The Future: Insurance Implications of Self-Driving Cars

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Google has unveiled a seemingly truly “driverless” car that lacks a steering wheel, brakes or anything else that allows a driver to control its movements. This actually strikes me as a much bigger deal for the insurance industry than the optionally self-driving cars that have received so much attention and seem likely to come to market within the next few years. And, while the short-term insurance implications of the type of self-driving cars that are coming to market soon seem pretty modest, the new truly driverless models seem a lot more likely to have big effects.

Let’s start with what’s going to happen soon. Self-driving cars that require a “pilot” in a driver’s seat and have a steering wheel, accelerator and brakes are really just an evolutionary change in vehicles that increasingly have become more automated over the last decade. As such, the changes in auto insurance are also going to be evolutionary. All major automakers already sell models with traction control, self-parking, collision avoidance and adaptive cruise control features. Together, these features make a car “half self-driving” already.

The “self-driving car” that will probably be on the market within a few years just adds a steering and navigation functions to this already widely deployed suite of features. Since drivers will still be able to control these cars, they will still need liability insurance. Some claims will become product liability claims—some types of accident claims already are—but most accidents would still result from human error of various kinds. There isn’t going to be a huge change. The insurance business will continue in much the same way for most insurers and most consumers.

There’s one exception: self-driving cars, even in the early generation, will be nigh-impossible for street criminals to steal. Any self-driving car is almost certainly going to be traceable via its GPS system and have a “kill switch.” Protection against theft isn’t a huge part of auto insurance premiums in most places but, in the long term, self-driving cars seem likely to more-or-less eliminate an entire category of crime.

However, the kinds of fully self-driving cars that Google is now testing could represent a much bigger change. If a driver can’t manipulate a car in any way (except maybe to press a “stop” button) most crashes will probably result in product liability claims. Although such product-liability auto insurance could, in principle, be purchased as “master policies” by automakers, the mere fact that we have a longstanding cultural habit of buying auto insurance makes it quite possible that consumers will still buy polices. And, most likely, automakers as well as some insurance and consumer groups will argue for offering these policies on a no-fault basis. This, in turn, could lead to a real resurgence in no-fault coverage that’s fading elsewhere.

Second, under a full-self-driving model a significant fraction of people may well move towards a fractional ownership or “car-sharing subscription” service. Car sharing, of course, is already reasonably widespread in dense urban areas but remains a niche market because it’s not economically efficient to use car-sharing to commute to work, go on a road-trip or, really, do much of anything besides run a brief errand. By contrast, a service that lets you summon cars without drivers to wherever you are and have them take you where you want to go could replace automobiles for many people. One would think these services would probably bundle in some sort of policy in just the same way that existing car-sharing services do.

The near future of self-driving cars probably isn’t a big deal for insurers. The more distant future of fully autonomous cars, however, may well result in big, big changes.

Source: insurancejournal.com

When is A Vehicle Considered a Total Insurance Loss?

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When and whether a vehicle involved in a collision is considered to be “totaled” for first-party insurance purposes is an issue of great angst and confusion for most consumers. Over the years we’ve certainly experienced older, functioning automobiles being “totaled” simply because the frame is bent or other seemingly minor and hidden damage occurs. Even insurance professionals can get turned around navigating the maze of rules and state regulations regarding the act of “totaling” a vehicle under a policy. But it needn’t be all that complicated. This article will hopefully help take the guess-work out of when a car can be “totaled.”

Typically, cars are considered to be “totaled” when the cost to repair the vehicle is higher than the actual cash value (ACV) of the vehicle. Practically speaking, however, it is not always practical to repair a vehicle, even if the cost of repair is less than its actual cash value (ACV). A vehicle worth $4,000 requiring $3,000 in repairs might be considered “totaled” by an insurer even though the cost of repair is less than its value before the accident. Insurance companies will typically consider such a vehicle to be a total loss, even though the repairs are only 75 percent of actual cash value (ACV).

While the procedure varies slightly from state to state, the insurance company will typically take ownership of the totaled vehicle (known as “salvage”) and may obtain a “salvage title” for the vehicle. After it pays it’s insured the pre-loss ACV of the vehicle and forwards the certificate of ownership, the license plates and a required fee to the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV), the DMV then issues a Salvage Certificate for the vehicle. In some cases, the vehicle is repaired, re-registered with the DMV, and then classified as a “revived salvage” or “salvaged” vehicle. Of course, if the insured wants to keep the “totaled” vehicle, the insurance company will deduct the value of the salvage from the claim payment.

The criteria for deciding when a car is a total loss and when it can be repaired vary from insurance company to insurance company and might even be dictated and controlled by state statute or regulation. Further complicating the issue is the fact that insurance companies do not all use the same sources for determining the value of a vehicle. Insurance professionals, on the other hand, have to be familiar with these rules, criteria, and thresholds in all the states they are licensed to do business in.

In determining whether a vehicle is totaled, insurance companies will calculate the total loss ratio (cost of repairs/actual cash value) and then compare this ratio to limits set either internally within the company and/or regulated and established by state law. It is also sometimes referred to simply as the damage ratio. Some states dictate how high this damage ratio needs to be in order to be able to declare a vehicle a “total loss” and be eligible for a salvage title or certificate. This is referred to as the Total Loss Threshold (TLT). In order to total a vehicle, the total loss ratio must exceed the established percentage. If the TLT is not dictated by the state, an insurance company will usually default to something known as the Total Loss Formula (TLF) which is:

Cost of Repair + Salvage Value > Actual Cash Value

If the sum of the first two quantities is greater than the ACV, the car can be declared a total loss. As an example, a damaged 2002 Toyota Echo with 185,000 miles in good condition has an ACV of approximately $2,800. Total repair costs are estimated at $2,000, for a damage ratio of 72 percent. This car would be considered a total loss in Arkansas, where the TLT is 70 percent, but not in Florida where the TLT is 80 percent. In Illinois, the TLF would be used and, if the salvage were worth $700, the car would not be totaled ($2,000 + $700

Understanding the layers of procedure behind declaring a vehicle a total loss isn’t always a prerequisite for successful subrogation. But there are occasions when the third-party tortfeasor and its liability carrier or attorney will question the amount of damages you are looking to subrogate. In such instances, a working knowledge of this area of insurance becomes indispensable.

Source: claimsjournal.com

Teens, Social Media and a Parent’s Liability

For many the high school experience comes with social pressures and obligations to fit in and belong, and sadly this can lead to exclusion and isolation of some students. At some point everyone probably said something in their teen years in the heat of the moment that they now wish could be taken back, but today’s teens face the added burden that if they convey those statements on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, their words could be around for a lot longer than just the heat of the moment.

In addition to hurt feelings, cyber bullying could potentially damage someone’s reputation. With college admissions offices and employers beginning to look up applicants on social networking sites, rumors and gossip have the very serious potential to damage someone’s ability to get into the college of their choice, or find a job. For parents, this could create a potentially serious exposure to a lawsuit if their children engage in cyber bullying.

Aren’t my kids covered under my insurance?

Generally speaking, any coverage a parent has through their homeowners or renters insurance policy also provides coverage to other residents of the household, including teenage children. Standard homeowners and renters policies include liability protection for bodily injury or property damage, which would pay for the costs to cover medical bills or repair/replacement costs if a child injured a friend in a pick-up basketball game or if they were at a friend’s house and accidentally spilled soda on a $13,000 oriental rug, subject to the policy’s deductible.

But what if a child were to post rumors about other teens online that implied negative information that could damage that person’s reputation? Interestingly, a standard homeowners or renters policy would not cover these instances.

What can be done?

In order to cover claims from that kind of situation, homeowners and renters policies must have what is called an endorsement- extra language that is inserted into the policy to expand coverage- in order to have liability protection extended to cover “personal injury”.

As insurance professionals we will be able to tell you if your current insurance policy already has this personal injury endorsement by reviewing it, and if it doesn’t, we would be able to help you get one. You may be surprised to find that this expanded coverage may not cost you much in additional premium. A personal injury endorsement will pay the costs up to the limits of your policy to defend you, pay a judgment or settle a case when legal action is brought against you or your children for defamation.

Make sure that if you’re a parent, you talk to your children about social media, how they use it and what’s expected of them regarding personal responsibility. It’s critical that they understand how their use of social media not only has the potential to hurt others, but that it could impact your family as well.

Some parents choose to actively monitor their children’s use of social media, and there are various software programs available to assist those who want to closely monitor what their children do in social spaces for parents who want access to their children’s profiles. No matter what you choose to do, begin with treating others with respect as the best way to avoid this type of risk.

Be Aware of What Your Kids Are Doing Online

  • Know the sites your kids visit and their online activities. Ask where they’re going, what they’re doing, and who they’re doing it with.
  • Tell your kids that as a responsible parent you may review their online communications if you think there is reason for concern. Installing parental control filtering software or monitoring programs are one option for monitoring your child’s online behavior, but do not rely solely on these tools.
  • Have a sense of what they do online and in texts. Learn about the sites they like. Try out the devices they use.
  • Ask for their passwords, but tell them you’ll only use them in case of emergency.
  • Ask to “friend” or “follow” your kids on social media sites or ask another trusted adult to do so.
  • Encourage your kids to tell you immediately if they, or someone they know, are being cyber bullied. Explain that you will not take away their computers or cell phones if they confide in you about a problem they are having.


Sources: stopbullying.gov | trustedchoice.com

Don’t Be Fooled: Auto Insurance State Minimums Probably Aren’t Enough

There are a wide variety of silly and somewhat funny things we can do from time to time, like telling people that dihydrogen monoxide is coming out of the sink (dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical name for water), but one thing you should avoid falling for as a consumer is being told that carrying only the state mandated minimum coverage is adequate auto insurance protection.

In an auto accident, drivers can be legally liable for their passengers’ injuries. While most states have mandatory minimum limits of liability required of all drivers, many of these requirements may not be sufficient in covering injuries sustained in an auto accident. In some states, this required amount may be as little as $25,000 per person and $50,000 total for all injuries in an accident – which may not be enough when you consider the severity of certain injuries and the number of passengers that could be involved. Remember that this limit also applies for all injuries caused by an accident for which you are liable, including passengers of other cars.

So what are the right limits? Like many answers… It depends. Everyone’s situation is different, but as an independent insurance agency we can help you understand what issues you should consider when evaluating what liability limits to purchase.

For Instance:

  1. How much would it take to compensate a victim? If you were to cause a severe, life altering injury to someone, consider how much money it would cost over time to compensate them. It’s likely higher than $25,000.
  2. What assets do you have and what is your net worth? Think about your home, your car, savings, investments, etc. Having adequate insurance to protect these assets is something you should consider.

Naturally you might wonder if increasing your liability limits will increase the price of your insurance premiums. While you’ll pay more for the additional coverage, it’s likely that it won’t be very much to raise your liability limits, and in the long run it offers you more financial protection. You may be able to offset some of those expenses by raising your deductible or through other discounts. This is where we can help identify the different options available to you.

There is no definitive rule of thumb for making sure you have “enough” insurance but it’s important that you feel comfortable with the amount you have, because nobody likes to be made a fool of when it comes to an insurance claim.



Source: trustedchoice.com

Was Your Home Loan Sold? Quick, Call Your Insurance Agent!

Do you have a mortgage? Yes? Then at some point in your home-owning life, you have received a letter telling you that your mortgage has been sold to another lender. There’s certainly nothing unusual about it when this happens, as home loans are sold every day in the United States. It is a very common practice. Typically, the letter tells you that nothing will change for you and – "you do not need to do anything."

WRONG!!! – You should contact the insurance agent that handles your home insurance.

Here’s Why: If your home insurance is part of your escrow then your agent needs to know and needs to change the Mortgagee endorsement on your policy.

Every year your insurance company sends a bill to the company that owns your loan. Your lender sends a check from your escrow account to pay for your Homeowner’s insurance for the next year. If your insurance company does not have the correct lender information the bill will be sent to the wrong company and the bill will not be paid. Believe it or not – that is not the big problem.

Here is the BIG PROBLEM. Your new lender wants to know you have insurance that will pay to replace your home in case of a total loss – they want to know they will get their money! If your new lender does not get a bill or see some form of proof that you have insurance – then the lender will put insurance in place for you. And guess what? The insurance the bank puts in place can cost up to THREE TIMES MORE than what you are paying now and that is just for your house and wouldn’t include insurance for all your belongings inside your home.

If this occurs the lender is simply going to pass the high-cost of this other insurance along to the home owner in the form of a much higher mortgage payment on your next statement, which can cause unnecessary panic and confusion.

The lesson – keep your Insurance Agent updated on any change regarding not only your home, but your lender as well. Your agent wants to be up to date and will appreciate the call and it’s a simple change that only requires a few moments to complete.

Home Inspections Before Winter Weather Comes

This time of year can be just great here in Mississippi. However, you won’t get much fireside snuggling done if your chimney clogs or your roof springs a leak. And while prepping your home for winter weather isn’t much fun, once you do it, your peace of mind can last all season long.

Here’s a handy checklist to make sure the weather stays outside where it ought to be.

Furnace Follies
If you have a forced-air furnace, visually inspect the outside of your system, the ducts, and other points attached to the unit. Repairing potential air leaks is easy to do with a little duct tape. It’s also a great time to clean or replace the filter according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you can reach them, vacuum off the blower blades while you’re in there.

Winter Weather Stripping
A common source of heat loss and drafty spaces is faulty door or window weather-stripping. Check for drafts by holding a lit candle a couple of inches from the seam. If the flame moves (and you’re sure it’s not the dog breathing over your shoulder) you could have a leak. Typically these are easier to replace entirely than “spot repairing” and kits for doing so may be found at any hardware store.

Chim Chim Cher-ee
Creosote is the black, scaly deposit left behind in wood-burning chimneys. It slows airflow and is an enormous fire hazard. While the chimney is cool, take a flashlight and look for build-up past the damper (at the mouth of the flue near the base of the chimney). If you burn a lot of wood during the season–or very resinous wood like pine–cleaning the chimney is an annual must-do. This is one repair where hiring qualified professionals is best because they have the proper tools and experience to make sure it’s done right.

Stormin’ the Doors
Operational storm doors and windows prevent additional drafts and save energy costs. Make sure the hinges are lubricated and adjusted so they close properly. If you have interchangeable glass panels, make sure to install them instead of leaving the screens over winter.

Rain Gutter Braining
Clean gutters help prevent many cold weather problems from arising, such as basement flooding, siding damage, and door and window leaks. Clean gutters also help keep your foundation dry and repair-free. Plus, if your gutters are holding too much water they can pull free of eaves and fall off at any time, posing a hazard to your noggin.

Show Your Best Siding
In some cases you’ll need to hire a professional to make siding (or paint) repairs, but you can easily inspect for cracks and separations, peeling paint, or other damage that’s not difficult to repair yourself. Usually, a little caulk and some paint do the trick. But don’t leave it to chance–or leave it too long–because when water gets behind siding it’s expensive to repair as well as a health hazard.

Put a Lid On It
If possible, check your roof close up. You can use binoculars to inspect safely from the ground. Look for missing tiles, cracked shingles, and “bald spots”. If you have a composition roof past its warranty, make sure to check for brittleness, a sure sign it needs replacing. Also, if you notice lots of asphalt granules in your newly spotless rain gutters, it’s a sign your roof is eroding and needs replacing soon. Lastly, make sure to check the flashing around the edges of the roof for damage.

Taking just a few minutes this time of year to inspect your home for these common cold weather entry points and it will prevent more costly repairs, reward you with a lower energy bill, and help you have a relaxing holiday season.

5 Big Insurance Mistakes

TRYING TO SAVE MONEY? AVOID THE FIVE BIGGEST INSURANCE MISTAKES.

With far too many Americans out of work, and others forced to make ends meet with less money, many people are looking for ways to cut costs. There are smart ways to save on home and auto insurance; however, there are also mistakes that can result in being significantly underinsured.

When money is tight, it is extremely important to be financially protected against a catastrophe with the right amount and type of insurance by taking a few simple steps, it is possible to cut costs and still be protected should disaster strike.

Following are five of the biggest insurance mistakes that consumers should look out for:

Insuring a home for its real estate value rather than for the cost of rebuilding. When real estate prices go down, some homeowners may think they can reduce the amount of insurance on their home. But insurance is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding, not the sales price of the home. You should make sure that you have enough coverage to completely rebuild your home and replace your belongings.

A better way to save: Raise your deductible. An increase from $500 to $1,000 could save up to 25 percent on your premium payments.

Selecting an insurance company by price alone. It is important to choose a company with competitive prices, but also one that is financially sound and provides good customer service.

A better way to save: Check the financial health of a company with independent rating agencies and ask friends and family for recommendations. You should select an insurance company that will respond to your needs and handle claims fairly and efficiently.

Dropping flood insurance. Damage from flooding is not covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as from some private insurance companies. Many homeowners are unaware they are at risk for flooding, but in fact 25 percent of all flood losses occur in low risk areas.

A better way to save: Before purchasing a home, check with the NFIP to check whether it is in a flood zone; if so, consider a less risky area. If you are already living in a flood zone area, look at mitigation efforts that can reduce your risk of flood damage and consider purchasing flood insurance.

Only purchasing the legally required amount of liability for your car. In today’s litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket—and those costs may be steep

A better way to save: Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars worth less than $1,000. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident.

If you don’t own your home, neglecting to buy renters insurance. A renters policy covers your possessions and additional living expenses if you have to move out due to a disaster. Equally important, it provides liability protection in the event someone is injured in your home and decides to sue.

A better way to save: Look into multi-policy discounts. Buying several policies with the same insurer will generally provide surmountable savings.

Scheduling Under Homeowners

SCHEDULING ITEMS UNDER YOUR HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE

Perhaps it’s the latest electronic gadget or large screen hi-def television, or new sporting goods gear or maybe a piece of sparkling jewelry. If you happen to receive or purchase a particularly expensive item, you may consider purchasing extra protection, just in case.

Why would I need to schedule valuable items?

The protection provided for personal property under the typical homeowners, condo or renters policy is very broad, and includes coverage for your furniture, clothing, and appliances. It only provides limited coverage for valuable items such as jewelry, silverware, furs, and art. It may not cover some types of loss that may be important to you, such as the stone falling out of your diamond ring, your china being accidentally broken or your rare coins being stolen.

What types of property can be covered?

Here’s a quick listing of some of the items typically covered:

cameras (video or still) and related equipment
china and crystal
coins (rare and current)
firearms
furs
golfer’s equipment
jewelry
musical instruments
personal computers
stamps (rare and current)
silverware
works of fine art, including paintings, etchings, pictures and other bona fide works of art (such as oriental rugs, statuary, rare books, manuscripts and bric-a-brac) of rarity, historical value or artistic merit.

If you own something of value that is not listed above, it may still be eligible for coverage.

How to Schedule Personal Property

The process for scheduling valuable personal property differs from one insurance company to another. The insurance company keeps copies of appraisals or recent receipts for the items on file. The dollar amount of the value of the items added determines the price of scheduled property insurance.

Scheduling items allows you to purchase better protection for your special property than would be available under the typical homeowners policy. In addition to being able to purchase higher limits of coverage, more perils are covered.