues to go up by about three percent, whereas the core CPI is closer to two percent,” Blessing said.

Changing physical medicine fee schedules in some states also drive up commercial auto claim costs. California, for example, increased the cost of physical medicine by 38 percent over the past two years and will increase it by a total of 64 percent by the end of 2017.

And then there is the cost of repairing and replacing damaged vehicles.

“There are a lot of new vehicles on the road, and those cost more to repair and replace,” Blessing said. “In the last few years, heavy truck sales have increased at double digit rates — 15 percent in 2014, followed by an additional 11 percent in 2015.”

The impact is seen in the industry-wide combined ratio for commercial auto coverage, which per Conning, increased from 103 in 2014 to 105 for 2015, and is forecast to grow to nearly 110 by 2018.

None of these trends show signs of slowing or reversing, especially as the advent of driverless technology introduces its own risks and makes new vehicles all the more valuable. Now is the time to reign in auto exposure, before the cost of claims balloons even further.

The factors driving up commercial auto claims severity.

Data Opens Window to Driver Behavior

To better manage the total cost of commercial auto insurance, Blessing believes risk management should focus on the driver, not just the vehicle. In this journey, fleet telematics data plays a key role, unlocking insight on the driver behavior that contributes to accidents.

“Roughly half of large fleets have telematics built into their trucks,” Blessing said. “Traditionally, they are used to improve business performance by managing maintenance and routing to better control fuel costs. But we see opportunity there to improve driver performance, and so do risk managers.”

Liberty Mutual’s Managing Vital Driver Performance tool helps clients parse through data provided by telematics vendors and apply it toward cultivating safer driving habits.

“Risk managers can get overwhelmed with all of the data coming out of telematics. They may not know how to set the right parameters, or they get too many alerts from the provider,” Blessing said.

“We can help take that data and turn it into a concrete plan of action the customer can use to build a better risk management program by monitoring driver behavior, identifying the root causes of poor driving performance and developing training and other approaches to improve performance.”

Actions risk managers can take to better manage commercial auto frequency and severity trends.

Rather than focusing on the vehicle, the Managing Vital Driver Performance tool focuses on the driver, looking for indicators of aggressive driving that may lead to accidents, such as speeding, sharp turns and hard or sudden braking.

The tool helps a risk manager see if drivers consistently exhibit any of these behaviors, and take actions to improve driving performance before an accident happens. Liberty’s risk control consultants can also interview drivers to drill deeper into the data and find out what causes those behaviors in the first place.

Sometimes patterns of unsafe driving reveal issues at the management level.

“Our behavior-based program is also for supervisors and managers, not just drivers,” Blessing said. “This is where we help them set the tone and expectations with their drivers.”

For example, if data analysis and interviews reveal that fatigue factors into poor driving performance, management can identify ways to address that fatigue, including changing assigned work levels and requirements.  Are drivers expected to make too many deliveries in a single shift, or are they required to interact with dispatch while driving?

“Management support of safety is so important, and work levels and expectations should be realistic,” Blessing said.

A Consultative Approach

In addition to its Managing Vital Driver Performance tool, Liberty’s team of risk control consultants helps commercial auto policyholders establish screening criteria for new drivers, creating a “driver scorecard” to reflect a potential new hire’s driving record, any Motor Vehicle Reports, years of experience, and familiarity with the type of vehicle that a company uses.

“Our whole approach is consultative,” Blessing said. “We probe and listen and try to understand a client’s strengths and challenges, and then make recommendations to help them establish the best practices they need.”

“With our approach and tools, we do something no one else in the industry does, which is perform the root cause analysis to help prevent accidents, better protecting a commercial auto policyholder’s employees and bottom line.”

To learn more, visit https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/coverages/commercial-auto-insurance-policy.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.


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Liberty Mutual Insurance offers a wide range of insurance products and services, including general liability, property, commercial automobile, excess casualty, workers compensation and group benefits.
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