Protect Yourself from Identity Theft This Tax Season

With tax season upon us your personal information is floating around everywhere and identity thieves are working overtime to steal it.  From social security numbers to employer and income information, it’s an identity theft nightmare waiting to happen. Unless, of course, you’re a thief. Then it’s identity theft paradise.

Don’t think it can happen to you?  According to Javelin Strategy and Research, 8.4 million U.S. adults were victims of identity fraud in 2007.

Here are some tips to help you stay safe this tax season:

  • Choose your tax preparer carefully. Ask for referrals from friends and coworkers.
  • Beware of unsolicited emails claiming to be from the IRS. Such emails often contain links that automatically download software designed to steal your passwords and account information.
  • Protect your Social Security number. Don’t give out your Social Security number if it’s not necessary.
  • Guard your mailbox. Your mailbox is a treasure chest for crooks this time of year. If someone gets a hold of your tax forms they’ll know your social security number, your employer and how much money you made last year. If you don’t yet have a locking mailbox, now would be the perfect time to get one.
  • Watch the websites you visit. If you use online tax services, just be sure you are dealing with a legitimate site. Clone websites can be easily set up by scammers with the sole purpose of harvesting your personal information.

Tax season is ripe for identity theft, but you don’t have to be a victim. By keeping the above tips in mind, you can get through tax season without putting yourself at an increased risk of identity theft.

National Council on Compensation Insurance Says Younger Workers Are More Accident Prone

According to a study conducted by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, younger workers have more injuries and illnesses than older workers; but older workers have higher costs per claim. The researchers discovered that age is an important factor in overall claim costs, but the significance of age on claims frequency has lessened. This has been interpreted to mean that age may not play an important role in future frequency trends. However, the relationship between age and claim severities is basically unchanged.

Factors associated with age, such as average wages, claim durations, lump-sum payments, injury diagnoses, and number of medical treatments, comprised a large part of the reason for the differences in the severity of claims between younger and older workers. The differences in wages and duration of claims were the principal reasons for the differences in the amount of payouts between younger and older workers. Differences in wages accounted for approximately one third of the differences in the amount of payout, while the differences in the duration of claims accounted for almost one half the difference.

Older workers experience more high cost injuries, such as injuries to joints like rotator cuffs and knees. These were more commonly experienced by workers aged 45-64.  Workers aged 20-34 more commonly experienced ankle sprains. Carpal tunnel syndrome and injuries to the lower back are among the top 10 diagnoses for workers of all ages. The researchers pointed out that the differences in the types of injuries only comprised about a quarter of the difference in medical severities between younger and older workers. The real factor influencing the difference in medical severities between older and younger workers was the significantly higher number and different mix of treatments within a diagnosis. This alone accounted for 70 percent of the difference.

Less than 10 percent of the difference in medical severities is due to a slightly more costly mix of treatments for older workers. This was reflected in small differences in the average prices of different types of medical services. The greater number and different mix of treatments also contribute to the longer duration of payments for older workers.

As for trends in loss costs, the researchers noted that the baby boomers’ impact was apparent when the data was viewed historically, but the major impact of this aging workforce has probably already occurred and employers should not anticipate that the aging workforce would present a major problem in terms of future claims costs.

Understanding the Benefits of Insurance Scoring

Most people realize their credit affects their ability to get mortgages, car loans, and other types of debt. However, businesses use personal credit histories in many other ways. Employers use it when considering job applicants. Landlords use it to evaluate prospective tenants. Increasingly, insurance companies are using it to develop an “insurance score,” a number that reflects the quality of a customer’s credit history. The companies’ research has shown  that people with good insurance scores tend to submit fewer insurance claims than people with poor credit histories. Because of the predictive value of credit history, many insurers now obtain an applicant’s insurance score during the underwriting process.

Some consumers are concerned about insurers using their credit information in this way. However, the use of scoring actually has many benefits for insurance consumers.

Insurance scoring speeds up the underwriting process. Before insurers began using scoring, underwriting decisions could sometimes take days. Internet technology allows an insurance company to obtain your score within seconds, which cuts the decision time down to just a few minutes. Many insurance agents are able to obtain a company’s approval almost instantly.

Scoring uses the facts about a person’s credit history to enable underwriters to make objective decisions. Scoring does not take into account a person’s race, nationality, gender, marital status, or other factors that the person cannot control. It focuses only on how that person has used credit in the past. The insurance application still asks about factors such as gender and marital status, but the insurer uses those answers only to correctly classify the person and ensure that it charges the proper rate. Scoring looks only at numbers, resulting in decisions that are much fairer. People of widely differing incomes and backgrounds who have similar insurance scores are treated the same way.

Scoring recognizes that a person can make up for past mistakes. Just as he can improve his driving record by becoming a more careful driver, a person can improve his insurance score by reducing debt and making payments on time. Old mistakes lose importance as time passes; scoring gives more weight to recent actions than it does to older ones. As the score improves, the person can benefit from lower rates and more companies interested in insuring him.

Scoring also increases the availability of insurance. Many companies use different pricing “tiers,” built around specific policyholder criteria. Scoring makes the use of tiers easier because it is an objective factor. If a company has five pricing tiers, and an applicant’s score is too low to qualify for the best one, the company might be able offer insurance to that person in one of the other tiers. It gives companies alternatives to simply rejecting the application.

Because scoring is an automated process, it makes the underwriting process more efficient for insurers. This lowers their costs and allows them to charge lower rates. Also, because it allows insurers to more accurately predict losses, they can control their losses and keep their rates lower.

Studies have shown that most people have good credit scores. Because of this, most people benefit from insurance scoring. They pay lower rates for home and auto insurance then they would otherwise. People who want to earn better rates can more easily fix their credit history than they can fix their driving records, which generally keep traffic violations for at least three years. Scoring gives insurance companies another tool to ensure their rates are fair, so that customers more likely to file claims pay more for their insurance.

Knowledge Is Power When It Comes to Keeping Safe Around Power Lines

In an article titled Alarming Statistics: Reducing Common Injuries and Maintaining Safety Practices that appeared in the May 2007 issue of Electrical Contractor, author Darlene Bremer noted that exposure to electricity remains a major cause of death among construction workers. So much so that it accounts for an average of 143 construction worker deaths each year.

Many workers are oblivious to the potential electrical hazards in their work environment, which makes them extremely vulnerable to the danger of electrocution. Sometimes it is a matter of not being familiar with the environment, and not knowing the location of all the energized power sources from overhead and underground power lines.

However, this isn’t always the case. Many instances of electrocution result from workers failing to follow proper safety procedures when working around power lines. The most common cause of electrocutions is when workers using cranes, metal ladders, scaffolds, conveyors, front-end loaders, dump trucks, or other equipment or materials come into contact with an overhead power line. It is not uncommon for workers to die while performing what appears to be an activity that isn’t normally associated with accidents, such as unloading supplies from a truck, or moving ladders from the side of a structure. The problem arises because of poor planning or temporary inattention to surroundings, which causes contact with high voltage.

OSHA has established the following guidelines to help keep you safe when you have to work near power lines:

·   Keep a distance of 10 feet or more between you, your equipment and any power lines.

·   Survey the site for overhead power lines before you begin working.

·   Keep a minimum distance of 10 feet plus 1/2 inch for each 1,000 volts over 50,000 volts between power lines and any part of a crane if the energized power lines are 50,000 volts or more.

·   Request an observer to assist you where it is difficult to maintain the desired clearance by visible means.

·   Be sure that the observer’s only job is to help you maintain the safe clearance.

·   Treat overhead power lines as if they were energized whenever you are working near them.

·   Call the electric company to find out what voltage is on the lines if you are not sure.

·   Ask the electric company to either de-energize and ground the lines or install insulation while you are working near them.

·   Make sure ladders and tools are nonconductive. 

Safety Is the Watch Word When You Choose a New Car

There it is, that shiny new car you’ve had your eye on for the longest time. It finally has a sticker price you can afford, so what’s stopping you from buying it?  Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure your dream car isn’t destined to become a death trap for you and your family.

What safety features should you be looking for when shopping for a new auto? Start with these features:

Air bags.   Front air bags are standard on all new vehicles. Crash sensors connected to a computer react to a collision by triggering the bags. They inflate instantaneously and deflate immediately after the crash.

Antilock brakes.  Prevents wheels from locking up during hard braking, especially on slippery roads. By preventing lock-up, the driver maintains control while braking.

Brake assist.   Senses the speed or force with which the brake pedal is depressed. This allows the computer to decide if the driver is trying to make an emergency stop. If so, it boosts brake pressure.

Traction control.  Limits wheel spin when you accelerate so that the drive wheels have maximum traction. Some traction-control systems only operate at low speeds, while others work regardless of speed.

Safety-belt features.  Adjustable upper anchors for the shoulder belts keep the belt across the chest instead of the neck to prevent neck injuries. Seatbelt pretensioners instantly retract the belts during a frontal impact to keep occupants in the best position for an opening airbag. Force limiters control the force that the shoulder belt builds up on the occupant’s chest.

Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH).  Built-in lower anchors and tether attachment points for compatible child safety seats to be installed without using the vehicle’s safety-belt system.  Required on all new vehicles.

Electronic stability control (ESC).  Keeps the vehicle on course during a turn, to avoid sliding or skidding.

Tire pressure monitor.   Government regulations will eventually require all new vehicles to have a low tire pressure warning system.

Telematics.  By pressing a button the driver can communicate with a central dispatch center, which can track the location of the vehicle on a computer monitor to provide directions or emergency assistance.

Because safety is such a concern, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced a new category for evaluating new cars, the Top Safety Pick. The award is based on the performance of vehicles in a range of crash tests.

Gold award winners included the Ford Five Hundred, the Mercury Montego with optional side air bags; the Saab 9-3; the Subaru Legacy; and the Honda Civic four-door. These cars earned high scores in frontal offset and side impact tests. They also received high marks in a test that monitors seat and head restraints in rear crashes.

Silver award winners were the Audi A6, Audi A3 and Audi A4; the Chevrolet Malibu with optional side air bags; and the Volkswagen Jetta and Passat. These vehicles received top grades in front and side crash tests, and they ranked second highest in seat and head restraint ratings.

Insuring Your Collectibles the Smart Way

If you have spent considerable time and money on a collection you probably want to ensure that it is well protected.  Homeowner’s insurance does not necessarily cover large collections and it is best to find out whether you are covered before an incident of loss, rather than after.  Most homeowner’s policies cover items such as jewelry, stamps or antiques, and value them between $500 and $2,000.  Generally, if your collection is worth more than $3,000 it is a good idea to purchase separate insurance.  Talk to your insurance provider to find out the cost of a specialized policy or ‘floater’ for your collection.  Compare this cost to that of a specialty insurer.

A specialty insurer focuses on fine collectibles and will help you determine what type of insurance is best for you.  Also, specialty insurers may charge less than most homeowner’s insurance rates.  A specialty insurer will also provide more extensive coverage for your collection, such as coverage while in transit, accidental breakage, shipping loss and fumigation from fire damage.

It is important to know what documentation is needed and when it will be required.  Some policies require documentation of the collection at the time of coverage, yet others may only want documentation in case of a claim.  The documentation requirement may be a listing of the items along with pictures, while some companies will accept a videotaped account or may require receipts of purchase.  Specialty insurers generally require an appraisal of your collection.  In some cases, you may underestimate the value of your items, so it is best to consult a qualified appraiser who can assist you in determining and documenting the value for insurance purposes.

Insurance premiums may be less if there is minimal chance of loss.  For example, if you have a valuable collection stored in your home, it might be prudent to install an alarm system.

If you own a valuable collection, make the decision to insure it and allow it to be enjoyed for generations to come.

Should I Repair That Damaged Property or Replace It?

When an individual or business buys property insurance, the primary concern is normally the replacement of the building if a fire completely destroys it. However, in many losses, a portion of the building escapes damage or machinery and equipment may be salvageable. In these situations, the policyholder and the insurance company must decide whether to repair the property or replace it altogether. The policy ordinarily states that the company will do whichever costs less. However, the answer to which costs less can become a gray area, complicated by several factors.

In some situations, the policyholder may want the property replaced, rather than repaired. For example, the business may want to replace equipment because repairing it would void the warranty. It may want to replace damaged products because buyers will be reluctant to purchase refurbished ones. The business may also fear an increased likelihood of product liability claims from these goods.

In some instances, there may be doubt as to whether repair will be less expensive than replacement. Old buildings, especially dwellings that have been converted to commercial use, may have been constructed with materials no longer in common use, such as plaster and lathe. Also, some types of machinery and equipment may be less expensive to replace because the price of a new unit has decreased, but the new unit may lack some features that the business needs.

Local laws or building codes may also affect the decision. Municipal governments often require a building to be torn down if more than a specified percentage of it needs repair, forcing the owner to replace it.

The age of the property or its components is also a factor. In the case of computer equipment, which tends to decline in price over time, replacement may well be the less expensive option. The answer may not be as clear for other types of property, such as construction equipment (assuming the policy covers such equipment for replacement cost.) A 15 year-old bulldozer that suffered damage in a rollover may be repairable, but it may also be near the end of its useful life. The same may be true of the electrical system in a 30 year-old building; perhaps only 20 percent of the wiring suffered damage, but it might be less expensive (and better loss prevention) to update the entire system.

Finally, buildings constructed decades ago may have architectural features, such as gables, atriums, or balconies, which are not important to the owners. Replacing the building with one lacking these features may cost less than repair.

If the policy provides Business Income or Extra Expense coverage, the company must weigh the impact of the repair/replace decision on them. For example, assume that fire has destroyed 60 percent of a building, forcing the business to shut down. Replacing the building with a similar one in a location ten miles away will cost 50 percent more than repairs would, but the business could resume operations there in three months, as opposed to a six-month shutdown if the building is repaired. When the company considers all of the applicable coverages, it may well find that replacement is the less expensive option.

Ultimately, the policyholder must negotiate the repair/replace issue with the insurance company. A business owner who is unhappy with the company’s proposed settlement should follow the steps listed in the policy for contesting it. The firm’s insurance agent can be a valuable ally at claim time, as she is familiar with the process and may be able to intervene on the firm’s behalf. Working together, all parties should be able to decide on an approach that quickly gets the business back to normal.

At What Amount Should I Set my Auto Insurance Deductible?

While almost everyone would like to save on their auto insurance, it can be a big mistake to be penny-smart, dollar-foolish. The dollar amount you set your comprehensive and collision deductibles at will be one of the most important decisions you make during the purchase of auto insurance. In turn, the deductible amounts you set will be one of the main determining factors in the amount of your monthly premium.

Any insurance policy covering comprehensive and/or collision will contain a deductible. Most deductibles are $1,000, $500, $200, or $100 dollars; but deductible amounts do vary by state. Deductibles are the cost you will pay out-of-pocket during an insurance claim. For example, let’s say that your deductible is $500 and you’re involved in an auto accident that causes $4,000 dollars in damage to your vehicle. You will be responsible for paying the initial $500 and the insurance company will then pay the remaining $3,500. On the other hand, if your deductible is $100, then you will only pay $100 before the insurance company pays the remaining $3,900. As you can see, a higher deductible means you pay more out-of-pocket and a lower deductible means you pay less out-of-pocket after an accident. As a general rule, lower premiums are associated with higher deductibles and higher premiums are associated with lower deductibles.

It can be difficult to weigh what premium amount you’re willing to pay now against what deductible amount you’ll be willing to pay for any future claim. Be sure to take into account your comfort level; income, savings, and credit lines; driving history; and your vehicle’s value as you make your decision on the deductible amount.

Choosing a high deductible/low premium or low deductible/high premium will greatly depend on what you can reasonably afford. Imagine that you had an auto accident today – would you have funds from your household income, credit lines, and/or savings to use as your deductible? If so, what financial impact would using funds from these sources have on your family and how much would you be comfortable using to pay the deductible? If the deductible you have in mind (or already in place) is higher than what you have available or feel comfortable using, then it should be lowered. On the other hand, if you have the funds easily available to pay a higher deductible amount, then you can raise the deductible and save money on your premiums.

You also need to ask yourself how much risk you are willing to assume. Will you continue to be prepared to cover the deductible amount you set? If not, are you willing to risk having a high deductible and bet on not getting into an accident?

How often you expect to make a claim on your insurance is another factor to consider. While accidents are unpredictable and no driver wants to think they’re a bad driver, your driving history speaks for itself. If you’ve had a history of frequent fender-benders or accidents, then it could be best for you to opt for the higher premium/lower deductible option. On the other hand, the lower premium/higher deductible could be a better option if your driving record is excellent or only has a few infrequent driving incidents. You might also consult your insurance agent on what the average deductible is for your driving experience and the age of your vehicle.

Don’t forget to review your auto insurance deductible at least once a year. Ask yourself if your financial situation has changed since the deductible was set and if the deductible amount is still something you could comfortably pay if you had an auto accident today.

The bottom line is this: don’t let purchasing car insurance confuse or overwhelm you. Take your time to assess your finances and circumstances to figure out what you feel comfortable with paying on both a monthly basis and at any given time an accident should occur. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to consult your auto insurance agent.

Getting a Handle on Your Insurance Company’s Stability and Strength – A Brief Guide to the Rating Agencies

Long before 9/11, insurer stability was an important but overlooked factor in the insurance purchase decision.   Now, after 9/11, it can no longer take a back seat to issues like coverage or price.  Insurer insolvencies are on the rise as old liabilities such as asbestos come back to haunt some companies, and newer exposures such as corporate scandals, accounting irregularities and toxic mold threaten to keep actuaries busy for years to come.  With the above in mind, how does one factor the financial strength of insurance companies in to the buying decision? 

The answer lies somewhere between Standard & Poors, Moody’s, Duff & Phelps, Fitch and the granddaddy of them all, A.M. Best. All the aforementioned companies provide some kind of measure of insurer stability and financial strength.  All use different scales, different factors and somewhat different terminology in their analyses.  Invariably, all the rating agencies use a mixed bag of criteria to develop their ratings and they all do comprehensive analyses of the companies with a “Readers Digest” version often available online for free. 

Let’s take a quick tour of the A.M. Best rating structure just to get a taste.  As always, your agent is a good source of information regarding the companies you are insured with or contemplating insuring with, but feel free to browse the Best, S & P or any of the other websites for your own edification as well.

A.M. Best (

A.M. Best provides ratings according to financial strength and size.  There are sixteen distinct financial strength ratings which are further boiled down to ten general descriptors, such as “Superior”, “Excellent”, “Very Good”, etc.  It’s worth noting that many in the insurance industry consider anything below “Excellent” to warrant caution, especially if it is the result of a recent downgrading from a higher rating.  Such a downgrading often precedes a further downgrading so it is important to look into the history and see what the rating has been over the past two or three years or longer.

In addition to the above general descriptors, there are further categorizations within the A.M. Best rating structure.  The “Superior”, “Excellent” and “Very Good” rating descriptors and their respective ratings all comprise the “Secure” category of ratings.  Everything else gets lumped into the “Vulnerable” category.

A.M. Best also has financial size categories that measure the company according to factors such as statutory surplus, a measure of the capacity of the company to pay claims.  Larger companies with higher statutory surplus will end up on the higher end of the scale, which tops off at XV (15) while smaller, less well-heeled companies will end up on the lower end, starting at I or 1.   A company with an A++(XV) rating by A.M. Best receives top honors and would appear to be the “best” bet for the long haul.  Though financial stability is an important factor, other factors, like a good reputation for paying claims should weigh in the decision making process.  Again, talk to your agent and find out more about the companies you are considering purchasing coverage from.  They will be happy to give you insight into the history of the company and point you in the right direction to access available resources to help you make an informed decision.  While there are no crystal balls that can predict the future outlook for your insurer of choice, there are certainly benefits to making an informed purchase decision. 

Study Shows Driving while Drowsy is Dangerous

The Prevalence and Impact of Drowsy Driving, a brand new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, indicates that two in every five surveyed drivers admit that they have fallen asleep at some point in time while driving. Of those drivers responding in the survey, over a quarter admitted being so sleepy as to have had difficulty keeping their eyes open during their past month of driving time.

The study was partly based on the responses that 2,000 Americans gave to telephone surveys. According to the responses, researchers found that one in ten drivers reported falling asleep in the past year of driving. The researchers pointed out that one of the biggest mistakes made by drivers is simply underestimating just how tired they really are and overestimating their capability of dealing with tiredness while driving.

Another portion of the analyzed data was derived from crash data that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) collected during 2008 and 1999. From this data, researchers estimated that 16.5% or around one in every six fatal road and highway crashes involved someone driving while drowsy. More than half of all driving while drowsy accidents involved a single vehicle leaving its appropriate traveling lane. It further found that lane departure accidents were almost seven time more likely than alternative types of drowsy driver crashes. Thirteen percent or around one in every eight of road and highway vehicle crashes required hospitalization. Other interesting statistics among crash-involved drivers include:

* Men were 61% more likely than women to have been drowsy.

* Those drivers under 25-years-old were 78% more likely to be drowsy than their counterparts over 40- years-old.

* Single drivers were 81% more likely to have been drowsy than those with a passenger.

Researchers say that the main component is attitude, as there seems to be an overwhelming amount of drivers that are indifferent or complacent about driving safety; highway and roadway crashes and tragedy are seemingly acceptable and thought of as the price to be paid for enjoying the extensive mobility afforded to Americans. There doesn’t seem to be any consideration by drowsy drivers toward the fact that they are not only placing themselves at a risk, but putting every single person on American roadways and highways at risk too.

In relation to travel, experts suggest starting off early and getting a good night’s sleep instead of starting extended travel following a regular work day. Using common sense about driving and tiredness is also recommended – if tired, don’t start driving and if driving tired, do whatever necessary to remove oneself from the roadway until rest is obtained.

Naturally Occurring Substances Can Expose Construction Firms to Environmental Liability

What do silica, mercury, arsenic, pyrite, and asbestos have in common? They all are recognized as toxic substances, or contain toxic substances as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Their very presence on a construction site presents a serious exposure for a construction contractor.

There are potentially hazardous consequences when these toxic substances are uncovered during construction:

·   Mercury – is a human neurotoxin; meaning it acts specifically on neurons or nerve cells. It is most hazardous to developing fetuses and small children. Eating mercury-contaminated fish is the way most humans become exposed. When mercury enters water, certain conditions can cause it to convert to methyl mercury. Methyl mercury is ingested by aquatic creatures and becomes more concentrated as it moves along the food chain. Humans receive the highest forms of concentration because they are at the end of this food chain.

·   Pyrite – has a high sulfur content, which if exposed to oxygen or water will form sulfuric acid. When a construction project releases significant amounts of pyrite into the surrounding area, it can result in high amounts of acid drainage, which enters surrounding bodies of water. The acid drainage contaminates streams and water wells of area residents.

·   Asbestos – has little or no impact on the environment and human health if left undisturbed. However, when construction releases natural asbestos fibers into the atmosphere, it exposes workers and residents of the surrounding area to respiratory hazards. Asbestos is known to cause cancer of the lungs and of the lining of internal organs.

·   Silica – is most dangerous in the crystalline form known as silicon dioxide. People who have been exposed to silica and contract silica-related respiratory conditions usually have inhaled tridymite or crystobalite contained in the dust released during construction. Although all forms of crystalline silica are different in chemical structure, all can eventually be deadly.

·   Arsenic – has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate. Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis, and blindness.

What specific implications does the presence of these toxic substances have on environmental liability insurance?  Many of these policies contain wording that excludes these naturally occurring substances from the coverage. In Contractor’s Pollution Liability Insurance (CPL), there are several ways exposure to naturally occurring hazards may be excluded. For example, the insurer could include a specific exclusion for naturally occurring substances in the exclusions section of the policy. No coverage would apply to claims based upon any naturally occurring substances in their unaltered form, or in an altered form due to naturally occurring processes.

A second way to exclude these substances from coverage is to exclude them by definition. In the policy’s definition of covered pollution conditions, the definition does not include naturally occurring substances. Pollution conditions are defined as the emission, discharge, dispersal, release or escape of pollutants, which are not naturally occurring. This negates coverage for these substances.

Does this mean you shouldn’t purchase a CPL policy? The answer to that question would be “no.” There are a number of different policy forms. Talk to your insurance agent to get the one that is best suited to your needs.

It’s My Condominium, Do I Need Coverage?

Owning a condominium is a cross between being a homeowner and being a renter.  The unit you purchased belongs to you, but you are still subject to the by-laws of the association that runs the entire complex.  That puts you smack dab in the middle when it comes to insurance coverage.

Generally speaking, the condo association will have a master insurance policy that covers general liability for the physical structure and physical damage to the common areas that you share with all of the other unit owners.  Keep in mind that while you are covered under the master policy, it is only for these specific instances.  It is important that you determine which structural parts of your condo are covered by the association’s master policy and which are not.

You also need your own coverage to protect you in the event you lose your possessions.  You may also want to obtain coverage for third party injury liability within your unit, property damage to another unit that is caused by you, the loss of structural improvements that you have made to the unit, and additional living expenses that result from having to move out of your unit temporarily.

When you purchase individual coverage, keep in mind that premiums, types of coverage, and limits are affected by factors such as your geographic region and credit score.  Talk to your insurance agent about what discounts the company offers for such items as installing smoke detectors and dead bolt locks, purchasing insurance for both your condo and your car with same company, and maintaining your home as a non-smoking environment.  Also, if you want to lower your annual premium, you may consider raising your deductible; however, if you choose a higher deductible, you will pay for smaller claims out-of-pocket.  Handling smaller claims yourself is a good practice under any circumstances because too many small claims can raise your rates significantly.

Make sure your personal policy includes liability coverage even though you are covered under the general liability coverage in the master policy.  You need liability coverage to protect yourself in the event of accidents to guests that occur within the confines of your dwelling.  You could also be liable if an action of yours inadvertently causes damage to the physical structure or to common areas.  The condo association may have insurance coverage, but if you were negligent, they can and will seek redress from you.

When you are reviewing the actual coverage, keep in mind two important considerations.  When given the option of replacement coverage or actual cash value coverage, choose the former.  Cash value is cheaper, but you will pay for that savings down the road if something happens to your possessions.  Actual cash value policies reimburse you for what you paid for the items, minus depreciation.  With replacement insurance, you are reimbursed for what it will cost to replace your possessions at today’s market value.

The second consideration is coverage for loss of use.  This reimburses you for the expense of a hotel room or other temporary accommodation if you’re temporarily forced out of your home.  Loss of use coverage is usually limited to 20% of the personal property limits on your policy. 

Study Shows SUVs Are Not Safer for Kids

If you have children, you are always on the alert for products that will keep them healthy or safe.  Keeping this in mind, ad agencies for the top automobile makers design their commercials to tout just how safe your children will be on the road while riding in their clients’ cars.  The safety factor has usually been a great gimmick, especially when it came to the SUV.  Well, not any more.

A new study from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia states that children riding in SUVs have the same injury risks as children riding in passenger cars.  The study was published in the January 2006 edition of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  The researchers concluded that an SUV has a greater chance of rolling over during a crash and that this liability outweighed the safety benefits derived from riding in a larger, heavier-weight vehicle.  The doctors who conducted the study justified the necessity for their research because of the growing popularity of SUVs and their increased use as family vehicles.  They added that due to the large size of SUVs, many parents perceived them as safer family vehicles, even though not much is known about child safety in SUVs compared to passenger cars.  The objective of the study was to compare the potential risk of injury to children involved in SUV crashes with children involved in crashes in passenger cars.

This study, which is part of a continuing collaboration between Children’s Hospital and State Farm Insurance Companies, examined State Farm’s crash records involving 3,933 children between the ages of 0 and 15 years, who were riding in either 1998 or newer SUVs or passenger cars.  They found that rollover was a major factor in the risk of injury in both types of vehicles.  They also discovered that rollover occurred twice as frequently in SUVs as in the passenger cars.  Children who experienced rollover crashes were three times more likely to be injured than children who were not involved in a rollover.

The research went on to note that children who were not properly strapped into a car seat, booster seat or wearing a seatbelt during an SUV rollover had 25 times greater risk for injury than children who were appropriately restrained.  Almost 41 percent of all the children who were not appropriately restrained suffered a serious injury.  By comparison, only three percent of appropriately restrained children in SUVs were injured, and less than two percent of appropriately restrained children in passenger cars were hurt.

In a study conducted in 2005, Children’s Hospital discovered that State Farm crashes involving children riding in SUVs increased from 15 percent in 1999 to 26 percent in 2004.  The percentage of crashes involving children riding in passenger cars decreased from 54 percent in 1999 to 43 percent in 2004.

Improving Air Quality Protects Welders’ Health

Airborne particles pose significant potential health hazards for welders. That’s because there’s a co-relation between the chemical and physical properties of airborne particles and respiratory diseases. Protecting these workers from inhaling particles is key to protecting their health.

The greatest risk comes from particles that are between 1 and 100 microns in diameter, such as dust produced during industrial processes like welding and grinding. These particles are able to work their way through the nose and throat and penetrate the gas exchange region of the lungs where they settle, causing inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels.  Inhaling these particles over the long-term can lead to lung cancer.

Lung cancer begins with changes in the lungs that are characterized by the development of abnormal cells on the lining of the bronchi, the large air tubes that carry air to and from the lungs. These cells multiply with continued exposure and eventually become cancerous, and develop into tumors. Symptoms of lung cancer include chronic cough, hoarseness, chest pain, shortness of breath and numerous episodes of bronchitis and pneumonia.

Another less serious exposure-related illness that affects welders is metal fever. This is an acute allergic condition that causes headache, fever, chills, muscle aches, thirst, nausea, vomiting, chest soreness, gastrointestinal pain, and weakness. These symptoms usually last from 6-24 hours and complete recovery happens within 48 hours.

To prevent workers from contracting illnesses associated with airborne particles, it is imperative that the workplace offers adequate ventilation that removes contaminants generated during the welding process. The most effective way to accomplish this is through a combination of dilution ventilation and local exhaust ventilation techniques.

Dilution ventilation is used to decontaminate air in a whole building or room by blowing in large amounts of clean air and exhausting dirty air. This process dilutes the concentration of contaminants within the air to less dangerous levels. The most common methods of dilution ventilation include roof exhaust fans and wall fans.

One significant drawback of this method is that it allows the contaminants to enter the welder’s breathing zone before they are removed from the environment. If used exclusively, dilution ventilation may not be adequate to control exposure. For best results, dilution ventilation should be used in combination with local exhaust ventilation. This method captures contaminates at or very near the source and exhausts them outside.

Some welding equipment includes local exhaust ventilation, which removes the contaminates at the point of origin. Other local exhaust ventilation systems include a hood that can be placed as near as practical to the work being welded and provided with an airflow in the direction of the hood, or a fixed enclosure with a top and at least two sides that surround the welding work and provided with an airflow away from the enclosure.

Local exhaust ventilation prevent contaminates from entering the welder’s breathing zone. In addition to being discharged outside the building, local exhaust can be re-circulated through an air cleaner.

Ensure Your Boating Experience Is a Real Pleasure Cruise

Published reports from the U.S. Coast Guard show that boating deaths and injuries increased for the second consecutive year in 2006. Aside from the disturbing trend in boating deaths, the biggest change was actually in the amount of property damage, $43 million in 2006 as compared with $38 million in 2005.

These statistics should serve as a powerful reminder to all watercraft owners to review their insurance coverage. Owners of canoes, small sailboats, and small engine powerboats generally have limited coverage for physical damage included with their homeowner’s insurance policy, but liability coverage has to be added as a policy endorsement. Physical damage coverage is typically equal to 10 percent or less of their home’s property value. If you find the coverage limits offered by your homeowner’s policy to be insufficient, you’ll likely need a separate boat insurance policy.

Since no coverage exists under a homeowner’s policy for larger boats, yachts, jet skis and wave runners, a separate boat insurance policy is a must. Coverage for physical damage includes the hull, machinery, fittings, furnishings and permanently attached equipment up to pre-determined amount. Such policies also provide additional protection for:

  • Injuries to another person
  • Damage to someone else’s property
  • Legal expenses incurred by someone using the boat with the owner’s permission
  • Injuries to the boat owner and other passengers

Even though you may have solid insurance coverage, the Insurance Information Institute (III) offers the following suggestions to help you avoid having to file a claim:

    1. Check weather forecasts before heading out.
    2. Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
    3. Check engine, fuel, electrical and steering systems, especially for exhaust-system leaks.
    4. Carry one or more fire extinguishers, matched to the size and type of boat. Keep them readily accessible and in condition for immediate use.
    5. Equip the vessel with required navigation lights and with a whistle, horn or bell.
    6. Don’t overload. Distribute weight evenly.
    7. Don’t stand up or shift weight suddenly in a small boat; and don’t permit riding on the bow, seatbacks or gunwales.
    8. Be sure you bring paddles or oars, a first-aid kit, a supply of fresh water, a tool kit and spare parts, a flashlight, flares and a radio.
    9. Make sure that every person on board wears a life jacket.
    10. Never operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Ten Ways to Protect Vacant Buildings

A slowdown in the economy leads to business cutbacks and closings, which ultimately results in vacant buildings. According to real estate firm CB Richard Ellis, the 2007-09 recession increased the average vacancy rate for offices to 17 percent nationwide; nearly 10 percent of retail spaces were vacant. When buildings contain no occupants or personal property, they become susceptible to a variety of problems. There are approximately 31,000 fires in vacant buildings annually, resulting in dozens of deaths, hundreds of firefighter injuries, and an average $642 million in property damage.

Vacant buildings receive little or no maintenance, attention, or security. This can lead to problems such as:

* With no security on the premises, the building becomes a target for vandals. Vacant buildings frequently wind up with broken windows and graffiti-covered walls.

* Fixtures and materials inside the building, such as copper piping, may attract thieves.

* Vacant buildings can become convenient hang-outs for young people or shelters for homeless people; they also can become centers of criminal activity such as drug dealing.

* Trespassers smoking on the premises, decayed wiring, arson, and production of illegal drugs like methamphetamines may cause fires in vacant buildings. In addition, automatic sprinkler systems may be shut off, allowing fires to spread, and lack of security prevents early detection.

* Toxic substances remaining on the premises may leak and contaminate soil and groundwater.


Owners of vacant properties can take many steps to prevent these problems or make them less likely.

* Visit the property at least weekly or hire a property management company to do so.

* Clear the exterior of the building of scrap wood, paper, cardboard, and brush.

* Remove any toxic substances that could contaminate the area or harm police or firefighters.

* Maintain sidewalks and parking areas in good condition, and clear them of snow and ice.

* Erect obstacles to keep vehicles and pedestrians out of the parking areas.

* Hire security guards to watch the building at night and have exterior lighting turned on.

* Maintain the heat or drain the plumbing system to keep pipes from bursting, but maintain at least a minimum temperature in areas protected by automatic sprinkler systems.

* Maintain electricity to emergency lighting and exit signs.

* Shut off utilities except where necessary to power desired lighting and alarm systems.

* Maintain fire detection systems and link them to a central station monitoring service.

Buildings that are more than 69 percent vacant for more than 60 days lose some important insurance coverage. The standard commercial property insurance policy reduces loss payments by 15 percent for most causes of loss and does not cover others at all, including vandalism, water damage, glass breakage, and theft. For an additional premium, the building owner may be able to purchase vacancy permit coverage which reinstates some or all of this coverage for a specific period of time. An alternative, vacancy changes coverage, can reduce the minimum occupancy that the building must have before the insurance company will consider it vacant from the standard 31 percent. A professional insurance agent can identify companies that are willing to provide these coverages.

A vacant building is never a good situation, but with the proper precautions, the owner can maintain its value and keep it secure until new tenants move in.

Who Rates Insurance Companies – Finding the Best

It’s no longer enough to choose an insurance company simply because they offer what appears to be the best coverage or lowest rates. You also have to know the financial security of the company especially in these challenging economic times when even the largest companies might be teetering on the edge of insolvency.

Additionally, you want to know something about the company’s track record when it comes to paying claims and overall customer satisfaction. Not all insurance companies are the same and you should take a hard look at your prospective insurer before handing over a big premium check.

How can you find this information? Well, it’s easier than you think because there are several major companies that rate insurance companies. Each offers a detailed rating service and most of these services are free.

The rating system for each of these rating companies is based on a letter grade system such as “AAA”, through “NR.” However, you should note that there are both subtle and significant differences in the letter grade system. A “C” rating might mean an average score for one rating company but might also suggest the insurance company is experiencing significant financial challenges with a different insurance rating company. Make sure you fully understand the rating system for each of the companies before jumping to an erroneous conclusion.

Some rating companies only rate the top 200 insurers, while others offer more comprehensive data.

Here is a brief summary of the major companies which rate insurance companies. 

1. A.M.

This rating agency is the only one which specializes in banking and insurance companies, reinsurers and covers the total insurance market spectrum including international markets such as the U.K and Canada. Also offers a comprehensive article base and in depth commentary.

2. Fitch Inc. –

Provides a global rating service on insurance products through combining both local and international expertise on contemporary insurance issues and trends. Also offers a monthly newsletter dealing with specific insurance issues called “Insurance Insights.”

3. Moody’s Investor Services –

You have to register to log in with this company before you can access their info. Covers title insurers, life, mortgage and property and casualty. Mainly focused on the financial health and outlook of insurance companies and overall realm of the financial market.

4. Standard & Poor’s –

Must be a subscriber. Offers international rating services on property and casualty, life, annuities, health, title, mortgage, bond and reinsurance. Rating services include link market solutions and both the derivative product and financial subsidiaries.

Self-Insured Retentions vs. Deductibles: Your Skin in the Game

Self-insured retentions (SIR) and deductibles are the two conventional mechanisms insureds use to reduce both premiums and loss ratios in liability policies.  Those insureds must strike several careful balances in order to sustain affordable coverage while protecting assets.

First, an insured must analyze cash flow and balance sheet statements in order to make an informed decision as to which approach, if either, is best.  Using either simply to reduce premiums is foolish, and could prove to be very dangerous.

A self-insured retention means that the insured carries a fixed amount of risk, including adjusting and legal expenses.  The insurance policy, whether a primary or umbrella contract, is excess coverage above the SIR.  The insurance carrier will impose reporting requirements on the insured in order to monitor the development of claims that may impact the liability limit to which the company is exposed.  For example, the insured, typically, must report claims that involve fatalities, amputations, third-degree burns, brain injuries, and any other claim for which the insured sets a reserve of 25% or more of the SIR amount.  The carrier will require that adequate, proven risk management staff be in place, whether native or contracted.  SIRs are rarely smaller than $100K, and can be $1M, $3M or higher for large companies with good controls and substantial liquid assets.  Some states have legislation in place to regulate such “attachment point” business.

Finally, the SIR normally has no effect on the amount of insurance available under a liability policy.  Such tools are available, though, with permission for company intervention, in which case the form-they are unique as to carrier and insured-may provide for loss adjusting and defense expenses that do not erode the insured’s liability.  In other words, if the carrier chooses to “drop down,” and take over management of a given claim, those expenses fall on the carrier even though the claim may settle within the SIR.

A deductible, on the other hand, is a portion of an insured loss borne by the insured.  The carrier will typically pay the entire claim, and then be reimbursed by the insured.  Unlike an SIR, a deductible erodes the limit of liability in the insurance policy.  A policy with a $1M limit of liability and a $25K deductible, then, exposes the carrier to $975K.  Loss adjusting and legal expenses typically further erode the limit.

Deductibles are commonly used with risks that have a frequency of smaller claims.  Daily auto rental or taxicab fleets (lots of minor fender benders), contractors with multiple job sites, supermarket chains (lots of slip-and-fall activity)-are typical of the kinds of risks that can benefit from deductible treatments.  Deductibles almost always include loss adjusting and defense expenses.  All claims are reported per the policy’s terms, and the carrier is involved in the adjusting process immediately.

Collateral instruments for these management tools include escrow accounts, by which the insured maintains a cash reserve with the insurance company (which may or may not pay interest on it), and evergreen letters of credit.  Escrow accounts are more frequently used with frequency-prone risks (think deductible), while a letter of credit is typically more suitable to an insured that carries a substantial SIR.

While the fine points these mechanisms provide differ in practice, their common goal is to reduce loss ratios and premiums for quality insureds who pay attention to their own risk/reward postures, and who share the character and values of the carriers that provide their coverages.  An insured that has the ability to manage claims, and to therefore manage risk, should be very attractive whatever the condition of the insurance market.

The Best Defense Against Mold Is a Good Offense

Recent natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina have once again put mold in the spotlight.  And since flooding can occur in the winter due to the abundance of melting snow and heavy rains, homeowners need to familiarize themselves with the steps to eliminate mold from their homes.

First, it is important to understand the reasons to keep your home mold free.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, exposure to mold poses a potential health risk.  People with mold sensitivity can find themselves with a stuffy nose, irritated eyes, wheezing, or skin irritation.  Those with mold allergies can have difficulty breathing and experience shortness of breath.  If someone with a weakened immune system or chronic lung disease is exposed to mold, they can develop mold infections in their lungs.  The point is to eliminate the problem before it becomes a health issue.

As we know, mold develops because of excessive moisture, so the key to prevention is to identify and eliminate moisture from developing in the first place.  The Insurance Information Institute recommends that homeowners take the following precautions:

Reduce humidity in your home

·    Keep the humidity level in your home between 30 and 60 percent by using air conditioners or dehumidifiers.

·    Use exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms.

·    Never install carpets in damp areas, such as basements or bathrooms.

·    Never let water accumulate under houseplants.

Use mold-reducing products

·    Clean bathrooms with bleach or other mold-eliminating products.

·    Add mold inhibitors to paint before application.

Keep your home and belongings dry

·    Fix leaky pipes, faucets and hoses.

·    Keep gutters free of leaves and other debris.

·    Maintain your roof to prevent water from seeping into your home.

Be careful after a flood or other water damage

·    Properly dry or remove soaked carpets, padding and upholstery within 24 to 48 hours after a flood to prevent mold growth.  Anything that cannot be properly dried should be discarded.

·    Remove standing water as quickly as possible.  Standing water is a breeding ground for microorganisms, which can become airborne and inhaled.

·    Wash and disinfect with bleach, or other mold-eliminating products, all areas that have been flooded.  This includes walls, floors, closets and shelves, as well as heating and air-conditioning systems.

If you find that despite your best efforts you have mold problems, there are two options to remediate the situation.  The first is to clean it yourself.  If you choose this option, you should limit your own exposure to the mold and its spores.  The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you wear certain protective gear during cleanup, most importantly an N-95 respirator, which can be purchased at most hardware stores.  Some N-95 respirators look like a paper dust mask with a nozzle on the front, while another popular style is made of plastic or rubber and has a removable cartridge that traps the mold spores.  No matter what style you use, in order to be effective, the respirator must fit properly.

The second item the EPA recommends is a pair of long gloves that extend to the middle of your forearm.  If you are using a mild detergent, ordinary household rubber gloves are fine.  If you are using a disinfectant, chlorine bleach, or other strong cleaning solution, you should use gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, or PVC.  The third protective piece of equipment you should wear are goggles without ventilation holes. 

If there are still signs of mold after cleaning or if the mold returns, you should choose the second option and have the area cleaned by professionals who specialize in mold removal.

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. 

Is Your Cyber-Policy Really Covering Your Technology-Related Exposures?

As businesses become increasingly reliant on technology to store sensitive information, the incidences of security breaches are becoming more prevalent. Each security breach increases the risk that a lawsuit or regulatory action could financially ruin a company and permanently damage its reputation. The situation is so bad, that some retailers and financial institutions targeted by litigation and regulatory actions are trying to hold their technology vendors accountable so they can transfer some of the fallout.

Many companies find themselves financial victims because they don’t buy insurance that addresses the many exposures related to security breaches. In some instances, a breach can trigger the need for a number of coverages, including crime, errors and omissions, employment practices liability, general liability, property and directors and officers liability. The so-called “cyber” policies address only one aspect of the exposure, the theft of information, money and identities through the Internet. That’s because these are major problems that are on the rise. According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, since February 2005, there have been more than 260 major security breaches involving nearly 100 million personal records. But if a company has only this basic coverage, they may not be prepared if disaster strikes. They should consider a more company-wide approach that includes insurance coverage for all possible exposures associated with a breach.

At the very least, your cyber policy should provide coverage in the following general risk areas:

·   Defense Coverage – Some policies limit the insurer’s duty to defend to actual lawsuits. That means that the insurer isn’t required to defend the insured against a claim, which may or may not result in a lawsuit. Others extend the duty to defend to all claims. You should look for the provision to defend against all claims in a cyber policy. You also need to review the policy in terms of who has the right to choose the attorney who will defend the claim. Many insurers can provide a choice of counsel provision that allows the company to make that choice. Talk to your insurer about having this provision incorporated into your policy.

·   Business-to-Business Coverage vs. Business-to-Consumer Coverage – If you want coverage for either or both of these risks, you have to make this known to your insurer. You need to be sure that the various exclusions and/or conditions necessary to minimize gaps in either coverage are present in your policy. These include electric/mechanical breakdown exclusion; breach of security exclusion; bodily injury/property damage exclusion; and employee malicious conduct exclusion.

·   Intellectual Property Infringement Coverage – All cyber insurance policies provide some level of intellectual property infringement coverage. However, some policies offer less coverage than others. Some even exclude coverage for software copyright infringement. Review the policy before you purchase to understand how much protection you have in this area. Most insurers are willing to insure software copyright infringement risk for an additional premium.

Remember, cyber insurance is like health insurance, you should customize your coverage to suit your company’s needs. Your best defense is to talk with your insurance agent to develop a plan that is right for you.

Do I Need to Make an Accident Report?

The first few moments following an auto accident can be an extremely confusing, emotional, and frightening time. As such, it may be difficult to know what accidents need to be reported and what your insurance may require.

There are some types of accidents that will always need a response from one of the local law enforcement departments, such as Highway Patrol, Police, or Sheriff. Each law enforcement department will have a jurisdiction, meaning that which department responds and takes the report will depend on where the accident occurred. For example, an accident within the city limits will most always be handled by the Police. Regardless of the responding department, you should always make a report when an auto accident involves elements like an injured person, severe damage to any vehicle, and/or a driver flees the scene of the accident.

Your insurance company may also require you stay on the scene and report the accident, even in cases where the other driver flees the scene of the accident. Some insurers will accept a counter report. A counter report may be provided by the responding officer for you to fill out, or you might need to go to the nearest station to complete the form off scene. Counter reports are fairly commonplace in larger jurisdictions when the responding officer sees that the vehicles involved are still in working order and no one is injured. In any event, just make sure to remember to get a copy of the counter report for your insurance carrier.

Even if the accident doesn’t involve one of the above elements, there are certain situations where it can be very helpful to have a law enforcement response and accident report. For example, the other driver might admit blame and offer you cash for your damages, but refuse to give you his/her insurance information or contact information. Even if the other driver does offer you his personal contact information in such a situation, you still have no way of knowing if the information being provided is factual. Another example would be you forgetting to collect all the important information and crucial details of the accident because you’re stressed or confused from the accident.

Making a police report can be very helpful in any of these situations since it will involve the law enforcement officer collecting/verifying the driver’s name, address, phone number, car tag, insurance information, accident details, injury details, and so forth. Basically, most any detail that would be needed in court or by the insurance adjuster will be documented in the police report.

Lastly, even though a police report will be necessary or needed for many accidents, you should still always try to remember to write down all the information yourself. Depending on the jurisdiction, it can often take weeks to months for the insurance adjuster to request and obtain a copy of the accident report. On the other hand, the adjuster can initiate the investigation immediately when you’re able to provide the insurance information on the other driver(s).

A Whipping Hose Is a Preventable Safety Hazard

Pressurized hoses are used on the jobsite everyday to run tools like paint sprayers and nail guns.  While the tools they power can make a worker’s job much easier, the hoses themselves can be dangerous if handled improperly.  The hoses derive power from the liquid or gas that moves inside them; however, that power also creates a reactive force.  If the force is strong enough, it can cause the hose to whip, possibly causing serious injury if it strikes a worker and even additonal hazards, like a chemical spill.   

The following tips can help you prevent hose whipping hazards:

  • Inspect hoses for torn outer jackets, damaged inner reinforcing, or soft spots before using them. Hoses with these types of damage should be removed from service.
  • Reduce the pressure in the hose to a lower level if possible. Setting pressure regulators to 30 psi or less can minimize the possibility of the hose whipping.
  • Avoid making sharp bends in the hose, which can damage the reinforcement.
  • Don’t jerk on a hose that has become snagged as this can cause ruptures. Find the object the hose is caught on, and release it there.
  • Restrain pressurized hoses that are unavoidably located near other employees with guards that are strong enough to keep the hoses in place if a leak or rupture occurs.
  • Use solid lines with tight fittings if possible instead of flexible hoses when working near other employees. Solid lines do not whip or leak as readily as flexible hoses, which can develop leaks from vibration, pressure cycles and aging.
  • Examine the connections on pressurized hoses frequently to prevent any accidental detachment of the line, which would result in uncontrollable whipping. Hose clamps with a restraining chain should be used to minimize the whipping effect if hose connections should accidentally become loose.
  • Pin the two sides of the hose’s twist type fitting together using the lugs provided. Be sure these fittings are fully secured.
  • Use the safety device at the air supply to reduce the pressure in the event of a hose failure. This device is standard on all hoses that are ½ inch in diameter or larger. If the hose you’re using doesn’t have this device, lash the two ends of the hose together to restrict whipping.
  • Never connect or disconnect pressurized hoses, always depressurize first.
  • Don’t stop the airflow in a hose by bending or crimping with pliers as this could cause major hose damage.
  • Stand clear of potential rupture points when conducting hose pressure tests. During testing, the pressure should be increased gradually with a brief pause between each increase. Instruments for reading pressures should be arranged so they are clearly visible at all times.

Beware of the Scam of Fake Auto Accidents

Many think of fraud as a non-violent type of crime. In reality, vehicle insurance scams, including the staged traffic accident, are far from non-violent. Aside from costing honest consumers hundreds to thousands of dollars in added insurance premiums, this steadily growing form of fraud has resulted in countless injuries and deaths to the innocent victims of the scams.  In fact, data from the NICB (National Insurance Crime Bureau) shows that staged traffic accidents have rapidly become a leading source of insurance fraud across the U.S.

How Does It Work?

These criminally staged collisions frequently involve several suspects driving a car. The victim is the driver of another vehicle that’s being targeted by the suspects staging the collision for their own financial gain.

The suspects will most often use one of two techniques:

1. Swoop and Squat

Two or more suspects drive two different vehicles. They target an unsuspecting vehicle, most often an older model that only contains one victim. This is done so that there will not be any witnesses to the collision. The one or two suspects in the squat vehicle position their car in front of the vehicle driven by the victim. They slow to create a smaller space gap between themselves and their victim. Then, the swoop vehicle suddenly changes lanes to cut in front of the squat, thereby causing the squat vehicle to throw on breaks and stop. As a result, the innocent victim rear-ends the squat. Meanwhile, the swoop vehicle is long gone and the squat vehicle is claiming that an unknown vehicle cut them off and forced them to brake.

2. The Drive Down or Wave On

In this version, the suspect(s) are stopped at the entrance to a parking lot or an intersection. They wave on or yield the right-of-way to the victim. When the victim proceeds, the suspect intentionally accelerates to collide with the victim.

What Can Drivers Do To Reduce The Risk Of Being A Victim?

* Stay aware of your surroundings, paying close attention to what the vehicles several in front, behind, and beside you are doing and maintaining sufficient room between you and all other vehicles.

* Use caution when making a turn in front of another vehicle, even if they yield the right-of-way.

* Since suspects tend to look for innocent drivers that accidentally cross the center line and then sideswipe them, pay close attention to staying within the lines of a lane.

* After any accident, count the number of passengers and get their personal information. You may find that more people are listed on the insurance claim than actually in the accident.

* Avoid driving when you’re stressed; preoccupied with a cell phone, map, or food; or lethargic. All of these lessen the care at which you drive and your concentration abilities, thereby increasing your vulnerability.

* Have a camera in your vehicle to take photos of the scene, license plates, and the occupants of the other vehicle you have an accident with.

* Always call the police and get a copy of the police report. If the damage to the other car is minor, then ask the officer to specify this on the report, as this will make it more difficult for the other party to create more damage for a larger claim.

* Alert the authorities if you feel the accident was staged.

In closing, these staged traffic accidents often have criminal elements that reach far beyond just the suspected drivers. It’s often a criminal collaboration between unscrupulous doctors and attorneys that willingly and knowingly assist in the fraudulent insurance claim process.

Plan Now for the Disaster That Will Hit Your Business

Disaster can strike a business in a multitude of ways. Businesses located near the coast from Texas to Maine are highly susceptible to hurricane damage. Fires and explosions can devastate buildings regardless of where they’re located. A building need not be the target of a terrorist attack to feel its effects, as many business owners discovered after the September 11 attacks. After a catastrophic event, evaluating the damage to the facilities quickly and accurately is essential for both insurance recovery purposes and for getting back into operation as soon as possible.

The business must do much of the important work before the disaster occurs. Identifying the facilities and equipment at risk is the first step. For a small business with one or two locations, this may be obvious; for a larger business with operations in many states and localities, the question may be more complex. Some locations may be in earthquake-prone areas, while others may be relatively safe from natural disasters. Such businesses must evaluate the worst-case scenario for any one event and plan around that.

Businesses must also address the question of who will do the evaluating. After a disaster, some members of the group may be injured or otherwise unable to reach the scene because of the severity of the damage or law enforcement restrictions. Therefore, the list should include several names with multiple people able to fill each role. The business should also have a written communications plan for reaching members of the group, including all of their phone numbers (both land lines and cellular), e-mail addresses, and each person’s emergency contact information.

The more information a business has about its property after a loss, the better. Therefore, it should assemble multiple copies of documents such as architectural drawings, appraisals, inspection reports, maintenance records, and others. The business should store documents in several locations and media so that backups exist should one set be destroyed. Members of the disaster recovery team should survey each location, identifying special features, key processes, characteristics that increase the building’s vulnerability to a particular threat, and equipment that will be difficult to replace.

It is often helpful to have members of the local police and fire departments tour the building and meet with personnel to discuss disaster planning. They may identify weaknesses in the plan or deficiencies in the building that the disaster recovery group missed. Also, the more familiar they are with the building before a loss, the better able they will be to respond after it.

After a disaster occurs, the disaster team coordinator should take steps to contact each member of the group and arrange for inspection of the facility at the soonest possible moment. The group may not be able to enter the building immediately due to safety concerns or orders from law enforcement. As soon as the group can inspect, they should identify emergency measures necessary to protect the facility from further damage, assess the extent of the damage, identify areas that are unsafe to enter, and evaluate the condition of the areas where critical processes occur. They should use the information developed before the loss to assist in their evaluation.

After the inspection, the group should prepare reports on each damaged facility. Local authorities may require the business to file these; in addition, government bodies that assist with disaster recovery and insurance companies may need the information.

Business owners should ask their insurance agents for resources to help with disaster preparation. Many insurance companies have loss control departments that can offer valuable assistance, as well. Government agencies such as the federal Small Business Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Web sites such as have plenty of information on this topic. To a large extent, a business owner has control over whether the business will survive a disaster. With some careful planning, the business will survive it and thrive.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Auto Theft

If you’re like most people, you believe you’re pretty well versed when it comes to protecting your car from thieves.  If that were the case, the FBI’s National Crime Information Center wouldn’t be reporting these chilling statistics:

·         Every 27 seconds, a motor vehicle is stolen in the United States.

·         The odds of a vehicle being stolen were 1 in 196 in 2000.

·         The odds are highest in urban areas.

·         Only 14.1 percent of thefts resulted in arrests during 2000.

·         The FBI’s 2002 Uniform Crime Report, released October 27, 2003, indicates there were more than 1.2 million motor vehicle thefts in the United States in 2002 with an estimated value of approximately $8.4 billion dollars.

·         Only 65 percent of stolen vehicles were recovered in 2002.

These statistics paint a serious picture that reminds us not to take our vehicles for granted.    Many times we forget basic prevention techniques that can put our cars in jeopardy.

For example, when you leave your car, never leave the motor running – even if you think you will only be gone a couple of minutes.  Those few minutes are all it takes for a would-be car thief to easily drive away in a new vehicle.

When you park your car, be sure to roll up the windows and lock the doors.  There are no exceptions to this rule, even if you park in your own driveway.  It’s not uncommon for thieves to try a door handle of a car in driveway because they assume that it was probably left unlocked.  If you have a garage, park your car in it and lock the garage door, even if you intend to use the car later on.  It may seem like a lot of trouble if you are planning to leave the house again soon, but it’s better than going to the garage only to find your car missing.

When you park at your destination, turn your wheels sharply toward the curb.  This makes it very difficult for thieves to tow the vehicle.  Always put on your emergency brake and leave the transmission either in park or in gear.  If a valet parks your car, only leave the ignition key with the attendant.  It goes with out saying that if you park at night, park in busy, well-lit areas.

Think about equipping your car with various anti-theft devices.  Ask about car insurance discounts for anti-theft devices such as alarms, window etchings, and anti-hot-wiring devices.

Finally, when you buy car stereo equipment, be sure to choose items that can be removed
and locked in the trunk.  Nothing is more tempting to a car thief than to see if he can make that expensive audio equipment his own.

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.

Infectious Diseases in the Workplace: An Overview

A trip through the catalog of infectious diseases one can contract at work is enough to make many want to stay home.  The obvious cold and influenza spores and pathogens that glide through the air with the greatest of ease have more nuisance value than real danger, though there are virulent strains of influenza.  But many workers in a variety of industries face serious threats to their health-to their lives.  The newest of these is SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), of course, seen as a guerilla fighter of sorts.  SARS invades as an airborne microbe, and passes easily through such filters as those found in aviation, industrial or commercial air filters.  Many early cases were reported after intercontinental airline flights.  Add aircrews then, to the list later in this article, of those work groups at risk for an infectious disease caught at work.  Chinese scientists have discovered (People Daily, June 6, 2003) that the virus can live 15 days without a human host.  It can live, for instance, for three days on paper, wood, cotton, cloth, metal, plastic, glass, and in soil.  If there’s good news about SARS, it is that the virus dies earlier as the local environmental temperature rises.  The virus lives only about 30 minutes at 75 degrees Celsius.  You don’t want to watch though-that’s 167 degrees Fahrenheit!

The most common debilitating and life-threatening diseases found in the workplace include TB, HIV and Hepatitis C, though smallpox and poliomyelitis lurk nearby.  Health care workers are at risk because-think of emergency crews especially-cannot know the medical histories of patients they must treat in immediate, critical situations.  However, occupational exposure is not confined to the health care industry.  Literally any institutional environment can put workers at increased risk.  Prisons are especially fertile, yet environments from office buildings to college dormitories and military camps yield uncomfortable statistics.

Tuberculosis is rarely bloodborne, and, while its incidence has declined in recent years, certain areas have cases in numbers well above average.  For example, in 1999, the latest year for which data is available, six states, California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas, accounted for 57% of the TB cases but had only 40% of the U.S. population (from a report by the Institute of Medicine, through the Center for Disease Control).  That report further stated that 40% of those cases were among foreign-born people, mostly from Mexico, the Philippines and Vietnam.

HIV and HIV/AIDS are “contact sports.”  Transmission of these lethal diseases happens through blood or other bodily fluid exchange.  While we think mostly about drug addicts sharing dirty needles, or sexual partners not being “safe,” research facts support the case for more innocent exposures-food utensils, drinking glasses, even non-sexual physical contact.  The disease destroys the immune system, opening the door for “infections of opportunity” (many AIDS patients actually die from pneumonia).  Dr. P. T. Goodall, of Infectious Disease Consultants, reported in a recent seminar (April, 2003) that there are over 30 million AIDS cases worldwide, and that of the some 500,000 HIV infected individuals in the U.S., over half are unaware of their status.

Hepatitis C affects some 2% of the U.S. population, and its incidence is highest among drug users, prison inmates, sex workers (think prostitutes and adult entertainment) and minorities.  The disease most frequently degrades to cirrhosis of the liver, and accounts for more than 50% of the liver transplants in our country (Goodall).  One of the more sobering facts about Hepatitis C is that as much as 15% of the documented cases have no obvious source.

While the last case of smallpox (worldwide) was reported in 1978, recent events raise the level of concern that quantities sufficient to cause epidemic loss of life exist in the hands of those who see such a catastrophe as a good thing.

Who is at risk for infectious disease contracted at work?  In addition to the groups identified earlier, custodial and housekeeping workers, sanitation workers, and child and elder care workers, even good Samaritans and family members face exposure.  In March 2000, a Baltimore embalmer became infected with TB while prepping a body for burial.  Add rubella.  Add West Nile.

The cost to U.S. businesses in lost time, wages, benefits, increased premiums for health care and life insurance, as well as lost revenue through the entire tax pipeline, is billions, and is impossible to calculate without a team of actuaries and a fair amount of time.  The best protections include awareness, common sense, and training.  The best attitude, one of caution.

U.S. Coast Guard Safety Initiative Asks You to Boat Responsibly

As boating season approaches, the U.S. Coast Guard is once again expressing concern over the continuing increase in boating fatalities and injuries, and plans to step up its safety education for boaters. Statistics show that for the second consecutive year boating fatalities increased (710 deaths in 2006) as did the number of reported injuries. The reports also reveal some other disturbing facts:


  • Two-thirds of all fatalities were due to drowning and 90 percent of the victims were not wearing a life jacket. Simply put, over 50% of boating deaths could have been prevented if the victims had worn a life jacket.
  • Alcohol was the leading contributing factor in approximately one-fifth of all boating fatalities.
  • About 70 percent of all boating fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.
  • The most reported type of accident was a collision with another vessel. However, capsizing and falls overboard are the most reported types of fatal accidents and accounted for the vast majority (59 percent) of all boating fatalities.
  • Overall, operator inattention, carelessness/reckless operation, excessive speed and passenger/skier behavior are the leading contributing factors of all reported accidents.


Here are some simple tips boat owners and their passengers can take to insure their safety while enjoying recreational boating:

Wear your life jacket – As evidenced above, wearing a life jacket is the single most important thing you can do to ensure your safety on the water. And it doesn’t matter how great of a swimmer you are, you should still wear a life jacket!

Take boating safety courses – Boat owners, operators and passengers should complete courses offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and others. The Coast Guard Auxiliary encourages everyone who might be put in a position of having to take command due to incapacity of the owner/operator to take a basic safety course.

America’s Boating Course (ABC) is a new electronic, basic boating course produced through a partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons®. It’s available online at and on CD-ROM.

Get a free Vessel Safety Check – Boat owners are encouraged to take advantage of free safety checks offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. It’s your best way to learn about potential problems that might put you in violation of state or federal laws, or — worse — create danger for you or your passengers on the water.

Vessel Examiners issue no citations. And there are no penalties for not successfully completing a Vessel Safety Check.

Don’t drink and boat – In the marine environment — motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind, and spray intensify the effect of alcohol and drugs. These “stressors” cause fatigue — and dramatically affect a boat operator’s coordination, judgment, vision, and reaction time.

Levels of blood alcohol or medications that would have little impact on land can potentially cause a much greater degree of impairment for the operator of a boat. So never boat under the influence!

The complete 2006 Boating Statistics report is available from the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating at

More Workers’ Compensation Claims Made As the Result of Work-Related Traffic Accidents

According to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, both on- and off-the-job motor vehicle crashes cost employers $60 billion annually from 1998 through 2000. The problem is so widespread, that in a recent study, the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc (NCCI) noted that traffic accidents are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States. The study also said that workers’ compensation claims resulting from motor vehicle accidents are more severe than the average claim. Although they make up approximately 2 percent of all claims, they account for more than 5.5 percent of all losses because they cover a disproportionate share of the most severe claim types.

While workers’ compensation claims from motor vehicle accidents are growing, their frequency is declining but at a slower pace than for workers’ compensation claims in general. There are some other important characteristics about these claims that the NCCI noted in its study:

·   They almost always involve time lost from work.

·   Neck injuries are the most frequent diagnoses in these claims.

·   The average duration for a motor vehicle claim is 70 percent longer than for other types of claims.

·   They are three times as likely to involve a claimant attorney as compared to other types of claims.

The leading cause of these claims is a traffic accident that happened because the driver became distracted. The study revealed that almost 80 percent of the crashes and 65 percent of the near crashes resulted from the driver becoming distracted within three seconds of the event. The chief causes of the distraction were drowsiness and cell phone use.

The researchers had some specific suggestions regarding the steps employers can take to reduce the frequency and severity of these claims:

·  Encourage your employees to use seat belts – Failure to use seat belts cost employers roughly $2.1 billion yearly from work-related crashes between 1998-2000.

·  Be sure your employees never drive under the influence of alcohol – During 1998-2000, work-related crashes that resulted from drivers being intoxicated cost employers $3.1 billion annually.

·  Encourage employees to take defensive driving courses – These courses teach drivers how to react during an emergency so as to lessen the severity of the accident or avoid it all together.

·  Provide internal driver’s education courses – Teach employees good driving practices like pre-planning the trip route, realistically estimating how long the trip will take, being sure the vehicle is in good condition before hitting the road, and informing colleagues about travel plans.

There Are Good Reasons Why Your Insurance Doesn’t Cover That Loss

Every insurance policy has a section popularly known as “the fine print,” though its actual title is “Exclusions.” Exclusions are provisions in an insurance policy describing losses that the policy will not cover. For example, a homeowner’s policy does not cover losses caused by the use of cars, and a business auto policy does not cover injuries caused by a bulldozer on a construction site. While it may appear at first glance that the insurance company includes these provisions to get out of paying claims, the reasons are more complex and less insidious than that. There are very sensible reasons why no insurance policy covers everything.

First, not every person or business has the same exposures to loss. Most homeowners do not own a dump truck used in a business; the owner of the dump truck might not have employees to insure for jobsite injuries; the employer with a dozen employees might not own the building it occupies. Imagine if there were one insurance policy that covered all of these exposures — it would be hundreds of pages long and very complex. Therefore, over time insurance companies have developed different policies for different exposures — auto, home, business liability, and so on. The homeowner’s policy excludes losses that the auto policy should cover, personal policies exclude losses that business policies should cover, and vice versa.

Related to this are the issues of cost and choice. Standard insurance policies contain coverages that apply to large groups of households and businesses, but they do not cover every possibility. Those with additional needs have coverage options to choose from. For example, homeowner’s policies do not cover damage caused by water backing up from an overflowing sump or drain, but households that have basements with sumps or drains have the option of buying this coverage. Households without a basement do not have to buy it. This affords the buyer choices but does not force coverage on those who do not need or want it.

Furthermore, exclusions reduce the cost of the insurance policy. Every coverage comes with an associated cost — the company must factor in the costs of potential claims, expenses and profit for that coverage. The more coverages a policy provides, the higher its premium will be. Without exclusions, people and businesses would be forced to pay for coverages they do not need. Exclusions help keep the premium affordable.

Finally, certain types of losses are uninsurable. Insurance companies cannot accurately predict when certain types of losses will happen, and the potential loss amounts are too large for them to absorb. For example, almost all policies exclude losses suffered as the result of a war or a nuclear accident. These events would cause massive losses beyond the abilities of insurance companies to pay. Other losses are not insurable as a matter of common sense. Because the purpose of insurance is to pay for losses from accidents, it will not cover most losses that a person intentionally causes.

Because every household or business’s circumstances are different, standard policies might not provide all the coverage necessary for proper protection. Properties in flood-prone areas, businesses that have a lot of contracts with other businesses, and individuals who post to online message boards may all lack important coverage. Consultation with a professional insurance agent will help determine whether more coverage is needed, whether it is available, and how much it will cost. The time to find out the availability and cost of coverage is before the loss occurs.