Climate Change Liability

The Emerging Tort Storm

Greenhouse gas emissions could follow tobacco and asbestos as the next mega-tort.
By: | February 18, 2014 • 5 min read

Is climate change the next mass tort? A growing number of experts predict it could be, particularly after the ambiguity of a recent large case settlement opened the door for potential mass litigation.

The insurance implications could also be significant, and corporations that might be contributing to climate change should plan now how to mitigate these exposures.

Environmental damage caused by climate change could be “the next mass tort” if future litigators are able to demonstrate a link between environmental damages and greenhouse gas emissions by large corporations, wrote actuary Jill Mysliwiec in a recent Milliman Inc. report, The Cost of Climate Change: Will Companies Pay in Court?

Mysliwiec pointed to the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court case of American Electric Power, which pitted five large-scale private electric power companies emitting greenhouse gases against the City of New York and eight additional states.


In an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court held that corporations cannot be sued for greenhouse gas emissions under federal common law, primarily because the Clean Air Act delegates the management of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“While the AEP case may not have specifically created a path to indemnification, the fact that it didn’t rule out any possible future litigation efforts speaks volumes,” Mysliwiec wrote. “The ruling may be an indication that such potential efforts may in fact be successful in the future.”

Since a major obstacle in litigation has been demonstrating a cause and effect relationship between damages and emissions, and in identifying a specific defendant, future groups of plaintiffs and defendants might be lumped in a single mass tort litigation case, she wrote.

Such plaintiffs could be armed by each defendant’s public disclosures of their greenhouse gas emissions, now required by the EPA.

“If documentation exists proving that a corporation was aware of its harmful operations, avoiding the consequences becomes more difficult,” she wrote.

“As was the case with tobacco and asbestos, we likely will not know whether climate change will be the next mega-tort for many years.” —Warren A. Koshofer, partner, Michelman & Robinson LLP

Warren A. Koshofer, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Michelman & Robinson LLP, said that there are significant hurdles to obtaining coverage for climate change litigation under standard commercial general liability policies, as highlighted by the Virginia Supreme Court decision in AES Corp. v. Steadfast.

“The occurrence hurdle is one that is not readily susceptible to negotiation when new CGL policies are being obtained,” Koshofer said. “The two exclusions can, however, be the subject of negotiations with the insurer.”

Given the current state of climate change litigation, where plaintiffs are having extreme difficulty overcoming the standing and political question doctrines and otherwise establishing claims against emitters of greenhouse gases, the real goal for an insured is to avoid the insurer being relieved of their duty to defend, which is broader than their duty to indemnify, he said.

Separating the duty to defend from the indemnity provisions of the CGL policy is one potential avenue an insured can explore — whether through negotiated sub-limits or the procurement of a stand-alone defense cost policy.

“As was the case with tobacco and asbestos, we likely will not know whether climate change will be the next mega-tort for many years,” Koshofer said.

“While it certainly is following the early pattern of tobacco and asbestos, a key difference is the injuries alleged in climate change cases thus far have been more focused on property damage than the significant bodily injuries that ultimately fueled the plaintiff’s bar to refine and target tobacco and asbestos related cases.”

Lindene E. Patton, chief climate product officer of Zurich Insurance Group in Schaumburg, Ill., who co-authored a book titled Climate Change and Insurance, said that plaintiffs are now experimenting in the tort liability area, as well as claims of statutory violations or noncompliance.

But so far, that litigation is largely at the procedural stage and “not a whole lot beyond that.”

Still, underwriters should consider looking for appropriate risk management practices from clients that could be potentially exposed to such litigation — whether that is greenhouse gas emitters or professional service providers, such as engineers or consultants who do work involving greenhouse gas or adaptation to climate change, Patton said.


For example, she said, engineers need to understand that the law is now examining whether “conduct evaluating and managing climate-related risks not only should consider historical exposures, but also projected exposures in the future. If an engineer is going to deliver a product to customer who declines to address future exposures expected by climate scientists, then engineers need to explain to their clients the range of potential impacts based on the expert advice.”

There might be dispute about which science to apply. And if a loss occurs, litigation might lead to the ultimate determination of who was right and who was wrong, Patton said. However, underwriters might have to pay for defense expenses, even if the carriers ultimately have no indemnity expenses. This will be true for professional liability policies as well as general liability policies, to the extent they are triggered.

“People who believe that they have followed the law and received a permit to build or have purchased a property may wake up one day with their property blown away or underwater, with no mechanism to get relief, and they may look elsewhere for compensation,” she said. “This appears to be what we’re seeing in some cases of climate change litigation.”

Mysliwiec suggested that companies mitigate potential exposures by forming partnerships with governmental entities to develop a means for funds to be pooled and set aside for damages.

Companies, either individually or as a group, should also take a proactive approach to provide funds to cover losses, “in an effort to appeal to consumers,” she wrote.

In addition, insurers should develop a means to provide the funds for these losses, potentially through the use of catastrophe models.

“It would be advantageous to all parties involved for a proactive solution to be explored, in an effort to avoid the high costs of defense and litigation that may come from a less assertive approach,” Mysliwiec wrote.

“This uncertainty and our society’s current state could be creating an ideal situation for the next mass tort of our generation. The money to pay for the damages will have to come from somewhere and it remains to be seen just where that deep pocket may be hiding.”

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at [email protected]
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Aviation Woes

Coping with Cancellations

Could a weather-related insurance solution be designed to help airlines cope with cancellation losses?
By: | April 23, 2014 • 4 min read

Airlines typically can offset revenue losses for cancellations due to bad weather either by saving on fuel and salary costs or rerouting passengers on other flights, but this year’s revenue losses from the worst winter storm season in years might be too much for traditional measures.

At least one broker said the time may be right for airlines to consider crafting custom insurance programs to account for such devastating seasons.

For a good part of the country, including many parts of the Southeast, snow and ice storms have wreaked havoc on flight cancellations, with a mid-February storm being the worst of all. On Feb. 13, a snowstorm from Virginia to Maine caused airlines to scrub 7,561 U.S. flights, more than the 7,400 cancelled flights due to Hurricane Sandy, according to MasFlight, industry data tracker based in Bethesda, Md.


Roughly 100,000 flights have been canceled since Dec. 1, MasFlight said.

Just United, alone, the world’s second-largest airline, reported that it had cancelled 22,500 flights in January and February, 2014, according to Bloomberg. The airline’s completed regional flights was 87.1 percent, which was “an extraordinarily low level,” and almost 9 percentage points below its mainline operations, it reported.

And another potentially heavy snowfall was forecast for last weekend, from California to New England.

The sheer amount of cancellations this winter are likely straining airlines’ bottom lines, said Katie Connell, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade group for major U.S. airline companies.

“The airline industry’s fixed costs are high, therefore the majority of operating costs will still be incurred by airlines, even for canceled flights,” Connell wrote in an email. “If a flight is canceled due to weather, the only significant cost that the airline avoids is fuel; otherwise, it must still pay ownership costs for aircraft and ground equipment, maintenance costs and overhead and most crew costs. Extended storms and other sources of irregular operations are clear reminders of the industry’s operational and financial vulnerability to factors outside its control.”

Bob Mann, an independent airline analyst and consultant who is principal of R.W. Mann & Co. Inc. in Port Washington, N.Y., said that two-thirds of costs — fuel and labor — are short-term variable costs, but that fixed charges are “unfortunately incurred.” Airlines just typically absorb those costs.

“I am not aware of any airline that has considered taking out business interruption insurance for weather-related disruptions; it is simply a part of the business,” Mann said.

Chuck Cederroth, managing director at Aon Risk Solutions’ aviation practice, said carriers would probably not want to insure airlines against cancellations because airlines have control over whether a flight will be canceled, particularly if they don’t want to risk being fined up to $27,500 for each passenger by the Federal Aviation Administration when passengers are stuck on a tarmac for hours.

“How could an insurance product work when the insured is the one who controls the trigger?” Cederroth asked. “I think it would be a product that insurance companies would probably have a hard time providing.”

But Brad Meinhardt, U.S. aviation practice leader, for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., said now may be the best time for airlines — and insurance carriers — to think about crafting a specialized insurance program to cover fluke years like this one.


“I would be stunned if this subject hasn’t made its way up into the C-suites of major and mid-sized airlines,” Meinhardt said. “When these events happen, people tend to look over their shoulder and ask if there is a solution for such events.”

Airlines often hedge losses from unknown variables such as varying fuel costs or interest rate fluctuations using derivatives, but those tools may not be enough for severe winters such as this year’s, he said. While products like business interruption insurance may not be used for airlines, they could look at weather-related insurance products that have very specific triggers.

For example, airlines could designate a period of time for such a “tough winter policy,” say from the period of November to March, in which they can manage cancellations due to 10 days of heavy snowfall, Meinhardt said. That amount could be designated their retention in such a policy, and anything in excess of the designated snowfall days could be a defined benefit that a carrier could pay if the policy is triggered. Possibly, the trigger would be inches of snowfall. “Custom solutions are the idea,” he said.

“Airlines are not likely buying any of these types of products now, but I think there’s probably some thinking along those lines right now as many might have to take losses as write-downs on their quarterly earnings and hope this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “There probably needs to be one airline making a trailblazing action on an insurance or derivative product — something that gets people talking about how to hedge against those losses in the future.”

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at [email protected]
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Sponsored Content by CorVel

Telehealth: The Wait is Over

Telehealth delivers access to the work comp industry.
By: | November 2, 2015 • 5 min read


From Early Intervention To Immediate Intervention

Reducing medical lag times and initiating early intervention are some of the cornerstones to a successful claims management program. A key element in refining those metrics is improving access to appropriate care.

Telehealth is the use of electronic communications to facilitate interaction between a patient and a physician. With today’s technology and mass presence of mobile devices, injured workers can be connected to providers instantaneously via virtual visits. Early intervention offers time and cost saving benefits, and emerging technology presents the capability for immediate intervention.

Telehealth creates an opportunity to reduce overall claim duration by putting an injured worker in touch with a doctor including a prescription or referral to physical therapy when needed. On demand, secure and cost efficient, telehealth offers significant benefits to both payors and patients.

The Doctor Will See You Now

Major healthcare players like Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield are adding telehealth as part of their program standards. This comes as no surprise as multiple studies have found a correlation between improved outcomes and patients taking responsibility for their treatment with communications outside of the doctor’s office. CorVel has launched the new technology within the workers’ compensation industry as part of their service offering.

“Telehealth is an exciting enhancement for the Workers’ Compensation industry and our program. By piloting this new technology with CorVel, we hope to impact our program by streamlining communication and facilitating injured worker care more efficiently,” said one of CorVel’s clients.

SponsoredContent_Corvel“We expect to add convenience for the injured worker while significantly reducing lag times from the injury to initiating treatment. The goal is to continue to merge the ecosystems of providers, injured workers and payors.”

— David Lupinsky, Vice President, Medical Review Services, CorVel Corporation

As with all new solutions, there are some questions about telehealth. Regarding privacy concerns, telehealth is held to the same standards of HIPAA and all similar rules and regulations regarding health information technology and patients’ personal information. Telehealth offers secure, one on one interactions between the doctor and the injured worker, maintaining patient confidentiality.

The integrity of the patient-physician relationship often fuels debates against technology in healthcare. Conversely, telehealth may facilitate the undivided attention patients seek. In office physicians’ actual facetime with patients is continually decreasing, citing an average of eight minutes per patient, according to a 2013 New York Times article. Telehealth may offer an alternative.

Virtual visits last about 10 to 15 minutes, offering more one on one time with physicians than a standard visit. Patients also can physically participate in the physician examination. When consulting with a telehealth physician, the patient can enter their vital signs like heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature and follow physical cues from the doctor to help determine the diagnosis. This gives patients an active role in their treatment.

Additionally, a 2010 BioMed Central Health Services Research Report is helping to dispel any questions regarding telehealth quality of care, stating “91% of health outcomes were as good or better via telehealth.”

Care: On Demand

By leveraging technology, claims professionals can enhance an already proactive claims model. Mobile phones and tablets provide access anywhere an injured worker may be and break previous barriers set by after hours injuries, incidents occurring in rural areas, or being out of a familiar place (i.e. employees in the transportation industry).

With telehealth, CorVel eliminates travel and wait times. The injured worker meets virtually with an in-network physician via his or her computer, smart phone or tablet device.

As most injuries reported in workers’ compensation are musculoskeletal injuries – soft tissue injuries that may not need escalation – the industry can benefit from telehealth since many times the initial physician visit ends with either a pharmacy or physical therapy script.

In CorVel’s model, because all communication is conducted electronically, the physician receives the patient’s information transmitted from the triage nurse via email and/or electronic data feeds. This saves time and eliminates the patient having to sit in a crowded waiting room trying to fill out a form with information they may not know.

Through electronic correspondence, the physician will also be alerted that the injured worker is a workers’ compensation patient with the goal of returning to work, helping to dictate treatment just as it would for an in office doctor.

In the scope of workers’ compensation, active participation in telehealth examinations, accompanied by convenience, is beneficial for payors. As the physician understands return to work goals, they can ensure follow up care like physical therapy is channeled within the network and can also help determine modified duty and other means to assist the patient to return to work quickly.


Convenience Costs Less

Today, convenience can often be synonymous with costly. While it may be believed that an on demand, physician’s visit would cost more than seeing your regular physician; perceptions can be deceiving. One of the goals of telehealth is to provide quality care with convenience and a fair cost.

Telehealth virtual visits cost on average 30% less than brick and mortar doctor’s office visits, according to California state fee schedule. In addition, “health plans and employers see telehealth as a significant cost savings since as many as 10% of virtual visits replace emergency room visits which cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for relatively minor complaints” according to a study by American Well.

“Telehealth is an exciting enhancement for the Workers’ Compensation industry and our program. By piloting this new technology with CorVel, we hope to impact our program by streamlining communication and facilitating injured worker care more efficiently,” said one of CorVel’s clients.

Benefits For All

Substantial evidence supports that better outcomes are produced the sooner an injured worker seeks care. Layered into CorVel’s proactive claims and medical management model, telehealth can upgrade early intervention to immediate intervention and is crucial for program success.

“We expect to add convenience for the injured worker while significantly reducing lag times from the injury to initiating treatment,” said David Lupinsky, Vice President, Medical Review Services.

“The goal is to continue to merge the ecosystems of providers, injured workers and payors.”

With a people first philosophy and an emphasis on immediacy, CorVel’s telehealth services reduce lag time and connect patients to convenient, quality care. It’s a win-win.

This article was produced by CorVel Corporation and not the Risk & Insurance® editorial team.

CorVel is a national provider of risk management solutions for employers, third party administrators, insurance companies and government agencies seeking to control costs and promote positive outcomes.
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