Employers Vulnerable to Associational Discrimination Claims

Most employers are aware of the employee protections found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employers may not discriminate against employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Also, they may not retaliate against employees who have protested against an illegal employment practice or who participated in an investigation or other activities against the employer for an illegal practice.

Further, recent court decisions have applied Title VII’s protections to an employee’s association with another person whose characteristics fall under those protections. The U.S. Supreme Court held in 2006 that employers cannot discriminate against someone closely related to or associated with a person who is exercising protections under Title VII. Two federal courts earlier this year ruled that employers violated the law by discriminating based on association. One allegedly fired a white basketball coach because his wife was African-American; the other allegedly fired an employee whose coworker’s fiancé filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

All employers are vulnerable to these types of accusations, even those who strive to obey the law. Employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) policies cover many types of losses resulting from employee claims. How will they respond to association discrimination claims?

EPLI policies vary somewhat from one insurance company to another, but most provide coverage for acts such as discrimination, wrongful termination, harassment, retaliation, and inappropriate employment conduct. A typical policy covers discrimination against an employee for termination of the employment relationship, demotion, failure to promote, denial of an employment benefit or other adverse action based on a number of characteristics such as color, race, sex, ethnicity, age and religion. It also covers retaliation claims if the employee engaged in a protected activity, the employee suffered an adverse action, and the protected activity caused the adverse action. Because they specifically apply to employees who have these characteristics or who perform protected activities, these policy provisions do not appear to cover actions against employees because of their association with others.

However, the policies usually also cover “inappropriate employment conduct.” Among the acts that may fall within this category are coercion, wrongful demotion, wrongful discipline, retaliatory treatment, and others. The definition of “inappropriate employment conduct” will be different from one policy to another. One insurance company may cover association discrimination while another may not. As such, employers should discuss specific terms of coverage with their insurance agent.

The policies might cover the employer, but not the employee alleged to have committed the act, if a court determines the employee deliberately acted illegally or with intent to harm the other employee. For example, if a court ruled that a supervisor was acting maliciously when he fired an employee for marrying someone of a different race, the insurance might pay for the employer’s defense and liability but not for that of the supervisor.

In this era where job cuts and lawsuits are common, employers face a real exposure to actions against them for the decisions they make. Lawsuits can be costly even if they are groundless; the costs of defending them can mount rapidly. EPLI provided by a financially solid company is an important part of every employer’s risk management program.

EPLI, coupled with a well-executed loss prevention program, will help any employer survive employee accusations.

Using Airbags Without Seat Belts Increases Risk of Spinal Cord Injury

The National Safety Council reports that significant cervical spine injuries can result from car crashes occurring at speeds as low as 5 miles an hour and that result in little or no damage to the car itself. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, the risk of injury increases when airbags are deployed during a crash and the driver and passengers aren’t wearing seat belts.

The cervical spine is the seven vertebrae of the spinal cord that comprise the neck. It can be damaged when it is compressed against the shoulders during a collision or when the head is violently jerked either backwards or forwards, causing injuries to the muscles and ligaments of the neck. The resulting neck sprain is commonly referred to as whiplash.

The research team, lead by Dr. William F. Donaldson III, used data gathered from a Pennsylvania trauma database to identify crashes resulting in spinal cord injuries from 1990 to 2002. They examined approximately 12,700 spinal injury patient records and of these, 5,500 were identified as either drivers or passengers who experienced fractures of the cervical spine.

After studying the cervical spine injury records, researchers found that drivers who were not wearing a seatbelt had a 54 percent rate of cervical spine fractures. However, drivers who used both an airbag and seatbelt had only a 42 percent rate of injury. After adjusting for other factors, the relative risk of cervical spine fracture was 70 percent higher for drivers using an airbag alone compared to drivers who used an airbag and seat belt.

The risk of cervical fracture was approximately seven times higher for passengers who used only an airbag. For both drivers and passengers, men were more likely than women to be injured when using an airbag alone.

Another important discovery the researchers made was that drivers and passengers who used an airbag alone were more severely injured than those who used both. They also spent more time in the intensive care unit and more total time in the hospital.

The results of the study indicate that drivers and passengers who use airbags without seatbelts have a higher rate of cervical spine fractures and have more severe injuries, including injuries to the chest, abdomen, and head. Dr. Donaldson and his team concluded that using a seatbelt with an airbag and maintaining at least 10 inches between the steering column and the sternum may decrease the severity of injuries in general, in addition to reducing the instances of airbag induced cervical spine injuries.

Tips for Evaluating Contractor’s All Risk Policies

Construction is a high risk industry. Personal injuries and property damage occur frequently, and these events ultimately cost the contractor money. Many times such claims could be covered under a Contractor’s All Risk (CAR) policy.

CAR policies, commonly referred to as Course of Construction or Builder’s Risk policies, insure against physical loss or property damage to works, plant, equipment and materials during the course of construction. Such policies can be complicated so contractors should take care to ensure that any coverage adequately covers the risks of the construction project to be undertaken. Many contractors can be caught short by failing to evaluate their potential liability risks in relation to the policy they are considering.

Here are some important rules to evaluate CAR policies:

* Conduct an insurance audit with a risk manager or broker to determine potential liability and any risk not covered by your current policy.
* Consult with your broker because many insurers can customize the coverage to match the needs of the project. The insurer needs time to do this effectively, so don’t wait till the last minute.
* Take note of exclusions because while most are expressly stated, others can be implied and can radically limit your protection. One frequently implied exclusion is consequential loss relating to loss of profits and expenses as an indirect result of the cause of the claim. Naturally occurring events such as deterioration due to mildew, rust, or obsolescence may also be deemed as implied exclusions.
* Confirm there are no unusual limitations on the measure of damages. The method in which your insurance carrier determines damages can significantly affect your bottom line.
* Carefully consider the period of coverage as it normally only extends to when the contractor is on site and ceases when the client takes possession. Ensure there is extended coverage should problems develop later on.
* Technological changes using business information technology opens many contactors to new risks if they incorporate design management in the construction project. Additionally, construction companies which use BIM also have to consider potential losses due to hacking or data corruption that would not likely be covered under a CAR policy.
* Review the excesses and deductibles to be applied by your insurer to determine if they are reasonable.
* Fully document your damages with the aid of an experienced consultant, as CAR carriers will strive to reduce the cost of damages. Costs stemming from prolongation of the claim may be restricted to maximum excess limitations.
* Use a legal consultant especially when preparing a major claim. They can guide you through any potential red tape and aid in negotiating a proper settlement.

When Your Adult Kids Move Back Home, Double-Check the Insurance

The slow economy of the past few years has exacerbated a trend that was already underway, that of adult children moving back in with their parents. A 2007 study found that one-third of people aged 18 to 34 were living in their parents’ homes. In addition to the issues this trend raises in households with regard to cost-sharing, work-sharing and personal boundaries, insurance issues arise. Home and auto insurance forms are very clear that minor children have coverage under their parents’ policies. This becomes less clear the older the children get, and it becomes ambiguous when they return home after living on their own for some period of time. Parents and their adult children may be risking thousands of dollars in financial loss if they do not handle the insurance correctly.

The standard homeowner’s policy provides coverage for the person named on the policy’s information page, that person’s spouse if a resident of the household, residents of the household who are that person’s relatives, and a full-time student under age 24 who is a relative and who resided in the household prior to moving out for school. Therefore, the policy covers parents and minor children, and it covers college students while they’re away from home. However, it is questionable whether an adult child moving back in with her parents is a resident of the household. Even courts have had trouble setting a precise definition of residency. For example, suppose a woman and her son relocate to her hometown following a divorce and they move in with her parents while she looks for an apartment. Is she a resident of her parents’ household while she’s living with them? Does it depend on how hard she’s looking for a new place? What if she is looking but falls ill and is unable to actively search for a period of weeks? At what point does she become a resident and not merely a guest? There is no hard and fast rule. In situations like these, the best way to eliminate any doubts about coverage may be for her to buy a renter’s insurance policy.

Auto liability insurance, which insures against a person’s legal responsibility for injury or damage to others, has a few other wrinkles. The standard policy covers the person named on the information page, the resident spouse, and any family member for the use of any auto. The policy defines “family member” as a person related to the named insured person by blood, marriage or adoption and who is a resident of the household. Therefore, the woman in the previous example has coverage for the use of any vehicle if she is a resident of her parents’ household (other policy provisions eliminate coverage for certain vehicles.) However, even if she is not a resident, she has some coverage: The insurance covers any person while using a vehicle listed on the policy if she is using the vehicle with a reasonable belief that she has permission. If she is temporarily living with her parents and her father loans her his car to run to the store, she has coverage. However, she does not have coverage while driving a vehicle she owns if her father’s policy does not list it. Again, the solution here is for her to carry her own auto insurance; this makes moot the question of whether she is a resident of her parents’ household.

Insurance companies have designed policies to easily fit households with parents and minor children, but they did not have returning adult children in mind. Because these situations can be complex, it may be best to consult with a professional insurance agent to determine the right approach. The wrong decision can result in a nasty surprise when a claim occurs.

Do You Have Coverage If You Damage a Customer’s Property?

A plumbing contractor’s employee is soldering two lengths of pipe together when a fellow employee asks him to assist with another task for a moment. The first employee lays the soldering torch on a ceiling joist, forgetting that it is still hot. While he is away, the joist begins to smolder, then small licks of flame form and ignite combustible material in the ceiling. By the time someone notices, fire is consuming the ceiling. Firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blaze cause water damage to portions of the building and walls near the fire’s starting point suffer smoke damage.

The building owner will most likely hold the contractor responsible for the cost of repairing the damage. In turn, the contractor will look to his general liability insurance policy to cover that cost. Will the insurance company pay for the repairs?

The Insurance Services Office’s Commercial General Liability Coverage Form states, “This insurance does not apply to…’property damage’ to…(t)hat particular part of real property on which you or any contractors or subcontractors working directly or indirectly on your behalf are performing operations, if the ‘property damage’ arises out of those operations…” What does this mean, and how does it apply to an incident like this one? What does the form mean by the phrase, “that particular part”? Several courts have weighed in on this question.

A Tennessee court in 1975 ruled against an electrical contractor whose employee, while installing circuit breakers in a switchboard, caused a short circuit that destroyed the entire switchboard. The court said that the employee was performing operations on the switchboard, not just the individual circuit, and therefore liability coverage did not apply. Similarly, a Massachusetts court ruled against a cleaning contractor in 1989. The contractor was cleaning the bottom of an underground oil storage tank when an explosion occurred, destroying the entire tank. The contractor argued that the insurance should cover all of the damage except that to the bottom of the tank, but the court ruled that the entire tank was “that particular part” on which the contractor was performing operations.

Conversely, a Minnesota court granted coverage for a contractor that had been hired to clear trees and brush from a construction site but that also cut down trees on an adjoining property. The court said that, while the liability policy would not cover damage to property the contractor had been hired to work on, it did cover damage to the property of a third party. A New York court ruled in 1974 that a liability policy covered damage that occurred after the contractor had completed operations.

The courts have not established firm rules about what constitutes “that particular part” of property on which a contractor is performing operations. Case law will vary from one state to another. Because of this, contractors should discuss the exposure with their insurance agents. To reduce the chances of an uninsured loss occurring, an agent may recommend the purchase of a builders risk or installation floater policy. These policies cover property that the contractor is installing on a construction site while it’s in storage, in transit, on the job site and during installation. They also usually cover property of others for which the contractor may be liable. Unlike the general liability policy, there are no standard versions of these policies, so contractors must review them carefully and ask their agents questions about anything that is unclear.

The law of averages suggests that most contractors will accidentally damage a customer’s property at some point. Now is the time to make sure that there will be no insurance surprises when it happens.

Protect Your Child from the Dangers of Electrical Outlets

When bringing a child into the home, parents take many safety precautions. Unfortunately, those precautions do not always ensure that the child will avoid harm. Electrocution may not happen often, but its effects can be deadly.  Household wiring and large and small appliances cause the majority of electrocutions in the U.S each year. In 1997 (which is the most current data available), the CPSC found that 86 percent of reported injuries involved children 1 to 4 years old. The most common foreign objects stuck into electrical outlets were keys and hairpins. There are several options you can implement to help protect your children against this preventable safety hazard.

Most parents know to install plastic outlet protectors for all the outlets within their child’s reach. But do they really protect as well as we assume? A 1997 Temple University study tested the effectiveness of the different types of plastic outlet protectors with 37 children ages 2 to 4 years. For the round, flat face style protector with two prongs, 47% of the 4-year-olds and 31 % of the 2-year-olds were able to remove this protector. Another oval style had a 3/16″ thick oval face with tapered sides. Again, 47% of the 4-year-olds but only 18% of the 2-year-olds could remove this type of protector. Yet another style with a 1/16″ thick face and lacking tapered sides could be removed by all of the 2- and 4-year-olds!

However, you do have other choices. Some manufacturers make a child tamper-resistant outlet, rather than a cover. They resemble regular outlets, but behind the face of the outlet are plastic shutters. The shutters remain closed until something is inserted into both vertical outlet holes at the same time, at which point the shutters open and the plug can be inserted. This design is based upon the premise that most children will not stick two objects in the same two vertical outlet holes at the same time. This type of outlet costs between $6.00 to $8.00 each compared to a typical electrical outlet receptacle that usually costs no more than $5.00 a piece.

Outlet face covers are another option for you to consider. These covers have faces that swivel or slide over the outlet holes, requiring you to push the cover away while inserting the plug for a secure fit. These covers range from $6.00 to $10.00 each. Both the tamper-resistant outlet and the face covers should be available at your local home improvement or electrical supply store. Whatever type of protection you choose, ensure that you take some of these simple steps to protect your children from this very real safety hazard.

Primary and Noncontributory: What Does It Mean?

Construction contracts often require a subcontractor’s general liability insurance policy to name the owner or general contractor as an additional insured on a “primary and noncontributory” basis. This seemingly simple requirement can cause a lot of difficulty and may hamper the sub’s ability to start the project. The International Risk Management Institute recommends that risk managers not include this requirement in contracts. Insurance agents can add wording to a certificate of insurance only if the insurance company approves it. Insurance companies tend to resist adding this language to their policies and certificates. Why are the words “primary and noncontributory” such a problem?

In liability insurance claims, when two policies cover the same loss, one usually applies on a primary basis and the other on an excess basis. This means that one will pay first (the primary policy), and the other will pay only if the primary policy either does not cover the loss at all or if the amount of insurance is not enough to pay for the entire loss. For example, if the primary policy has a limit of $1,000,000 each occurrence and the amount of the loss is $1,500,000, the primary will pay its limit of $1,000,000 and the other policy, which applies on an excess basis, pays the remaining $500,000.

If both the general contractor and the subcontractor have bought modern editions of the Insurance Services Office’s Commercial General Liability Coverage Form, the subcontractor’s policy is automatically primary. The form’s wording makes the insured’s coverage excess over any policy that has added the insured as an additional insured by endorsement. Therefore, the “primary” part of the requirement is a minor issue.

The “noncontributory” requirement is more of a problem. Most contracts do not define the term’s meaning, and most insurance policies and endorsements do not include it at all. The GC may believe it means that its policy will not pay even on excess basis; if the sub’s limit of insurance is not large enough to cover the loss, the GC may expect the sub to pay the remainder out of pocket.

The standard additional insured endorsement to a general liability policy covers the additional insured with respect to liability for injury or damage caused at least in part by the sub’s acts or omissions. It also covers liability for acts or omissions of those working for the sub. Coverage lasts as long as the sub has ongoing operations for the additional insured. It does not say anything about the additional insured’s coverage being noncontributory. This is the problem: It is not standard insurance industry practice to cover additional insureds on a noncontributory basis. Insurance companies are reluctant to change that, as they want the additional insured’s coverage to contribute toward paying for the loss. A GC has less incentive to prevent losses when it knows that its own insurance will not be needed.

A contractor who runs into this requirement should notify his insurance agent immediately and ask the insurance company to provide the coverage. If it won’t, he must notify the GC and negotiate alternative terms in order to avoid breaching the contract. The GC may agree to accept the standard endorsement with a promise not to reduce its coverage. He should also consider asking the agent to seek this coverage at the next policy renewal. Most importantly, he must understand what the contract requires and ask questions about provisions that are unclear. No one wants to find out after an insured loss that he must pay part of it with his own money.

Why Does My Auto Insurance Cost so Much?

It’s hard to have a conversation about auto insurance without at least one person complaining that their rates are too high. What most people don’t understand is that their rate is not some magical amount they are required to pay, but rather a precise calculation that takes into account personal and lifestyle attributes.

One of the biggest factors that determine insurance rates is the type and value of the vehicle being insured. Smaller, more conservative vehicles are much cheaper to insure when compared to convertibles and luxury SUVs. This is because sportier vehicles carry higher sticker prices and are more likely to be stolen.

Where the car is parked has a lot to do with insurance rates, as well. Insurance companies study the amount of vandalisms, thefts, and accidents in each neighborhood and adjust their premiums accordingly. In most cases, car owners who reside in more populated areas pay higher rates than those who live in rural areas.

A third factor that affects the cost of insurance is the amount of driving you do every day. Drivers with long commutes or who put a consistently high amount of miles on their car each year are more likely to be involved in an auto accident, so companies charge these drivers a higher rate. On the other hand, insurance companies discount the rates of drivers who only use their vehicle recreationally or on the weekends.

Personal information, such as your age, gender, driving record and marital status, has an effect on what premium you are charged. Younger drivers pay more than experienced ones, especially drivers under the age of 25, and statistically speaking, women are safer drivers than men, so they pay less for insurance. Married individuals are also less likely to be involved in a car accident, so their rates are lower than single drivers. Regardless of everything else, having an accident and citation-free driving record will keep rates low and affordable.

Fortunately, drivers who are unhappy with their current insurance costs can do something about it. First, you can begin by asking your provider what kinds of discounts are offered. There may be some new discounts that can be applied to reduce your rate, like going a certain amount of time without filing a claim, owning your home, etc. If not, then shop around to see if a comparable policy is cheaper elsewhere. Changing from one insurance company to another is usually easy and hassle-free.

When out shopping for a new car, review consumer reports for the vehicle’s reliability and find out where it ranks on the list of frequently stolen vehicles. Cars that are expected to maintain a good service record and utilize anti-theft features have a lower overall cost of ownership and are cheaper to insure.

Also, consider taking public transportation or carpooling with co-workers to get to and from work. This will keep miles off of your vehicle and take dollars off of your insurance premium.

Five Ways to Control Workers’ Comp Costs

Most businesses are required by law to provide workers’ compensation insurance. It protects employees, providing income and medical care if they’re injured on the job. It also protects employers; the liability portion provides coverage for lawsuits filed as a result of a work-related injury.

As an employer, the amount you pay for workers’ compensation coverage varies according to your industry and claim history. Workers’ compensation insurance for companies that engage in office-based work is generally much less expensive than insurance for industries like construction or trucking.

Regardless of your industry, there are proactive steps you can take to keep workers’ compensation costs under control. Here are some tips:

Thoroughly train new employees: Surveys show that nearly a third of workers’ compensation claims result from accidents involving newly hired employees. Take a look at your orientation program and see if you can improve overall safety by beefing up new employee training.

Make safety a top priority: The best way to keep costs down is to not incur claims in the first place. Create a safety culture throughout the company, and engage employees directly in the effort. For example, you could establish safety councils and solicit ideas from employees on how to create a safer workplace.

Pre-screen employees: Another preventive action you can take is to make sure you hire the right employees in the first place. Statistics show that workers who are substance abusers are far more likely to have an on-the-job accident. An investment in pre-employment drug screening can save a significant amount in claims down the road.

Manage claims proactively: When an employee is injured, make sure you keep tabs on the worker’s condition and plan for their return to work as quickly as possible. In some cases, injured employees can rejoin your workforce on light duty, which can reduce the amount of the claim.

Make sure employees are classified properly: There are hundreds of classification codes used to determine the appropriate level of workers’ compensation coverage. If employees are misclassified, you may not have the coverage you need, and misclassifications can result in fines.

Workers’ compensation is essential to protect your employees ― and your company. To sharpen your company’s competitive edge, it’s important to control costs. Take a fresh look at your company’s approach to safety, hiring, classification and claims management. You may find new ways to keep costs under control.

Market Value – How Much is My Home Actually Worth?

Homeowners always seem to have a ballpark estimate of their home’s worth, but when it comes down to the real value, they can be a little off target. People tend to view their home through rose-colored glasses as they calculate its value, remembering all of the tender moments that happened over the years. The open market, however, removes sentimental value from the formula and only assesses value based on features and characteristics.

In order to talk about how houses get rated, you must first understand what the term “market value” means. To real estate agents, it refers to the price a house can be bought and sold for within a practical time frame. This would be at a price that is considered fair by both the seller and buyer, and within a time frame ranging up to three months.

If you are interested in figuring out your home’s market value, you must concentrate on the types of things buyers look for when browsing around. Remember that the housing market can change in the blink of an eye and that the value of houses can vary drastically from one neighborhood to another. To establish a good starting point, take a look at the asking price of similar homes for sale in your area.

What to look for when doing a market value analysis of your home:

Location, Location, Location – What school district is the home located in? How desirable is the neighborhood? Is it near local parks, shopping centers, or public transportation?

Design and Overall Appeal – Is the layout of the home aesthetically pleasing? Does the home look nice or like a fixer-upper? Is there landscaping?

Quality of Construction – Does the house appear to be in good condition? Are there visible and obvious repairs?

Maintenance – Has the wiring and plumbing been maintained or updated? Does the home need new shingles or siding? Is there peeling or faded paint on the back porch?

Home Improvements – Is the back patio enclosed or has the bathroom recently been remodeled?

Distinguishing Features – Is there an in-ground pool for swimming or is the basement finished? Is there room in the backyard to plant a garden?

Another way real estate agents measure market value is by looking at the home’s price per square foot. This figure is calculated by taking the amount of livable square feet in the home and dividing it into the home’s most current appraised value, which can usually be found in your property tax paperwork. Look in the newspaper to see what similar houses in your neighborhood are selling for and determine their price per square foot. To prime your house to sell, you will want to price your house at a comparable rate.

Finally, you must take into consideration the current condition of the housing market. Thousands of dollars can be gained or lost depending on real estate trends. Changes in interest rates, the local economy, and even national issues have an effect each home’s market value. A booming economy improves interest rates and leads to higher home values, and on the other hand, in times of recession, home values sink below what owners think is fair. By completing a market value assessment on your home each year, you will have a better idea whether or not your home is properly insured. Be proactive, as an undersized policy will not offer much protection if something terrible would happen.

Driving Risk: When Employees Run Business Errands

Have you ever sent an employee out to pick up needed supplies? Offered to buy lunch for the crew and asked an employee to pick it up? Unless you only send employees who are insured to drive your company vehicles, you may be putting your business at risk. Your business may also incur liability if you travel on company business and have an accident in a rented car while traveling to meet a client or for other business-related purposes.

Why would your business be at risk? Because if there is an accident that causes damage to a third party and the driver’s insurance doesn’t cover the full costs, your company may be sued to recover the excess amount. Employees who use their personal cars are generally required by law to have insurance. But unless you hire them as drivers, you probably have no idea how much insurance coverage employees actually carry ― or even if they have insurance at all.

If you’re traveling on company business in a rental car, you’re probably covered by your personal insurance or by a policy purchased through the rental agency. But if you’re in an accident and cause damage that exceeds the amount of personal coverage you have, an attorney for the injured party would almost certainly seek damages from your company.

The Solution

The good news is that there’s a simple and relatively inexpensive solution: a non-owned auto insurance policy. This type of policy protects your business if an employee gets in an accident and causes damage while running a company errand. It also protects your company if you cause damage in an accident while driving a rental car on company business.

Keep in mind that non-owned auto insurance generally doesn’t cover drivers ― its purpose is to protect the organization. Non-owned auto insurance generally does not function as primary insurance; it is designed as excess liability protection. In other words, if your employee causes damage in an accident while driving a personal car on company business, the employee’s insurance would generally pay first. But if the liability exceeds the amount of the employee’s coverage, non-owned auto insurance would protect your business from being responsible for damage costs not covered by the employee’s coverage.

The Bottom Line

Liability claims caused by vehicular damage can run into the millions of dollars. Your business could be at risk if an employee has an accident while traveling on company business. Your company could also be at risk if you or an employee has an accident while driving a rental car on business. Non-owner auto insurance can provide peace of mind ― and vital protection.

Identity Thieves: They Play, You Pay

It’s hard to tell exactly how they do it. Maybe you threw away some papers with your account number on them, somebody watched you put in your PIN number, or maybe you fell victim to an email phishing scam. Identity thieves don’t care where they get your information, they are just out take your money and ruin your credit in the process. Because there are so many different ways for identity theft to occur, it is important to know how to protect yourself and your assets.

Identity thieves are criminals who prey on other people’s personal information, for instance their social security number, credit card information, bank account information, and online account log-in information. Thieves even want to know your pet’s name or mother’s maiden name to help them steal passwords. Using this critical information, thieves are able to make unauthorized transactions and transfer funds behind your back. Before you ever find out, an identity thief could be enjoying a Caribbean vacation at your expense. While these damages can be repaired, it will cost you plenty of headaches and potentially thousands of dollars.

The threat of identity theft is ever present, but there are some things you can do to keep your credit protected. The first thing you should do is prevent yourself from revealing personal information over the phone and on the Internet. If you do not understand why a business would need your social security number or similar information, then do not give it out. Junk mail and credit card offers are also potential threats and should always go through a paper shredder before being thrown out.

Bank receipts and discarded deposit slips are a goldmine for thieves and should never get tossed in a public trash bin. When ordering new checks, request to have your first initial printed in the corner instead of your full name, to make it harder for forgeries to occur. Checks should never be printed with your social security number on them.

In your free time, take a trip to the library or use your office copier to make paper copies of everything in your wallet. Keep these duplicates in a strongbox or other safe spot at home so you can reference your driver’s license and credit card numbers if you ever lose your wallet or have it stolen. Make sure to photocopy the backs of your credit cards too, which contain the customer service phone numbers to call to deactivate the cards. Having these numbers handy will get your cards suspended quickly and cut down the amount of time the thief can access your accounts.

If you discover or suspect that your identity has been compromised, call the local authorities after you have deactivated your cards. Filing a police report legitimizes your claim and opens an investigation to find and stop the thief. Also, make a report with the fraud department at the Federal Trade Commission and the Social Security Administration. To stop further attacks to your credit, alert the three credit reporting bureaus to block the use of your social security number and name on any new credit applications.

Insurance companies offer identity theft policies to individuals who want added protection. These policies cover the costs of unauthorized purchases and restoring your credit. Sometimes identity theft protection is included with homeowner’s insurance or it can be added as an endorsement to a renter’s or homeowner’s policy.

Nearly 100,000 people each year have their identity stolen, according to Federal Trade Commission statistics. Just one bank slip or piece of mail can lead to having your credit destroyed by an identity crook. By making only a few changes to your lifestyle, you can keep your identity from being targeted by crafty thieves.

Traffic Accidents May Be Biggest Risk to Employee Safety

The International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) discovered that not only are highway vehicles the biggest risk of serious injury to employees, but they are also associated with some of the most costly workers’ compensation claims.

The researchers analyzed injury data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) and the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Their findings revealed that only work in construction, agriculture, and certain natural resource industries caused more employee injuries than vehicle accidents. The data also showed that traffic accidents were the source of a large portion of the total number of serious disabilities and fatalities.

The study categorized injuries by industry and occupation. As an occupational class, truck drivers were found to have a substantially high risk of fatalities; however, they had significantly fewer non-serious injuries. The reverse was true for passenger cars. They were found to have fewer fatalities, but almost double the number of non-serious injuries. The researchers concluded that the size and weight of trucks protect occupants in slower-moving collisions with other vehicles. However, because trucks are prone to jackknifing and overturning, truck drivers are more likely to experience a fatal injury. Besides the high fatality rates, trucker drivers were discovered to have workers’ compensation claims of longer duration and higher average cost.

Other occupational categories that generated a high number of expensive workers’ compensation claims as a result of vehicle accidents were salespersons, messengers, and collectors. It is important to realize that these were actual claims, and not rates of injury per worker. This means that jobs that have traditionally been considered unlikely to cause worker injury carry more risk than originally believed.

The data also indicated that employees involved in vehicle accidents had a significantly higher rate of permanent total disability and workers’ compensation death claims than all other types of claims combined. The average severity of temporary total disability, permanent total disability, and fatality was greater for vehicle claims than for non-vehicle claims.

The predominant cause of injury in workers’ compensation claims resulting from vehicle accidents was neck sprain and neck pain, which accounted for 15 percent of all vehicle claims. However, these claims made up less than two percent of the overall number of workers’ compensation claims.

When examining the cost of vehicle accidents to employers, workers’ compensation payouts represent only a small part of the expense. The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety studied the combined cost of motor vehicle accidents to employers in 2000. The researchers found that medical expenses amounted to $7.7 billion, sick leave, life and disability insurance benefits totaled another $8.6 billion, while workers’ compensation claims costs approximately $2 billion for employers.

Totaled Vehicles and Insurance Payouts – What You Need to Know

Car accidents take their toll physically, mentally, and financially on those involved. Take the time now to learn about how insurance companies determine the value of your vehicle and you will have one less thing to worry about if your vehicle is ever “totaled” in an accident.

According to the car insurance industry, the term “totaled” doesn’t have as much to do with damage as you may think. When a vehicle experiences damage from an auto accident, the insurance company is more interested in the cost to repair the vehicle, rather than the overall amount of damage to the car. If the repair costs exceed what the insurance company considers the vehicle to be worth, the insurance company deems the vehicle to be “totaled” and the policyholder is paid the value of the vehicle. While most car owners are familiar will value guides like Kelly Blue Book and the NADA Official Used Car Guide, insurance companies generally refer to their own private databases when determining a vehicle’s value.

After making an assessment of your vehicle’s damages, the insurance company will make an offer which they feel is fair. The offer is meant to provide you the means to purchase a vehicle of the same style and condition of the one that was “totaled.” Insurance companies call this “making whole.” For example if you were driving a 5-year old pickup truck with 65,000 miles on it before the accident, your offer should provide you the money to purchase a similar truck with similar miles on it. As an informed policyholder, it is on your shoulders to make certain that your offer indeed makes your situation whole, putting you back behind the wheel of a comparable vehicle.

At times, insurance companies and policyholders cannot agree on a fair payout and drivers must turn to outside sources to help their case. Car owners can hire an independent appraisal service or take their case before an arbitrator. If considering having your vehicle appraised, factor the cost of the appraisal service into the equation and see if it is still a cost effective option. If you seek arbitration, keep in mind that there are binding and non-binding cases when arbitrating, and non-binding arbitration decisions can be appealed in court if you still consider the offer to be unfair.

In most cases, though, offers are easily agreed upon and your vehicle heads off to its final resting place – the salvage yard. Your vehicle will be dissected and sold for parts and scrap, with the insurance company keeping the profits. If you don’t want your car to meet this demise, you may opt to keep your damaged vehicle and pay for its repairs out-of-pocket, but this is not always the most economically wise decision.

Car owners who decide to keep their vehicle after it has been “totaled” receive a smaller payout from their insurance company. The offer is reduced by the amount of your deductible and the estimated amount of profits that would have been made from the salvage process. Owners who choose to keep their damaged cars run the risk of not receiving an offer large enough to get the vehicle roadworthy again. Re-insuring the vehicle will also be difficult in the future, as most insurance companies will only extend liability coverage to previously “totaled” vehicles, regarding they pass an inspection by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Whether you choose to make the repairs yourself or have your vehicle salvaged, it is crucial that you understand how auto insurance companies operate before you are ever involved in an accident. By knowing this information, you will be prepared to get the most out of your vehicle, even if it is “totaled.”

Vicarious Liability: Your Employees Could Cost You!

Respondeat superior” is a Latin phrase that translates “let the master answer.” This is legal jargon relating to the breadth of the employer’s responsibility for the actions of his employees. Literally, and in basic terms, any injurious or wrongful act of an employee within the course and scope of his employment creates liability for the employer (the master). This is commonly known as “vicarious liability.”

An employer’s liability for injury or damage caused by employees is considered “vicarious” because the act was not committed by the employer, but by individuals for whom the employer is responsible. Just like a parent is responsible for the actions of a child, even if the parent had no knowledge of what the child was doing, so too is the employer responsible for the employee’s actions.

When crews are spread over several job sites, the employer loses some direct control over the actions of the dispersed employees; however, he is not relieved of his responsibility for the actions or inactions of these workers. The “master” will be required to financially stand up and answer for any injury or damage caused, even though he may not have been aware of those actions.

Within the framework of construction operations, the employer is obviously responsible for any work done incorrectly or poorly. For example, if an employee of a plumbing contractor does not properly cement or solder a pipe, leading to severe water damage from a break at the connection point, the employer is expected to pay for the damages.

Beyond simply being vicariously liable, the employer has the potential to be accused of “negligent entrustment.” Negligent entrustment can be asserted when an employer allows an unqualified person to use a dangerous instrumentality. Construction sites teem with dangerous instrumentalities; from items as simple as nail guns and power saws, to man lifts, grading equipment, and trenching equipment. Employers owe a duty to the employee, others on the job site, and even the general public to affirm an employee’s ability to safely and correctly operate equipment necessary for their job.

To avoid breaching this duty and allegations of negligent entrustment, the employer must test employees to confirm they are adequately trained to operate the equipment they are expected to use. This can be accomplished by observing the employee’s use of the equipment and correcting misuse. Observation and training should be done by a highly trained supervisor or by the supplier. The training must include detailed safety instructions and “what-if” scenarios. Once the employee has been “cleared” to use the equipment, continued observation is necessary to ensure the employee doesn’t become careless.

A common response to recommended training and testing is, “We don’t have time for that.” This may be true, but if you don’t have time to train, do you have time to go to court? Also, do you have the funds to pay the damages? Successful negligent entrustment suits often involve punitive damages that could drastically increase the cost for that particular incident.

Vicarious liability and charges of negligent entrustment aren’t limited to your employees. You may also face liability for the actions of entities or individuals to whom you sub-contract work. Making sure you hire qualified and properly insured subcontractors is of vital importance.

You, as the saying goes, are your employee’s keeper. Not due to lack of trust, but because you are ultimately responsible for the results and consequences of their actions. Choosing, training, and monitoring your employees and subcontractors will allow you to avoid or at least minimize many of the potential problems.

The Data is in – Distracted Driving is Dangerous!

In our high-tech world, there are more and more instances of driver distractions that contribute to car accidents, some of them fatal.   According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2008, there were an estimated 6,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries attributable to distracted driving. If anything, the actual number is likely higher because distractions can be hard to quantify and the true number of accidents caused by driver distractions is difficult to define.

Our changing driving habits and increased dependence on technology have steadily raised the number of potentially dangerous distractions. Consider the attention-diverters in your own car – radio and climate controls, cell phones and navigation systems. Matters are complicated further when there is more than one distraction, such as eating while trying to discipline a child in the backseat.

Furthermore, the National Safety Council released a white paper in early 2010, discussing the effects of cell phone usage while driving, and the news is not good.  The white paper pulled information from at least 30 different scientific studies, and the results showed that cell phones have quickly become one of the leading driver distractions, even when drivers opted for “hands-free” devices.  The NSC reveals that cell-phone usage causes the driver to multi-task and weakens the brain’s ability to capture driving cues.  The overwhelming result is impaired driving performance.  

Because of the grim data, many states have placed restrictions on drivers’ use of cell phones. The number of wireless phone users in the U.S. has grown from five million in 1990 to more than 200 million today, and surveys show that 85 percent of these people use cell phones when behind the wheel. In fact, calls from moving vehicles account for half of all cellular air time use.

So what can you do to avoid falling into this trap?  Below are some important anti-distraction tips:

* Keep your eyes on the road. Consider the possibility of turning your cell phone off while behind the wheel.

* NEVER text while driving.

* Keep your hands on the wheel by programming your favorite radio stations, and arranging tapes and CDs in an easily accessible spot. Don’t attempt to retrieve objects that have fallen on the floor while driving.

* Teach your children the importance of good behavior in the car.

* Avoid eating and drinking while driving. If you must, choose easy-to-handle foods and keep beverages in a nearby cup-holder.

* Designate the front-seat passenger to serve as navigator rather than fumbling with maps and navigation systems yourself.

* Take a break if you find yourself lost in thought.

* Avoid stressful or confrontational conversation while driving.

Limiting Your Liability for Summer Employees

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 2.3 million workers between the ages of 16-24 years of age were hired for summer employment. On average, one of these summer employees will be injured on the job every five seconds. Most of these work related injuries are both needless and costly to the employer.

The three main causes for the majority of these injuries are due to inexperience, lack of training and inadequate supervision. There are a number of proactive steps that employers can take to limit their exposure and reduce their liability.

Steps to Take Beforehand

Business owners would be wise to develop safe working practices for summer help. Here are some simple but practical steps you can employ to reduce your costs from job related injuries this summer:

  • Ask yourself what hazards the summer worker will be exposed to, including any pertinent risks outside the immediate working area.
  • Consider carefully the personnel who are to be involved in the training process and ensure they are well versed in the training procedures.
  • Always try to assign an experienced worker as a supervisor and ensure they keep a watchful eye on the summer worker over the first several days.
  • Make sure that any equipment to be used is examined and operational beforehand. Ensure that all legally required equipment safety guards are in place.

Take the Time to Give an Adequate Safety Orientation

Even before on the job training begins, give all your new staff a safety orientation. Here are some of the most important points to cover:

  • Appoint someone to act as a safety coordinator to explain the applicable federal and state safety laws.
  • The safety representative should stress and encourage new employees to ask questions about any aspect of the job they don’t understand.
  • Ensure that your summer workers do not hesitate to report unsafe conditions or hazards and to whom.
  • Stress that newly hired workers should not engage in any job activity where they haven’t been properly trained. Emphasize that they must always think safety first.
  • Inform new workers not to leave there work area unless they’ve been told to do so. Describe and show the locations of first aid kits, emergency alarms and exits, fire extinguishers, emergency alarms, eyewash stations, and how and where to obtain medical help.
  • Instruct all workers using hazardous equipment or processes to always use required protective gear such as gloves, hearing protectors, safety visors, and hard hat or safety shoes.

Provide Thorough Training

By taking the time to train your summer workers with good training techniques, you can dramatically reduce the risk of injuries. Here are few points to keep in mind:

  • Assign an experienced worker to give the worker their full attention until fully trained.
  • Provide detailed instructions on how to perform all aspects of the job and encourage them to ask questions.
  • Demonstrate how each task should be performed and repeat it until understood. Observe how the worker performs the task and correct any mistakes.
  • Teach the worker how to properly lift heavy items, use ladders safely and how to avoid injury from activities involving repetitive actions.
  • Monitor the worker’s progress in the first few days as this is the time when most injuries occur.

By being proactive in orienting your summer workers, you can greatly reduce your liability exposure to work related injuries. Training takes a little time but it’s time well spent.

Check Your Homeowner’s Policy for Coverage on Your Special Vehicles

Millions of Americans own special vehicles for recreation, personal assistance, property maintenance, and for other purposes. Residents and visitors in snow belt regions use snowmobiles. Golf carts cruise around golf courses and around many residential communities. Individuals with limited mobility use motorized wheelchairs and scooters. All-terrain vehicles and dune buggies are always popular. These vehicles can be expensive to purchase and can become involved in accidents. Individuals who own and use them need insurance protection when something goes wrong. Fortunately, the standard homeowner’s insurance policy provides some of the coverage users need.

The homeowner’s policy does not cover legal liability resulting from the use of motor vehicles that are registered for use on public roads or property or that the law requires to be registered for use at the place where the accident took place. However, it does provide some coverage for vehicles designed to be used off public roads if either the user does not own them or if the accident occurs on an “insured location,” as the policy defines that term. The term includes the place where the person named on the policy (the named insured) resides, other residences he acquires during the policy term, premises he doesn’t own and where he temporarily resides, vacant land he owns or rents, land he owns or rents where he is building a residence, and other premises he occasionally rents for non-business use.

Therefore, the homeowner’s policy will cover him for liability resulting from the use of:

* A motorized wheelchair at his home and surrounding property

* A dune buggy at a beach house he’s renting for a week

* A snowmobile he owns on vacant land he owns

* An ATV he rents while he uses it on someone else’s property.

It will not cover him if he takes a vehicle he owns off an insured location.

The policy contains special provisions regarding golf carts. It covers the person’s liability for use of a golf cart he owns that is designed to carry at most four people and is not designed to go faster than 25 M.P.H. on level ground. Coverage applies only if the accident occurs at a golfing facility or at a private residential community where golf carts can legally travel on its public roads, subject to the authority of a property owner’s association, and where an insured person has a residence. Therefore, an individual has coverage if he strikes a person with his golf cart while driving from one hole to another or if he lives in a gated community and damages a neighbor’s deck with his golf cart. He does not have coverage if he takes out a mailbox while driving a golf cart down a public road.

The policy covers certain vehicles if the insured person uses them solely to service his premises. For example, he would have coverage for a riding lawn mower that he uses on his own property, but he will not have coverage for it if he also uses it to cut a neighbor’s grass. The policy covers vehicles designed to assist the handicapped, but only while they are being used to assist a handicapped person or while they are parked on an insured location. A healthy 15 year-old who takes a handicapped person’s scooter for a joy ride does not have coverage.

Because coverage for these vehicles is so situation-dependent, people who own them should discuss the best way to insure them with a professional insurance agent. In some cases, policy changes may be available that will improve the coverage for an additional premium. All motorized vehicles carry a risk of accidents, so it is important to have the right insurance protection in place.

Identifying Environmental Exposures Is Critical to Managing Risk

Environmental claims are often unpredictable and despite the fact that associated liabilities can easily cripple a business, most contractors underestimate their potential magnitude. Without sufficient insurance protection, the consequences of such claims can range from costly business interruption to bodily injury and/or property damage lawsuits. The best way to account for this unpredictability is to manage the risks that can lead to environmental claims.

The only way to develop an effective risk management strategy is by conducting a thorough site pollution assessment to determine the various levels of exposure.

Time is a critical factor in this type of assessment. Exposures can exist from both past and future pollution release events. Of the two, past exposures can be more easily qualified and managed. Commonly referred to as “legacy exposures,” these previous events are the known/unknown issues associated with the history of a site. Some typical legacy exposures include:

  • ·         Accumulations of small discharges
  • ·         Inappropriate storage and handling practices
  • ·         Poor structural integrity
  • ·         Use of pesticides and herbicides

Legacy exposures may be currently dormant, but can re-emerge during site development, or operation expansion. They can even remain inactive on the property being developed while surfacing in neighboring properties. Such exposures could also be former release events that posed minimal risk initially, and required little remediation. However, now they require additional cleanup. Or the added remediation of these events could also be the result of a change in regulatory standards.

The second level of exposure results from the possible future occurrence of a pollution release event. Known as “operational exposures,” these risks can trigger a major cleanup effort, as well as bodily injury and property damage loss. These events can be sudden and easily identified, or they can be the outcome of a gradual process that has gone unnoticed.

The preferred way to manage these exposures is by transferring risk via an environmental insurance policy.  Environmental insurance should be part of the risk management strategy of real estate owners, facility operators, and any other party with a financial interest in a site. An environmental policy can be written to cover only legacy concerns for transactions where there is a risk transfer from seller to buyer. It can also be written to cover only operational risks for a leased location, or if the insured feels that the site history does not warrant coverage for legacy events. Additionally, policies can also be crafted to provide full coverage for a single site or multiple locations.

What You Need to Know about Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The changing of the seasons usually brings along a laundry list of chores to most homeowners, in addition to some chilly weather. One task that should be at the top of the list is making sure your home’s carbon monoxide (CO) detector is working properly.

The presence of carbon monoxide gas is almost impossible to detect without some sort of device. The gas is odorless, colorless, and invisible, and can weave its way throughout your home much easier in the winter months. CO gases are created when heating elements that use natural gas, propane, wood, or oil do not completely burn off their fuels. Breathing in these fumes poisons the body and can be deadly. The effects may appear mild at first, as the individual begins to feel dizzy and nauseous, but can quickly turn to exertion and loss of consciousness.

Fortunately, carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable by performing routine safety checks around the house, and by installing and maintaining carbon monoxide detectors within the home. Proper maintenance of the home’s cooking and heating sources is the best place to start, but also consider safeguarding the house from the exhaust fumes of generators and vehicles. Recent statistics from the U.S. National Safety Council show that the two leading causes of accidental death from gases or vapors come from carbon monoxide given off by running vehicles and cooking and heating equipment.

The Center for Disease Control and the National Fire Protection Agency agree that having carbon monoxide detectors in the home is a family’s best line of defense against poisoning. Follow these tips to help protect your home from this deadly gas:

• Only use CO detectors that have been approved by a qualified, independent testing laboratory.

• The sensors in CO devices do not last forever. Abide by the manufacturer’s suggested replacement interval.

• Battery-powered detectors should receive new batteries once a year, unless the directions give a different time frame.

• Choose a centralized location outside of the family’s sleeping area to install the detector, making sure that its alarm can clearly be heard in each bedroom.

• List the phone numbers of the local fire and rescue services with your other emergency contacts.

• Perform a monthly test on all carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are powered and working.

In the event that your detector’s alarm sounds, immediately evacuate your home, leaving doors open and turning off cooking and heating equipment, if possible. Alert the fire department and seek appropriate medical attention if anyone shows symptoms of CO poisoning. After the carbon monoxide levels return to normal, have your home’s equipment inspected for leaks and areas of weakness by a qualified technician.

Remember, carbon monoxide poisoning is serious and deadly, and its symptoms should never be taken lightly. By following the tips mentioned above, you can help protect yourself and your family from the “silent killer” during the wintertime and throughout the year.

When Is It Sexual Harassment and What Can Be Done to Prevent It?

Most employers know that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The legal definition of sexual harassment is “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.”

While this definition may seem clear cut, the issues surrounding what constitutes sexual harassment are not. One of the most difficult aspects of examining a sexual harassment charge is deciding whether or not the conduct in question was truly harassment, and not just an innocent exchange between consenting adults.

There are two scenarios, that when they exist, are a definitive sign of sexual harassment:

1. Hostile environment – This is the most prevalent type. A work environment becomes a hostile environment when an employee is made so uncomfortable by a pattern of repeated, unwanted behavior that they cannot perform their job.

2. Quid pro quo – This Latin phrase literally means “this for that.” Quid pro quo occurs when a supervisor, or other person acting with authority, withholds, demands, or promises a benefit if the employee submits to unwelcome sexual conduct.

Keep in mind when trying to determine if an employee’s/supervisor’s actions constitute harassment; you have to view the conduct in question from the victim’s perspective. The victim determines whether the conduct is severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile environment. The harasser’s intentions do not play a role in the matter.

If there are recurring incidences of employees making sexual harassment charges in your organization, it is probably not a question of supervisors being unaware of inappropriate behavior. Rather it’s a matter of supervisors not taking action when they see inappropriate behavior. Failure to act is far more common than you may think. It is usually the result of a supervisor feeling unsure as to whether the behavior was really unacceptable, or not knowing the proper way to confront the parties involved.

The best way to remove these hindrances is to:

· Establish a sexual harassment policy that sets forth what actions are acceptable, what actions are considered sexually threatening, and what steps will be taken if anyone is found to be in violation of company policy. Once you have clearly defined your policy, document it and provide a copy to each employee. All employees should sign a disclosure that says that not only have they read the policy and understood it, but they also understand the consequences for failing to uphold it.

· Provide training – Supervisors should be given appropriate training in the correct manner of investigating a charge of sexual harassment including the types of questions to ask, how to file a written report, and to whom the report should be given.

It is also a good idea to be proactive in avoiding formal confrontations by periodically walking around and talking with employees. Many times an informal conversation can tip you off to a potential powder keg.

Three Strategies for Lowering Auto Insurance for Your Teen

Teenagers are expensive. Parents pay for their cell phones, sports activities, video games, and when a teen starts driving, parents pay their car insurance. Car insurance is very expensive for teenagers due to their lack of experience on the road. Statistics show that teenagers are involved in a higher number of accidents with fatal or critical injuries than more experienced older drivers. Here are a few ways you may be able to decrease the cost of auto insurance for teen drivers.

  • Check for a good student discount. In the eyes of an insurance company, teenagers who do well in school appear more responsible. Keep in mind that a good student doesn’t mean an honor student. Each insurance company has its own definition of a good student. Your teen may still qualify even if he isn’t at the top of his class. You can also enroll your teen in a driver’s education course, even if it is not mandatory in your state. Find out from your insurance company if a driver’s education course will affect the insurance premiums.
  • Choose an older model car for your teenager. Teens are naturally attracted to shiny new sports cars, but the insurance costs on sports cars are astronomical. The insurance cost is tied to the horsepower rating of the car as well as the theft rate. Older cars also have a lower book value which in turn reduces the insurance premium.
  • Consider raising your deductible. A higher deductible means lower monthly premiums. You can always save the difference in a special account in case you need to draw on it to pay the deductible later in case of an accident or fender bender.

In summary, always be proactive when adding a new driver to your existing insurance policy. Ask questions and do your own research. Discounts are out there if you know where to look.

Top Tips to Streamline the Premium Audit Process

Are you due for a workers’ compensation premium audit? Audits are how insurance rates are determined, and it’s possible that an audit will uncover information that can actually save you money. In any case, it pays to be prepared. These five tips can help you get ready.

  1. Let your broker know when there are changes in your staffing, payroll or areas of operation. This is important not just at audit time but all the time. Your rates are based on variable rating information, including the number of employees, job classifications, the states in which you operate, etc. Updated information results in more accurate premium assessments.
  2. Get your records ready. Your auditor will need to see records such as federal and state tax returns, ledgers, checkbooks, contracts and employee or contractor tax documents. If you prepare your records in advance, you’ll speed up the audit process.
  3. Make sure you break out various types of compensation in your records. For example, to set your premium, your broker considers pay but not contributions to employee benefits packages and other perks, so it’s important to make sure your records are clear on the various types of compensation. Also make sure overtime pay is clearly defined since it’s classified as regular pay for workers’ compensation insurance purposes.
  4. Ensure that contractors have their own insurance. This is important not only from an audit standpoint but from a liability prospective as well. If an uninsured contractor has an accident while performing work on your behalf, you can be held liable. If an audit identifies contractors for whom you don’t have certificates of coverage, you can be charged for their premiums.
  5. Remain on hand to answer questions. As your auditor reviews your material, he or she may have questions or need additional data. If you are available to provide answers, your audit will be completed more quickly.

By following these tips, you’ll be more prepared for your workers’ compensation premium audit. A fast, efficient audit process can save time for both you and your auditor, so it pays to be prepared.

Paying Too Much for Auto Insurance?

To paraphrase President Barack Obama, if you are still feeling the effects of the economic recession, then the recession is not over for you. And chances are good that you may be among those who are still trying to pinch every penny and save money wherever and whenever they can. But have you thought about saving on your car insurance? Car insurance premiums represent a significant chunk of your income each year, so it only makes sense that you should make sure that you are not paying too much for necessary coverage. If you are not getting some of these car insurance discounts, then you are likely paying more than you should:

Safe driver who obeys traffic laws? Discount! The number one determining factor when your car insurance premiums are being calculated is your driving history and the driving history of other drivers on your policy. In fact, many insurers appreciate a good driver that they are willing to knock ten percent off the cost of your insurance for having a clean driving record. Now that’s significant!

Are you an older driver? Discount! Drivers over fifty are often eligible for many discounts on their car insurance. More and more companies are rewarding older drivers for their experience behind the wheel.

Have you taken a defensive driving course? Discount! Defensive driving courses can help you to become a better, safer driver, and your car insurance company knows this. If you can provide proof of taking a qualified defensive driving course, you can score additional savings.

Is your teen driver on the honor roll at her school? Discount! Students who make good grades may be eligible for a discount, as can those students who take a driver’s education course. It pays to be smart!

Is your car equipped with special features? Discount! Airbags, daytime running lights, anti-lock brakes and anti-theft devices are just some of the equipment that might qualify you for savings.

Compare Auto Insurance Rates and Save Even More

Other than qualifying for discounts on your car insurance, you can also reduce the cost of your car insurance by comparing rates with top companies. The quickest and most efficient way to compare rates is to contact a professional insurance agent. Many drivers find that they are able to save thirty percent or more off the cost of car insurance if it’s been a while since their last review.

Regarding Fires in Northern California

As most of you know, the wildfires in Northern California continue to burn at a rapid pace.  All of us at Stanley M. Davis & Co. would like to extend our gratitude to all the tireless firefighters, police, volunteers and families that are working around the clock to try and save the beautiful land that we all love and treasure. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your insurance coverage, please reach out to our office, we are standing by ready to help.

Please donate to the many funds set up to help the families and businesses that have lost so much.

Returning Employees to Work Has Legal Implications

When making the decision to return an injured employee to work, there are several significant legal issues that must be considered as a result of both state and federal law.

The first consideration is your state’s workers’ compensation laws. While a common objective of workers’ compensation laws is to facilitate the injured worker in returning to a productive job, not all states approach this goal in the same manner.

Your state’s approach probably falls into one of the following three categories:

  • States that provide for a specific number of weeks of rehabilitation and a limited amount for training for the injured worker. After training is complete, the worker is considered rehabilitated. This training component also limits the employer’s liability to find another job for the claimant.
  • States that are considered defined benefit states. A worker is paid for his temporary total disability. If disability reaches a predetermined percentage of body loss, however, the employer can issue a lump-sum payment and close the case, whether the worker can return to work or not. Rehabilitation is a minor part of this approach.
  • States that use loss of earning power as qualification for benefits. Once a worker is injured, his workers’ compensation benefits will continue for life unless he is proven to have an earning power. In these states, the employer at the time of injury must offer a job to the injured employee if one is available within the employee’s physical restrictions. If this is not possible, the law requires that rehabilitation efforts begin.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also presents certain legal considerations concerning the manner in which an injured employee is returned to work. The first consideration is regarding the collection and maintenance of the injured employee’s medical information.

The ADA requires employers to collect this information to determine how to accommodate an employee’s disability and whether the employee is capably of performing a specific job. However, the ADA also mandates that employers:

  • Treat this information as a confidential medical record.
  • Maintain this information on separate forms and keep the forms in separate files.
  • Not use this information for any purpose that is inconsistent with the ADA.

There are also specific rules regarding the disclosure of such information. Supervisors and managers may be informed about necessary restrictions and accommodations arising from the disability. In addition, first aid and safety personnel can be informed if the employee’s condition may require emergency treatment.

Another key consideration under the ADA is whether or not the returning employee is eligible for a particular job. The law says that if an employee can perform the essential parts of a job, they are eligible, even if certain minor aspects of the job cannot be performed. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations as necessary so that the employee can perform the job. This is what is commonly referred to as a “light-duty” assignment.

Decisions regarding necessary accommodations must be accomplished through a joint process involving the employer, employee, and the employee’s doctor. A company refusing to make reasonable accommodations is at risk for a lawsuit. A worker who refuses reasonable light-duty work risks having their benefits or employment terminated.

Consider Cost of Car Insurance when Shopping for a New Ride

Most consumers will usually put forth a great deal of effort and time into searching out the best price for their new car. After all, the majority of America will have a budget for any large ticket purchase. One common mistake that consumers make when budgeting for a new car is only comparing what they can afford with the sticker price or loan payment for the car.

If cost is an issue, especially if choosing a car on the highest end of one’s budget, then it’s vital to factor in how much insurance will cost on the new car. It’s important to remember that car insurance prices will vary based on several car factors: sticker price, safety features, cost of repair, vehicle specific features, and high vs. low profile of vehicle.

Sticker Price

The greater the sticker price of a new or used car is, the more expensive it will be for an insurance company to replace it in the event of an accident. Therefore, the more expensive a car is, the more expensive the insurance will be for it. The added cost of insurance must be factored in to know if a car is truly affordable.

Safety Features

Safety features can have a big impact on car insurance. Features such as anti-lock brakes, airbags, automatic seatbelts, traction control, and airbags are statically proven to greatly reduce the number of accidents and /or injuries that occur while driving a car. The overall safety, class safety rating, and “crashworthiness” of a vehicle is also a factor. Certain states mandate that a discount be given for vehicles with certain safety features. So, be sure and check the safety rating for the car and applicable state law. Five stars indicate the highest safety rating and one star the lowest. 

Repair Cost

The cost to repair the car is another factor that will influence insurance cost. The more expensive a car is, the more expensive the parts will be in the event it ever needs a replaced or repaired part. Then, there are certain brands of cars that usually require a dealership or specialty mechanic for even the simplest repair. These cars usually require brand-specific tools and diagnostic equipment. All of this will result in higher insurance rates.

Car Specific Features

There are certain car features that will impact insurance cost. Hard top vs. soft top, number of doors, and size of engine would be feature examples. As a general rule, domestic cars and minivans are some of the less expensive types of vehicles to insure.


Some cars are easier to steal and more valuable to car thieves than others. These “high profile” cars are considered magnets for auto theft, and therefore more expensive to insure. Crime databases and local insurance agents can apprise buyers of what cars are considered high profile for their area.

All of the above influences on car insurance can dramatically increase the bottom line cost of acquiring a new car, as they can alter car insurance from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. It’s vital to seek an insurance estimate before deciding if a car is a good deal.

Control Workers’ Comp Costs by Lowering Your Experience Modifier

If you are looking for ways to keep your workers’ compensation insurance costs under control, it’s a good idea to take a look at your experience modifier. In fact, tackling your experience modifier is generally a far more effective method of lowering your costs than shopping around for cheaper workers’ compensation coverage. That’s because the experience modifier is used to calculate your individual rate.

However, many employers don’t fully understand how experience modifiers work. They don’t completely understand how lowering it can help them drastically reduce workers’ compensation costs. Let’s take a closer look.

What is an experience modifier?

The experience modifier is a formula insurance companies use to predict losses that an employer is likely to incur. To arrive at the experience modifier, the insurance company considers losses over a three-year period in history, not including the current policy period. It takes into account not only amounts actually paid as claims but also estimates of future payments for medical treatments or compensation that will be paid to make up for lost wages.

Your experience modifier compares your actual losses with the expected losses for employers operating similarly sized companies in your state and industry. If your experience modifier is 1.00, that means your losses match the average rate. A modifier that is higher than 1.00 reflects higher losses, while a modifier less than 1.00 means lower than expected losses.

Your experience modifier is used to calculate your workers’ compensation insurance premiums, so the lower your modifier, the less you’ll pay. Let’s take a look at ways to lower your experience modifier.

Toward a lower experience modifier

Here are a few tips on lowering your experience modifier:

Create a safer work environment. Since your experience modifier is derived from your workers’ compensation claims history over a three-year period, the most obvious first step is to create a safer work environment. A workplace focus on safety is a great way to improve morale and help keep costs down. Some companies form safety committees to find new ways to reduce workplace injuries and to provide training that helps employees stay safe.

Return employees to work as soon as possible. Another excellent way to keep costs down is to consider a return-to-work program for injured employees. Remember, workers’ compensation claims involve not only medical bills but also claims for lost wages. In many cases, injured employees who are not yet able to return to their former jobs can come back to perform light duty jobs while they complete their recovery. This helps lower claims costs. It’s a good idea to work closely with physicians who specialize in workplace injuries since they can more efficiently treat your employees and may have more experience authorizing returns to work for light duty assignments.

Hire the right people. Another long-term strategy for lowering your experience modifier is to implement good hiring practices. For example, you may want to consider a candidate background check and drug screening program. Employees who use drugs are far more likely to be injured on the job, lowering morale and driving up your costs. It’s always a good idea to be selective about whom you hire, and the likelihood of future on-the-job injuries is one more factor to consider.

The bottom line

When workers’ compensation insurance prices rise, it’s tempting for employers to shop around for new coverage. But the fact is, employers themselves control a major factor in determining rates: the experience modifier. Take control of your workers’ compensation costs by taking steps to create a safer work environment, return employees to work and hire the right people. Not only will you improve operations and employee morale, you’ll save money too.

Check Your Home’s Fire Extinguishers

According to a fire loss study done by the National Fire Protection Association, house fires accounted for 75% of all structural fires in the United States. There’s about 400,000 residential property fires in the U.S. each year, and these residential fires account for over 3,700 human fatalities each year. Even when all other natural disasters are combined, fires still typically claim more American lives per year.

Considering the cost, frequency, and loss of life related to residential fires, it’s important for homeowners to have loss control measures in place. A fire extinguisher may seem like a simple item, but when properly selected, placed, and maintained, a fire extinguisher can be a powerful tool to prevent widespread fire loss. The best thing is that a fire extinguisher is a relatively cheap investment, as prices start at around $20.00.

It’s important to become familiar with the different classes of fire extinguishers. There are five classes, with each class based on what type of fire the extinguisher is capable of extinguishing. The five extinguisher classes are marked with a class specific color, geometric symbol, and/or picture.

Class A Fire Extinguisher

Color – green

Geometric symbol – triangle

Picture – burning garbage can and woodpile

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on ordinary solid combustibles. These types of fires might involve cloth, wood, rubber, paper, or certain types of plastic.

Class B Fire Extinguisher

Color – red

Geometric symbol – square

Picture – container of fuel and burning puddle

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on flammable liquids and gasses. These types of fires might involve lacquers, gasoline, alcohol, diesel oil, oil-based paints, or flammable gas.

Class C Fire Extinguishers

Color – blue

Geometric symbol – circle

Picture – burning outlet and electric cord plug

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on energized electrical equipment. It would be used for fires that involve an appliance, electrical wiring, circuit breaker, or electrical outlet.

Class D Fire Extinguisher

Color – yellow

Geometric symbol – star or decagon

Picture – burning bearing and gear

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on combustible metals. These fires might involve magnesium, potassium, sodium, or titanium. It’s important to note that some Class D fire extinguishers will work on multiple metal types, but others are metal specific.

Class K Fire Extinguisher

Color – black

Geometric symbol – hexagon

Picture – burning pan

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on combustible cooking fires. It can be used to put out fires from cooking oils and fats.

Fire Extinguisher Tips

*Fire extinguishers are important fire protection tools. However, it’s vital to know the fire type and extinguisher class before attempting usage. Using the wrong extinguisher on the wrong fire can make the fire worse and cause life threatening injury.

*It’s extremely important for all members of the household, babysitters, housekeepers, and any other potential user to know how to safely and correctly use the fire extinguisher. Since most will not be using an extinguisher on a regular basis, it’s also important to periodically review the instructions.

*Because fires may often involve a combination of elements, most fire protection experts recommend a fire extinguisher with an ABC rating.

*Fire protection experts recommend that a medium-sized fire extinguisher be placed in the kitchen and garage. A fire extinguisher should also be placed on each additional floor of the home.

*All fire extinguishers should be annually inspected and maintained by a professional fire equipment supplier. If not properly maintained, a fire extinguisher might not discharge when needed. There’s also the risk of it rupturing when pressurized, which can result in serious injury.

* Having fire extinguishers in the home may reduce the cost of home insurance. Contact the insurance broker for the home to find out if a discount for fire loss prevention measures is offered.


Keep in mind that fire extinguishers are vital protection against fire loss, but they must be properly selected, placed, and maintained.

Psychosocial Factors in Returning to Work

We all know that persistent pain from work-related injuries affects an employee’s attitude about returning to work. Unfortunately, the psychological ramifications of chronic pain can also result in prolonged legal action, increasing legal fees, large settlements, and ultimately, failure of the employee to return to work. So, how can we prevent chronic pain from escalating workers’ compensation costs?

In a study titled Integrating Psychosocial and Behavioral Interventions to Achieve Optimal Rehabilitation Outcomes that appeared in the December 2005 issue of the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, researchers studied the psychological factors that impede an injured worker in returning to work:

  • Obsession – The persistence of the pain becomes so overwhelming that it is the only thing the employee thinks about.
  • Fear – The employee fears the possibility of becoming re-injured, which increases their current pain. As a result, the possibility of another injury and resulting disability cripples the employee psychologically and causes them to put off returning to work.
  • Perception – When an injured worker has been on disability leave for an extended period, they may feel that co-workers believe they are faking their pain. This causes uneasiness about returning to work and facing co-workers.
  • Self-fulfillment – If an employee believes they are not physically capable of returning to work because of the severity of their pain, this can lead to a failed transition back to the workplace.

In addition to internal factors, researchers noted that there are external psychosocial issues that can impact the injured employee’s desire to return to work.

  • Co-worker support – When injured employees feel there is a lack of social support to help them transition back, they delay returning to work.
  • Job stress – Employees who believe that the stress level at work will intensify their physical pain tend to remain on disability.
  • Workplace attitudes toward disability – Injured employees who feel that the general attitude about disability is that it is a way to “milk the system” sometimes delay returning.

The researchers concluded that understanding the significance of the internal and external psychosocial factors on the employee’s successful transition back into the workplace is critical to the design of return to work programs. First-line supervisors should be trained to detect if an employee is experiencing any of the psychosocial risk factors, as well as how to eliminate or lessen the impact of those risk factors.

Beware of Deer when Driving

Before heading out for a week-end trip on beautiful, crisp autumn day, be aware that October, November, and December are the three months with the highest number of deer-vehicle collisions. These are the months when deer are both migrating and mating, making them more active and more likely to end up in the path of a coming car. Additionally, deer populations are getting larger, while at the same time, their habitats are being displaced by urban sprawl.

An October 2010 press release from State Farm notes that while the number of miles driven by motorists in the U.S. over the past five years has increased by only 2 percent, the number of deer-vehicle collisions has grown by ten times that amount. Based on claims data, it is estimated that 2.3 million deer-vehicle collisions have occurred in the U.S. during the two year period ending June 30, 2010. That figure represents 21.1 percent more accidents involving deer than 5 years earlier.

To put the numbers into perspective, during the time it takes you to read this paragraph, a collision between a deer and vehicle will likely have taken place. (They are most likely during the last three months of the year and in the early evening.)

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, deer-vehicle collisions in the U.S. cause approximately 200 fatalities each year, with an average damage to a car or truck around $3,100. And the accidents have a geographic component as well, with some states being far more dangerous than others when it comes to deer.

By evaluating the overall number of reported collisions in each state and weighing them by the total number of licensed drivers, a few states clearly led the list of deer-vehicle collisions. For the fourth year in a row, West Virginia tops the list of states where a driver is most likely to collide with a deer. The odds: 1 in 42.  Iowa is second on the list at 1 in 67, following by Michigan at 1 in 70. The state in which deer-vehicle collisions are least likely is still Hawaii, with the odds of deer strike being 1 in 13,011.

 Avoid Deer Collisions while Driving

If you are driving through a high-risk state, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk:

* Be aware of posted deer crossing signs. These are placed in active deer crossing areas.

* Remember that deer are most active between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.

* Use high beam headlamps as much as possible at night to illuminate the areas from which deer will enter roadways.

* Be aware that deer generally travel in herds Д± if you see one, there is a strong possibility others are nearby.

* Do not rely on car-mounted deer whistles.

* If a deer collision seems inevitable, trying to swerve out of the way could make you lose control of your vehicle or move into the path of an oncoming car

 Where does your state rank?

 Here’s a list, from the highest risk to the least:

West Virginia: 1 in 41.91

Iowa: 1 in 67.09

Michigan: 1 in 70.36

South Dakota: 1 in 75.81

Montana: 1 in 82.45

Pennsylvania: 1 in 84.63

North Dakota: 1 in 91.11

Wisconsin: 1 in 95.68

Arkansas: 1 in 99.24

Minnesota: 1 in 99.51

Virginia:1 in 101.97

Nebraska: 1 in 110.60

Wyoming: 1 in 114.49

Maryland: 1 in 118.75

Ohio: 1 in 121.09

Mississippi: 1 in 131.35

Missouri: 1 in 133.88

South Carolina: 1 in 137.21

New York: 1 in 145.45

North Carolina: 1 in 147.27

Delaware: 1 in 149.86

Georgia: 1 in 149.88

Alabama: 1 in 150.32

Indiana: 1 in 159.61

Kentucky: 1 in 161.12

Vermont: 1 in 170.28

Kansas: 1 in 172.12

New Jersey: 1 in 182.75

Maine: 1 in 215.48

Tennessee: 1 in 217.83

Illinois: 1 in 218.45

Oklahoma: 1 in 245.35

Idaho: 1 in 249.18

Utah: 1 in 266.43

Oregon: 1 in 286.53

Louisiana: 1 in 288.45

New Hampshire: 1 in 299.49

Connecticut: 1 in 320.37

Rhode Island: 1 in 345.34

Colorado: 1 in 365.72

Alaska: 1 in 385.27

Texas: 1 in 399.97

Massachusetts: 1 in 452.34

Washington: 1 in 474.46

New Mexico: 1 in 606.78

District of Columbia: 1 in 747.47

Florida: 1 in 971.47

California: 1 in 1045.61

Nevada: 1 in 1,488.08

Arizona: 1 in 1,788.47

Hawaii: 1 in 13,011.28

Proper Treatment of Injured Employees Is an Important Element of Successful Return-to-Work Programs

In a study titled It Pays To Be Nice: Employer-Worker Relationships and the Management of Back Pain Claims, published in the February 2007 edition of The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Richard J. Butler PhD; William G. Johnson PhD; and Pierre Cote DC PhD discovered that workers’ satisfaction with their employer’s treatment of their disability claim is more important in explaining successful return-to-work outcomes than satisfaction with health care providers or expectations about recovery. The researchers added that dissatisfied workers have worse return-to-work outcomes because they are more likely to have lost time claims and multiple instances of joblessness.

The study found that the 64 percent of workers polled who were satisfied with their employer’s response had a medical claim only, while the 56 percent polled who expressed dissatisfaction had lost time claims in addition to the medical claims. For those workers who do have at least one lost time claim there is a lower likelihood of frequent injury-related absences. Only 32 percent of those satisfied with their employer’s response had multiple episodes of injury related absences, as opposed to 58 percent of those dissatisfied with their employer’s response who had multiple absences.

Maintaining a proper attitude toward injured workers is often a Catch-22 in most organizations. On the one hand, efforts to retain a skilled workforce are important because they give workers a greater sense of security, which is typically met with greater commitment to the success of the organization. However, there are concerns about how productivity is affected by reintegrating workers who are not yet fully recovered. That concern can result in instances where injured workers are treated with suspicion, and the validity of their claims questioned.

The pressure created by an injured worker on productivity and workflow is immediate. Although maintaining a good relationship with the injured employee will ultimately benefit the company, it can be difficult to keep this long-term goal in mind with the imminent demands of production looming. What usually happens is that the company ends up conveying to the injured worker that maximizing profits takes priority over their well-being.

This type of response on the part of their employers can alienate injured workers, and typically results in the worker extending the duration of the absence, or having more frequent reoccurrences. The overall outcome is increased workers’ compensation costs, not to mention the costs to train a new employee.

To combat the problem of alienation, organizations need to train first line supervisors in the empathetic treatment of injured workers. Supervisors need to learn how to express to the injured worker how much they are missed without making it seem as though their absence is only regarded for its economic impact. If the worker truly feels that they are needed in the workplace because they are a vital part of the team, and not because someone else has to cover for them, they will be motivated to return as soon as possible. The best way to give the injured worker this sense of belonging is through frequent expressions of sincere regard and regular communication that keeps them in the loop. If the return-to-work program incorporates these two elements, it will accomplish the goal of reducing the probability of lengthy lost time.

Does My Insurance Cover My Gift Cards?

What do you buy for that special someone when you can’t think of anything else? With increasing frequency these days, the answer is a gift card. The National Retail Federation has reported that Americans spend more than $26 billion on gift cards during the holiday shopping season, and the average consumer spends more than $120. The reasons are simple — gift cards are easy to purchase, never come in the wrong size or color, and the recipient is guaranteed to get an item she wants with it. Like anything else of value, however, they come with risks. Some have fees attached to them, and some expire if the owner does not use them within a certain period of time. They are also vulnerable to theft, disappearance and destruction. If your gift cards are stolen during a burglary or burn up during a house fire, will a homeowner’s insurance policy reimburse you for them?

The standard homeowner’s policy provides partial coverage for gift cards. It limits coverage for money, bank notes, coins, “stored value cards,” smart cards and similar cash-like items to $200 for all property in that category. Also, the policy covers personal property, including cash and similar items, only for a list of 16 causes of loss. The list includes such causes as fire or lighting, windstorm or hail, explosion, smoke, vehicles, theft, vandalism, weight of ice, snow or sleet, and others. The policy provides no coverage if a cause that is not on the list is responsible for the loss.

A few examples will illustrate how this works.

Joe receives a $50 gift card for an electronics store for his birthday and leaves it in his living room with his other gifts while he goes out to celebrate. Someone breaks into his home and makes off with all the gifts. His policy will provide full coverage for the clothes, DVD’s and workout gear he got and the full $50 for the gift card. This is because the value of everything in that category of cash-like items was less than $200.

Joe’s family can’t think of a thing to get him for Christmas, so he gets a sweater and a pile of gift cards to various electronics and sporting goods stores and coffee shops. He feigns enthusiasm for the cards and leaves everything under the tree when he goes out to visit friends that night. Unfortunately, he has forgotten to water the tree for two weeks; an exposed tree light wire ignites it. The resulting fire cooks his downstairs. The policy covers the damage to the home and contents, but it pays only the $200 maximum for the $300 worth of gift cards.

Next year, Joe’s gift cards survive Christmas Day and, because he enjoys being stuck in traffic jams, he goes to the mall the day after the holiday to use them. However, when he steps up to a cash register with a Blu-Ray player under his arm, he cannot find any of the cards. He searches his car, every pocket in his coat, pants and shirt, and every place he went to in the mall, but he never finds the missing cards. Unfortunately, because disappearance is not one of the causes of loss listed on the policy, his insurance will not pay anything for them.

Some insurance companies may offer to increase the amount of coverage and the covered causes of loss for these items, so check with a professional insurance agent to identify those companies and find out the cost. For a small amount of money, you may be able protect yourself against the loss of these common gifts.

Risky Business: Why You Need Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Running a company can be a risky business. According to the Department of Labor, the amount workers received from employers due to discrimination claims rose nearly 78% between 2001 and 2006. A total of more than $51 million dollars was awarded to employees who pursued claims in federal court.

You may have seen news stories about huge jury awards in workplace discrimination claims. It happens every day, and every business is vulnerable. Here are just a few examples:

·   Thirteen current or former computer company employees claimed employment discrimination on the basis of race and national origin. Employees claimed they were treated unequally and subjected to a hostile work environment. Amount of settlement: $635,000 (salary increases, enhanced promotional activities).

·   Eight employees filed a class action suit alleging sex discrimination by their employer in the handling of wages, promotions, pregnancy leaves and other conditions of employment. Amount of settlement: $600,000 (plus $5 million in legal fees).

·   A senior regional attorney sued a securities dealer claiming age discrimination and retaliation. He claimed he was unfairly terminated for advice he gave to a co-worker regarding his employment rights. Amount of verdict: $443,000.

All businesses are at risk from issues related to employment practices. It can come up during hiring situations if you don’t hire someone who then assumes you were discriminating. It can happen if you terminate an employee who then decides he or she was treated unfairly. Employment-related lawsuits are filed every single day, and up to half of all businesses will face a lawsuit at some point. Is your business prepared?

How can you protect your business?

As an employer, you do everything you can to treat your employees fairly. However, you can be held liable for the actions of your other employees or even vendors and customers. And with new employment-related regulations being added to the books frequently, it can be difficult to understand exactly what you are expected to do.

It’s important to make sure you remain in compliance with laws governing treatment of employees. But there’s an added layer of protection you can obtain: employment practices liability insurance, or EPLI.

What EPLI covers

Employment practices liability insurance can protect your business against claims made by potential hires, employees currently on your payroll and terminated employees. With a good EPLI policy, your company is protected against claims of:

·   Wrongful termination

·   Employment-related emotional distress and invasion of privacy

·   Defamation

·   Retaliatory/constructive discharge

·   Sexual harassment and discrimination

·   Workplace torts such as slander

EPLI coverage generally includes the cost to defend against the charges plus any damages you are ordered to pay. Depending on your business needs, it might make sense to purchase EPLI coverage as part of your company officers’ liability insurance since company officials can be named in lawsuits against the business.

Learn more about EPLI

Your business insurance agent can answer your questions about EPLI and recommend the coverage that is right for you. Your agent can also discuss how employment-related lawsuits can affect your business by assessing the risk typically associated with your industry.

Remember, employment-related claims can affect businesses of all types. Even if you are just starting out, you could be the subject of a discrimination suit if someone you interview but fail to hire feels that he or she was treated unfairly. And even if you do everything right and comply with all federal, state and local regulations, you can still be held liable for the actions of your employees, vendors or customers. EPLI can provide much-needed protection – and welcome peace of mind.

How to Stay Safe during Vehicle Trouble on the Roadway

As far as vehicle trouble goes, personal safety must remain the primary concern when your car breaks down away from home. In such a stressful and helpless time, it’s easy to embrace a stranger as a Good Samaritan. However, that isn’t always the case. One well-documented example of stranger danger is when Bill Cosby’s son, Ennis Cosby, had a flat tire on Interstate 405. After pulling his Mercedes over to change the flat, he was approached by a stranger that he assumed was approaching with an intent to help him. Instead, the stranger demanded money from Ennis, and then shot him in the head and fled.

The above tragedy should serve as a reminder that, no matter what the circumstances, personal safety must be forefront. Here are some safety tips for vehicle trouble away on the roadway:

Remember to always travel with a fully charged cell phone, especially if traveling long distances or in an unreliable vehicle. Even if your vehicle has an emergency system, such as OnStar, it’s prudent to travel with a cellphone to alert family or friends that you’ve had vehicle trouble.

Never exit, examine the damage, or attempt any vehicle repair on the side of a roadway with a high traffic volume or traffic traveling at high speeds. Whatever the damage, it isn’t worth the risk of being struck by a passing vehicle.

If possible, move the vehicle to an area away from the roadway before getting out. When a vehicle isn’t drivable, lock the doors and call for help.

If another driver is involved, such as in a vehicle accident, motion for the other driver to accompany you to a safer spot before calling the authorities or exchanging personal information. When possible, try to find an area that isn’t busy with traffic, but that is still populated.

Turn on the hazard lights to alert other drivers that you have a problem. If the car is in a safe place, you may exit the vehicle to further mark the vehicle location and alert other drivers to a motionless vehicle with reflecting triangles or roadside flares.

It might damage the rim, but go ahead and drive the vehicle to a safe location before trying to change a flat tire. Any damage to the tire or rim can be fixed, whereas the probability of you being fixed after a high speed car strikes you isn’t so good.

In the event that a stranger approaches or offers assistance, return to safety of your vehicle. Don’t roll the window down or exit the vehicle. If you don’t personally know the person, yell to them that you have assistance coming and politely refuse their assistance.

Be Proactive to Minimize Risk of Employment-Related Lawsuits

If you own a business, the last thing you want to face is a lawsuit filed by a current or former employee. In addition to the obvious financial risk involved in defending a case, a lawsuit can result in lower employee morale and a damaged reputation in the community. Even if you win your case, you’ll lose time and money in the process.

For these and many other reasons, it’s a good idea to be proactive about avoiding employment-related lawsuits. How do you do it? A good approach is to familiarize yourself with situations that can prompt employees to file suit. When you understand the common legal pitfalls, you’ll be in a better position to avoid them and protect your business.

Understanding why employees sue

If you’re like most employers, you try to treat your employees fairly. But complicated situations can arise. And remember, your perceptions may not match your employees’. Here are some issues that can result in employment-related litigation:

  • Employees feel they have no voice: If you provide employees with a way to express opinions or address problems, you’ll generally have more motivated employees and may also reduce exposure to lawsuits.
  • Employees aren’t in the loop: If your business is going through changes, it’s a good idea to keep employees in the loop. Otherwise, their expectations may not match future business plans, which can result in hard feelings.
  • Managers don’t understand regulations: There are hundreds of employment-related regulations governing the relationship between employers and employees. Make sure you understand them and abide by them.
  • Employees are dissatisfied: When employees are unhappy, they aren’t as productive, and they may also be more likely to resort to litigation to express their unhappiness. Good morale can reduce exposure to litigation and improve business performance.

Avoiding situations that may create a lawsuit

Even employers with the best intentions can make mistakes that result in legal action. There are many regulations that can lead to legal pitfalls, especially in the areas of hiring, managing and firing employees. Employment-related regulations are not only numerous, they change from time to time, so keeping up with them can be challenging, but it’s vitally important. Here are some of the situations you should be aware of as an employer:

  • Promotion opportunities: Be sensitive to employee perceptions when you reward good performance or hold employees accountable for short-comings. If a court finds you created barriers to advancement for a protected class of employees, you could be held liable.
  • Compensation issues: Employee wage and hour regulations can be complex. Make sure you understand them and follow them to the letter. If you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to seek expert advice.
  • Harassment and discrimination: Employers have a responsibility to ensure a harassment and discrimination-free work environment. A sound harassment and discrimination prevention policy is essential.
  • Accommodation issues: Employees or potential hires who are disabled or who have accommodation needs due to religion are a protected class. It’s important to understand the regulations around accommodation.
  • Leaves of absence: Employers in certain locations and those who employee more than a specific number of employees should make sure they comply with state, local and federal regulations on leaves of absence.

How you can reduce legal exposure for your business

We’ve reviewed why employees might sue and some of the reasons employers get into trouble. The next step is to formulate a strategy to reduce risk for your business. A good first step is to formalize a method to address conflicts. If you have an employee handbook, outlining a way to address problems at work as a policy is a good idea. Another effective step is to implement harassment and discrimination prevention policies and outline how incidents will be addressed.

Taking steps to reduce your exposure to employment-related lawsuits takes some time and effort, but in the long run, it’s worth the effort. Not only will these steps help you stay out of court, you’ll improve morale at your company.

What to Expect during Your Condominium Coverage Checkup

Due to the fact that condominium coverage must be properly coordinated with the condominium association’s master policy, making sure that you have the proper amount of insurance on your condo is often much more difficult than run-of-the-mill coverage on a single-family dwelling. In order to avoid catastrophe, you should do a routine periodic condominium coverage checkup with your insurance agent.

At this time your agent will look for ways to ensure that you avoid any substantial coverage gaps and improve your coverage protection where needed. Here are some key points about what to expect during your condominium coverage checkup:

* Before visiting your insurance agent, ask your condo association for a copy of the declaration document that indicates the coverage you (the unit-owner) should be insuring yourself.

* You should help your insurance agent evaluate the appropriate property insurance limit for your specific condo. If you’ve done remodeling work, for example, then your unit-owner policy dwelling limits may not be sufficient and any damage incurred to your updates wouldn’t be covered under your master policy.

* The chance of assessments (from the association to you) in order to reimburse any deductibles the association incurs from a loss covered by the master policy is also an important consideration. This is a situation that can be very problematic for you if the assessment is from high property deductibles within the condo association’s master policy. The amount of the deductible can be found in the declaration document mentioned above. Most policies usually provide a limited amount of coverage for the assessment. If this is your case and there’s a possibility that you’ll be assessed over the assessment coverage limit, then you can probably increase that amount of coverage for your assessment.

* Your insurance agent will look for coverage gaps in the perils covered under your unit-owner policy and help you decide if the perils should be expanded.

* One last important element to review under your unit-owner policy is your personal property or content limit. Inform your agent of all big-ticket purchases that you’ve made since your last review, as your limit may need to be increased to provide adequate coverage.

What to Expect during Your Condominium Coverage Checkup

Due to the fact that condominium coverage must be properly coordinated with the condominium association’s master policy, making sure that you have the proper amount of insurance on your condo is often much more difficult than run-of-the-mill coverage on a single-family dwelling. In order to avoid catastrophe, you should do a routine periodic condominium coverage checkup with your insurance agent.

At this time your agent will look for ways to ensure that you avoid any substantial coverage gaps and improve your coverage protection where needed. Here are some key points about what to expect during your condominium coverage checkup:

* Before visiting your insurance agent, ask your condo association for a copy of the declaration document that indicates the coverage you (the unit-owner) should be insuring yourself.

* You should help your insurance agent evaluate the appropriate property insurance limit for your specific condo. If you’ve done remodeling work, for example, then your unit-owner policy dwelling limits may not be sufficient and any damage incurred to your updates wouldn’t be covered under your master policy.

* The chance of assessments (from the association to you) in order to reimburse any deductibles the association incurs from a loss covered by the master policy is also an important consideration. This is a situation that can be very problematic for you if the assessment is from high property deductibles within the condo association’s master policy. The amount of the deductible can be found in the declaration document mentioned above. Most policies usually provide a limited amount of coverage for the assessment. If this is your case and there’s a possibility that you’ll be assessed over the assessment coverage limit, then you can probably increase that amount of coverage for your assessment.

* Your insurance agent will look for coverage gaps in the perils covered under your unit-owner policy and help you decide if the perils should be expanded.

* One last important element to review under your unit-owner policy is your personal property or content limit. Inform your agent of all big-ticket purchases that you’ve made since your last review, as your limit may need to be increased to provide adequate coverage.

Protecting Your Business from Employee Identity Theft

Your business could face big problems if one of your employees becomes a victim of identity theft. That’s an alarming fact considering the rapid growth of this costly white-collar crime.

How does identity theft among your employees affect your business? One of the provisions of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act is that an employer whose action (or lack of action) results in the theft of an employee’s information can be sued. As an employer, you should keep in mind that the workplace is the biggest source of identity theft.

Businesses should be concerned with more than just the lawsuits associated with employee identity theft. Reoccurring identity thefts lead to negative publicity – which can impact sales and significantly damage employee recruiting and retention efforts.

How can you protect your employees and your business? There are two things you should seriously consider: Offer identity theft coverage as an employee benefit, and tell your employees what they can do to reduce their chances of becoming a victim.

What does identity theft coverage give employees?

  • Insurance coverage: To help them get back on their feet after they’ve been a victim.
  • Credit monitoring: That alerts them when unusual credit changes take place.
  • Computer protection: Such as anti-spyware and wireless security.
  • Protection of personal information: Such as assistance with opting out of marketing databases, as well as tracking data in Social Security databases and financial databases.

What can you tell your employees about protecting themselves from identity theft? Start with the following checklist of do’s and don’ts.

Identity theft prevention do’s

  • Always shred sensitive information rather than just throwing it in the trash. (This is wise advice whether you’re at home or at work.) Things to shred include any confidential information – like credit card pre-approvals, credit card receipts, bank statements, etc.
  • Review your credit report regularly. Take the time to make sure it’s accurate. It’s also important to carefully check your bank statements every month.
  • It may seem like a hassle, but it’s a smart idea to have your financial mail deposited in a post office box rather than in your home mailbox.
  • Remove the mail from your mailbox as soon as possible to afford less opportunity for someone to steal it. Also, be sure to pinpoint when all your bills are supposed to arrive.
  • As elementary as it may sound, it’s important to do whatever it takes to keep your personal identification numbers (PINs) secret.

Identity theft prevention don’ts

  • ·  Obviously, you should never give personal information to anyone without a good reason for having it.
  • ·  Never carry your Social Security card or passport in your purse or wallet, and never keep them in their vehicle. Remember that thieves are very interested in your private information – just as they’re interested in your tangible valuables.
  • ·  Never put your address or driver’s license number on a credit card receipt.
  • ·  Never put your Social Security number or phone number on your personal checks.
  • ·  Never carry credit cards you don’t plan to use.

By helping employees keep their vital personal information from falling into the wrong hands, you’re doing your part to look after their financial health – and protect your business from a growing risk. Identity theft coverage as an employee benefit not only helps employees stay safer, it makes your business a more attractive place to work.

Four Steps to Help You Ensure Your Most Valuable Items Are Covered on Your Homeowner’s Insurance

What do holidays, special occasions, and inheritances often have in common? If you guessed the acquisition of a new possession, then you’d be right. While excited about your new big-screen, appliance, jewelry, antique, art, or other valuable item, you need to be mindful that acquiring such also increases the monetary value of your home contents. Your homeowner’s insurance should be updated to adjust for additions that add significant value. Here are four steps that can help you ensure your most valuable items are covered:

Home Inventory

Go through your home periodically and take note of the most valuable items, as these are the items you want to ensure are insured against damage or loss from events like theft or fire. For most, these items usually consist of electronics, jewelry, art, antiques, collectibles, appliances, and rare items. If an item would be hard or impossible for you to replace, then it should be included. Also keep in mind that standard policies usually limit firearm coverage since they are commonly targeted by thieves.

Home Inventory Appraisal

Some items are more difficult than others to give a value, especially antique or sentimental items. A professional appraisal can be very helpful in finding out the true value of an item. It’s also very useful in estate planning.

Home Inventory Documentation

Any item on your home inventory list should be visually documented with a camera or video camera. This will speed up the claim process. Make sure the shots are clear and show the details of the item. It’s also a good idea to get a wide shot of each wall in every room of your home. You may store the photos or tape in a safe deposit box and/or upload them to an online photo storage site like Flicker or Photobucket.

Coverage Examination

Many homeowners have no idea what’s covered by their homeowner’s insurance until disaster strikes and they’re trying to submit a claim. Don’t leave yourself in the dark and compound emotional loss with financial loss. You may very well find yourself trying to replace expensive items out of your own pocket.

Make sure that you carefully examine your homeowner’s insurance policy so that you don’t suddenly discover a loss isn’t covered. You should pay close attention to any category that contains exclusions or limits losses to a specific dollar amount. You’ve already done an inventory and appraisal. Now, it’s time to compare the value of the items on your inventory list to your existing coverage. You should make sure that the coverage is suffice to compensate you should you suffer a theft or disaster-related loss. If you note any discrepancies or have any questions or concerns, then you should schedule a policy review with your insurance agent.

U R @ RISK for Employee’s Online Activities

Did you know your business is liable for how your employees use the internet while they’re on the job? Many business owners protect themselves by monitoring their employees’ email and internet usage, including instant messaging.

Some employers are reluctant to implement an email and internet oversight policy. But monitoring email communication and web surfing has become an important part of protecting your business.  

Suppose an employee at your business has been emailing inappropriate images or messages around the office, and these images make their way to a co-worker who finds them offensive. If that co-worker chooses to sue for harassment, your company could easily be held liable. Why? Because businesses can be held responsible for their employees’ activities while using company computers.

If your business had a monitoring policy in place that enabled you to review the emails going around the office (as well as your employees’ web surfing), you would have been able to take measures to stop the offensive email before it was sent.

Creating a monitoring program

Here are some useful tips to consider as you formulate your internet monitoring and usage policy:

·   Implement policies about what employees are allowed to send: Tell your employees never to write – or even forward – any material that could
be considered obscene, hateful, defamatory, offensive, harassing or otherwise inappropriate. This includes racist or sexist language and/or jokes.

·   Gain control over what can be accessed at your business: You have a right to ban questionable websites at your business. Forbid employees from viewing any sites containing sexually explicit messages or imagery, sites that are violent, or sites containing other content that may be considered inappropriate. Consider installing blocking software to stop access to these sites in the first place.

·    Disallow non-work-related web use while employees are on the job: It’s becoming increasingly common for employees to use the internet at work for non work-related purposes. This trend is only getting worse with the rise of social-networking sites like Facebook. Therefore, unless employees are on a break, it’s a good idea to insist that emails are being sent and web pages are being viewed for business purposes only.

·    Provide separate computers for off-the-clock purposes: Consider setting a few computers aside specifically for employee non-business use. Put them in a common area and allow employees to surf while on their lunch hour. Coupled with an internet monitoring program, this is an effective practice for many companies. (Just remind employees that your monitoring policy also applies to this non-business use.)

·    Communicate your monitoring policy to employees: A common pitfall of implementing an internet and email usage program is that many companies don’t tell employees about their policy. By not telling your employees, you’re actually increasing your exposure to employee lawsuits. Telling them you’ll monitor their email and internet use will help deter improper use.

·    Keep reminding your people about your internet policies: Once your policy has been communicated to employees, remind them about it regularly. It should be included in your company’s employee handbook. You might also want to consider having a reminder on your employees’ log in screen.

When you put effective internet and email policies in place, you’re taking a positive step toward protecting your company. It takes some time and effort, and communication must be ongoing, but it’s worth it to reduce liability exposure for your business.

How Uninsured Drivers Affect Responsible Drivers

Most Americans are surprised to learn that, nationally, approximately 1 in 6 drivers on the road are uninsured. This information comes from a recent study by the Insurance Research Council. The study further shows that in some states, as many as one in three drivers are uninsured or underinsured, and that there is a solid correlation between unemployment and lack of insurance. Furthermore, statistics show that nearly one out of every two accidents involves an uninsured or inadequately insured driver.

How Can You Protect Yourself from the Costs of an Uninsured Motorist?

You should ensure that your auto insurance policy includes both uninsured motorist (UM) and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. As a rule, the limits on these policies should be as high as your policy’s property damage and bodily injury limits.

When someone without insurance causes an accident that involves your car, or if your car was damaged by a hit-and-run driver, UM coverage would pay for the resulting claims. On the other hand, UIM insurance provides coverage when someone else causes an accident, but does not have enough insurance to adequately cover all of your costs.

You also need to consider how much your life would change, if you were hit by an irresponsible driver. How would you make your car and mortgage payments, and pay your other expenses if you were permanently injured? UM and UIM coverages bear the cost of lost wages if you are unable to work after an injury. If you do not have these coverages and are hit by an uninsured motorist, the only other option is to pursue the driver in small claims or civil court. This often proves to be a difficult and expensive option. Thus, the benefits of this coverage can be substantial compared to the relatively low expense.

What Should You Do if You Are Hit by an Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist?

If the driver has insurance, copy down the other driver’s insurance and contact information. Whether they have a policy or not, get the driver’s name, address, and phone number. Furthermore, you should always write down the license plate number and call the police, even if the accident appears to be minor. A police report is always valuable in determining who was at fault.

Make Sure You’re Covered for On-The-Job Injury Claims By Temporary Workers

If you use workers from staffing or leasing agencies to supplement your workforce, how adequately do your current insurance policies protect your company in the event that one of these individuals is injured on the job?

If you’re covered under an Insurance Services Office, Inc. (ISO) commercial general liability (CGL) policy and your workers’ compensation and employers liability policies are written on National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) forms with no additional coverage endorsements, you may not be as protected as you think. You should consider adding the Coverage for Injury to Leased Workers (CG 04 24) endorsement to your CGL policy.

A potential gap in coverage arises from the way the CGL policy defines “temporary” and “leased” workers. A leased worker is a person leased to your company through an agreement with an employee-leasing firm to perform duties related to the operation of your business. A temporary worker is a person furnished to you to fill in for a permanent employee on leave or to meet seasonal or short-term workload conditions. Under the terms of the CGL policy, “employee” includes a leased worker, but does not include a temporary worker. The distinction is important, because the CGL policy’s Exclusion e: employers liability, excludes from coverage bodily injury claims made by an employee of the insured.

Thus, if your CGL policy definitions consider the worker to be an “employee”-even though that worker is provided by a staffing agency-the policy will not cover any bodily injury claims by that worker. If the worker is not specifically substituting for a permanent employee who is on leave, or meeting a seasonal need or short-term workload conditions, the worker is not a “temporary worker” in the eyes of the insurer, and instead is considered your employee for purposes of Exclusion e. To be a “temporary worker,” that individual must have a specific end date to his or her employment with you. A temporary employee who is hired for an indefinite period of time simply does not meet the criteria stated above, and is therefore considered an employee, and subject to Exclusion e if they are injured on the job.

Adding the Coverage for Injury to Leased Workers (CG 04 24) endorsement to your CGL policy will help you fill this coverage gap. This endorsement states that the term “employee” does not include a “leased worker” or “temporary worker,” making the employers liability exclusion of the CGL policy inapplicable to the claims for injuries to a leased or temporary worker.

Another way to protect your company in lawsuits by injured temporary workers is to require the staffing agency that provides such workers to include the Alternate Employer Endorsement (WC 00 03 01 A) on its workers’ compensation and employers liability policy, and specifically schedule your company as the alternate employer. This endorsement will provide you with coverage as an alternate employer in the event the temporary worker files a tort suit.

Without the right coverage in place, on-the-job injuries to temporary workers can present a significant potential liability to your company. Examine your current CGL policy and arrangements with any staffing or leasing firms you use to make sure your company is protected.

Do You Know How to Handle a Vehicle Accident?

According to The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, there are more than six million U.S. motor vehicle crashes per year reported in the United States. Most of us don’t like to think about what if, especially when it comes to vehicle accidents. However, the odds say that you’ll most likely find yourself involved in a vehicle accident at some point in your life. Do you know how to handle a vehicle accident?

There will be an initial shock. Once you’ve realized what has happened and checked yourself for injury, you should attempt to exit your vehicle. You might need to use a window if your door has been damaged. As you find your way out of the vehicle, make sure to pay attention to the oncoming traffic and stay clear of it.

If your vehicle is still drivable, then move it to a public location. From there, you’ll be able to safely exit the vehicle and report the accident. Moving the vehicle is usually a good idea if there’s an immediate danger like being hit again on a busy interstate. Do keep in mind that some states require you to stay on the scene.

You should dial 911 to report the accident. The dispatcher will automatically know your location if you’re calling from a land-line. You’ll need to know your location when using a cellular phone since it’s a more difficult and lengthy process for an emergency dispatcher to determine your location through a cellular phone.

In the event that your vehicle ends up in water, staying calm is a must. You won’t be able to open the door due to the pressure from the water if the vehicle submerges. Calmly take a deep breath and roll down the window to escape. If the electric windows won’t work, then you should break the window by hitting it with an object or kicking it.

As far as insurance goes, most insurance carriers recommend the following universal steps be taken following an accident:

* Take note of how many passengers are in each of the other vehicles involved in the accident, as this will help prevent the future addition of passengers during insurance scams.

* Collect the full name, insurance information, and home address of all other drivers involved in the accident. You should also provide your information to the other driver(s).

* Write a brief summary of the accident, recording as many details as possible – the make, model and year of the vehicles involved; the time of accident; and weather conditions.

* Collect the names and contact information of any witnesses, especially if you feel something or someone other than yourself caused the accident.

* While it’s okay to express concern over what happened at the scene, you should never admit that the accident was your fault or claim liability.

* Have your insurance information, driver’s license, and vehicle registration available for the police. Once the police are on scene, the officer will collect your information. The officer will ask all the drivers what happened and record the account(s).

* Make sure that you ask the officer for the police report so that you can give it to your insurance carrier.

* You should contact your insurance agent or carrier as soon as possible. Most major insurance companies have a 24-hour phone number for claim reports.

Protecting Your Business from Workers’ Comp Fraud

Tempted to hire a private investigator to spy on employees claiming workers’ compensation? You’re not alone. Luckily, covert operations can be avoided by taking a proactive approach to preventing workers’ compensation fraud.

Here are some effective tips for shielding your business.

Watch for red flags

Knowing common signals of workers’ compensation fraud is an important step in protecting your business. Some red flags to watch out for are:

·   There are no witnesses of the accident (or the only witnesses are friends/family members of the injured employee).

·   It is difficult or impossible to reach the employee.

·   The employee changes his or her story about the accident.

·   The accident happened on a Friday afternoon but wasn’t reported until the following week.

·   The accident happened outside of the employee’s normal working hours.

Not all claims that occur under these circumstances are fraudulent, but it may be worth it to take a second look.

Make safety a priority at your business
Creating a safer work environment not only lowers the chance of accidents, it also reduces the opportunity for employees to fake an injury. Your business should frequently conduct safety inspections of all work areas and any equipment. Remove hazards immediately, and be sure to document the repairs you make.

Thoroughly investigate workplace injuries
Take the time to review any surveillance videos of the area where the incident allegedly took place. Also, be sure to interview all witnesses shortly after the accident happens – and take any rumors of dishonesty or fraud seriously.

Hire wisely
People who lie on rГ(c)sumГ(c)s are more likely to lie about workplace injuries. Make it a routine part of your hiring process to conduct background checks on all applicants. And don’t neglect to verify their references and any other information included on their applications and rГ(c)sumГ(c)s.

Clearly communicate your workers’ compensation policies
It’s important to discuss your workers’ compensation policies with all employees. Tell them what to do when an injury occurs, and explain that insurance costs affect the amount of money available for raises and bonuses. Also, make sure you tell your employees that workers’ compensation fraud is a serious crime that will lead to termination and prosecution. Post fraud awareness posters in conspicuous locations explaining what fraud is and what its consequences are.

Implement a return-to-work program
Workers’ compensation fraud is less inviting when employers have transitional duty for injured employees. Make sure your employees know that if they get injured on the job, your business will work with the doctor to help them return to work as soon as possible.

Stay in touch
Don’t lose contact with employees who are off work because of an on-the-job injury. Injured workers who are hard to get a hold of might be committing workers’ compensation fraud. Contact them periodically, and document each contact (whether you were able to reach them or not).

Get signed statements when employees leave
In your exit interviews, obtain signed statements from exiting employees stating that they have or have not had any unreported injuries at work. This will go a long way in discouraging post-termination claims.

Workers’ compensation is a major expense for most businesses, and workers’ compensation fraud makes it more costly for everyone. It pays to take a proactive stance to reduce workers’ compensation fraud at your company.

Consider Options to Lessen Homeowner’s Insurance Premiums

Home is where the heart is, and for most homeowners, a large portion of your net worth resides there as well. We all know that insuring this valuable property is both necessary and expensive. In fact, homeowner’s insurance premiums can take a healthy bite out of a family’s monthly expenditures. Homeowners owe it to themselves to look at some approaches that could potentially lower monthly premiums.

Six Ideas to Reduce Premiums

  • Take steps to make your home as disaster resistant as possible. For instance, consider adding stronger doors, storm shutters and reinforced roofing for added protection from hurricanes and other disasters. Many insurance companies will reduce premiums based on these upgrades.
  • Ask your insurance agent if they offer homeowners discounts for new or recently renovated properties. Because a newer home usually results in fewer losses, some insurers reduce rates by up to 25 percent for homes that are less than five or ten years old. Likewise, homes that have had significant renovations completed by a qualified contractor can also qualify for reduced insurance premiums. In this case, your insurance company may require documentation of the renovations, and when they were completed.
  • Improve the safety and security of your home. Items such as burglar alarms, deadbolt locks and smoke detectors can reduce your monthly premiums. Your insurance company might also offer a discount for installing a sophisticated home-security system.
  • Maintain an outstanding credit rating. Many insurance companies utilize credit scores in determining homeowner’s premiums. Achieving and preserving a strong credit score can result in a monthly premium discount.
  • Ask questions to determine if your home is over insured. Be aware that the value of your home, and the value of your land are separate. If your home is severely damaged and needs to be rebuilt, the reconstruction costs should be based on the replacement value of your home, and not on the value of your land.
  • Consider the possibility that other discounts may apply. Insurance companies offer a variety of options such as: long term customer discounts, senior citizen discounts, loss-free discounts, or multiple policy discounts.

Your home is your castle, and there are many steps you can take to protect this valuable asset in the most efficient manner possible. Speak with your agent to see if these or other discounts apply.

Reducing the Risk of Workers’ Compensation Claims Begins with the Hiring Process

Workers’ compensation claims can occur in any workplace. While employers understand that solid safety protocol can reduce the incidence of these claims, many don’t realize that steps taken during the hiring process can also have some impact on managing this liability. Not taking the time to thoroughly interview applicants to determine if they are a good fit for the job and the company can result in hiring workers who might create problems later on, like filing too many workers’ compensation claims.

Although federal and state laws prohibit certain questions being asked during the interview process, there are techniques you can use that will help you decide if the applicant might be the type to file problem claims. Begin by reviewing the applicant’s resume prior to the interview. Pay careful attention to gaps in employment history. During the interview, ask the applicant to explain the reasons for these gaps. Also ask the applicant about his or her attendance record during previous jobs.

Follow up with open-ended questions to see what the applicant would do in certain situations, such as resolving conflicts with managers, subordinates or co-workers. Quiz the applicant as to what he or she perceives to be the procedures necessary to effectively perform the essential functions of the applied-for job in your company.

Inform the applicant that all new hires go through a fitness-for-duty physical, which includes questions about medical history. Watch for any signs of discomfort like a change in facial expression or body movement.

Administer a skill and/or personality test to assess competency and work ethic. Whatever screening tools you use, establish reasonable criteria and apply them uniformly for all applicants.

Obtain written consent from the applicant to conduct a complete background check. As part of this:

·   Verify past employment history and follow up with references.

·   Conduct a criminal background check. Use a public records service to uncover any criminal convictions.

·   Check on past job-related injuries, workers’ compensation claims, substance abuse and safety records.

·   Contact the schools and universities listed on the candidate’s job application or resume to verify education and certifications. If the applicant listed having a professional license, call the issuing organization to verify.

·   For candidates whose job duties would include driving a motor vehicle, compare the results of the applicant’s official motor vehicle report with the answers provided on the job application.

If you do extend a job offer, make it conditional, contingent upon the candidate’s ability to perform the functions of the job. You can withdraw a job offer, if in the opinion of a licensed medical doctor, the prospective employee poses a direct threat to their own, or others’, health and safety. However, in determining the suitability of an offered job, make sure you make all reasonable accommodations necessary for those candidates subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Thorough job interviews not only help you to hire the right person for the job…they help you hire the right people for your company.

How to Prevent Garage Door Injuries

Most people wouldn’t overlook a 300-pound football linebacker or a 400-pound boulder coming their way. For some reason, a garage door, which is also typically 300 to 400 pounds, opening and closing usually isn’t given a second thought. While this object may seem benign, it’s often the heaviest moving feature of your home and should be a safety concern area.

The majority of garage door-related injuries involve pets and young children that are oblivious to the potential dangers presented by such a heavy moving object. Children can easily get an extremity caught between the ground and the bottom of the garage door as it descends to a close. To avoid such a catastrophe, garage door owners should pay attention to three areas – educating children, safety precautions, and maintenance.

Garage door owners should make sure young children are clear of the garage door before it closes. Children should be taught never to run under a moving garage door and to never play near it, even when it’s not in motion. Children should be taught the emergency response, including how to reach an adult and call for emergency assistance, should an accident occur. Older children should be taught how to correctly operate the garage door and use its’ emergency release.

Garage door owners should also make sure that they are taking the appropriate safety precautions to avoid a garage door accident. Make sure to position the operating push buttons five feet or higher from the floor when it’s installed, as this will help prevent small children from playing with the buttons or inadvertently pushing it. Garage doors manufactured since 1993 have been subject to a federal law requiring all garage door openers to contain an automatic reversing mechanism that will immediately reverse the closing if the garage door comes into contact with anything as it’s closing. You might consider upgrading your garage door if it was manufactured prior to this law. You can check your garage door by placing an unbreakable item, such as a piece of wood, under it to determine if it reverses as it comes into contact with the item. Do try to perform this test away from the watchful eyes of children that might think of it as a new game to play.

Garage doors should be regularly inspected for any problem areas that could create a malfunction – worn or warped tracks, rollers, cables, pulleys, and springs. Worn springs are a particularly dangerous problem since they could dislodge and go through the air to strike someone with great force. This is not a DIY area; always consult a professional for maintenance.

With the right education and use, preventative measures, and maintenance, a garage door can be a convenience and a protective feature of your home, not a disaster waiting to happen.

Avoid Unnecessary Legal Involvement in Workers’ Compensation Claims

The workers’ compensation system was designed to provide a method for efficiently returning injured workers to their jobs as soon as possible. Getting lawyers involved in this process when it isn’t necessary slows it down, makes it far more inefficient, and adds costs.

The best way to avoid the need for legal involvement is for the employer to take an active role in the workers’ compensation process. Here are a few ways to do that:

·   Tie managers’ performance evaluations to their concern for safety. The total quality management approach is to tie safety to a manager’s raise, bonus or promotion. In that way, it become financially advantageous for managers to be safety-conscious and reduce the possibility of workers’ compensation claims.

·   Designate an employee to call injured workers once a week. This helps you troubleshoot problems before they escalate. For example, this call might detect that an injured worker has been receiving collection notices for unpaid medical bills, indicating that the compensation claim may not have been processed properly, and alert you to the need to call your workers’ compensation insurance carrier.

·   Report all injuries. Even if an employee insists that he or she isn’t seriously injured, report the incident to your insurer anyway. There may not be any ramifications from the injury now, but there could be in the coming months. If you don’t report an injury when it happens, the claim could be rejected as fraudulent later on when you do report it. This could cause the employee to hire legal counsel.

·   Monitor the progress of claims. There are many points at which a claim can become bogged down-the employee delays the first doctor’s visit, there’s a lag time in getting a report from doctor, the employee has to wait to see a specialist, etc. These all have negative effects on the progress of the claim. An employer can improve the efficiency of the process by examining injury records, writing down dates and identifying excessive delays. Reducing delays and maintaining continuity in care will keep the process flowing and eliminate the need for the employee to find an attorney to intervene.

·   Don’t alienate employees. Many disgruntled employees file workers’ compensation claims because they feel the company owes them something, or to get even for poor treatment in the workplace. Most of these revenge claims result from conflicts that could have been avoided if a supervisor had spent more time empathizing with employees.

Some workers’ compensation claims will require the involvement of legal professionals, but if you can keep these occurrences to a minimum, you’ll help keep your workers’ compensation costs in check.

Safe Driving Tips that Can Help You Avoid Vehicle Accidents

Few drivers consider themselves bad drivers. In fact, most people would probably give themselves an A+ on their driving skills. While some may indeed be excellent drivers, there wouldn’t be over 6 million vehicle accidents each year in the United States if everyone was an excellent driver.

Even though what other drivers do can’t be controlled and there will never be a way to completely eliminate the risk of being in a vehicle accident, you can practice safe driving to reduce your liklihood of being in a vehicle accident. It’s up to each and every driver to do their part to make the roadways a safer place for themselves and other drivers. You can do this by first remembering the basics you were taught on safe driving – both hands on the wheel, signaling before turning, and so forth. Here are ten more safety tips to remember:

1. Get rid of distractions like food, newspapers, books, makeup, and phones. Only change CDs or the radio station when stationary.

2. Properly maintain your vehicle on a regular basis, including tires and all fluids. Refer to your owner’s manual or accompanying maintenance log book for the recommended maintenance schedule for your vehicle.

3. Routinely inspect your brake and signal lights. If one is non-operational, then replace the bulb or have it repaired immediately.

4. Enroll in a defensive driving class.

5. Practice defensive, but not aggressive, driving. When an aggressive driver is encountered, simply ignore them and either allow them to move away from you or move away from them yourself. If extremely aggressive, then you can report the driver to the local authorities.

6. Keep a safe following distance; have at least one car length between you and the vehicle in front of you for each ten mph on your speedometer.

7. Since many unintentional and intentional insurance scam vehicle accidents occur at intersections, you should depart from intersections with extreme caution. Even after the light turns green, try to count to three before accelerating.

8. Be especially vigilant during poor road conditions, such as those caused by weather or construction work.

Make sure your headlights are on not just at dusk and dark, but also during hazardous weather conditions like fog and rain.

9. Set your mirrors and seat positions according to your view, not your passengers. Remember to check that they haven’t been moved from your settings before hitting the road, since making such adjustments while driving takes your eyes off the road and distracts you.

10. Never drive while intoxicated.

D&O Coverage Belongs in Your Company’s Insurance Portfolio

Does your current insurance portfolio adequately protect your company and its most key people against significant financial losses? All companies understand the importance of a general liability policy, for example, to cover customer injuries that occur on the business premises. And every business knows it’s important to protect the business premises and its contents against the risks of fire, flooding, vandalism, etc., through a comprehensive property and casualty policy. But many overlook an entire area of potential liability and loss that can result when claims are made that are based on the actions of its directors and officers.

Directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance protects against financial losses resulting from claims based on allegations of wrongdoing by these individuals when acting in their corporate capacities. Both publicly traded and privately held companies should consider the coverage.

What kinds of claims fall under the scope of such policies? Consider these-

• Claims by shareholders/investors alleging misrepresentations, inadequate disclosures, conflicts of interest, misdealing and mismanagement.

• Claims by competitors alleging bad faith in business dealings, appropriation of trade secrets, and unfair or deceptive trade practices.

• Claims by customers based on dishonesty, sales disputes, and the like.

• Employment practices liability claims, including failure to hire, termination, discrimination and sexual harassment.

• Suits by government agencies, including those involving tax laws, securities laws, labor laws, violation of applicable business regulations, etc.

When claims such as these include allegations of a company’s directors’ or officers’ wrongdoing, that can bring them within the coverage of a D&O policy. For publicly traded companies, in 2006, 49% of claims covered under D&O policies were brought by shareholders, according to a survey by professional services firm Towers Perrin. Think of the well-publicized cases involving corporate giants like Enron and Worldcom, which alleged financial misdealing and cover-ups by corporate officers.

Private companies can also be hit by shareholder lawsuits. These companies do have investors, who can become disgruntled with management decision-making when their investment in the company does not turn out to be as good as expected. Also, the definition of a “security” can be a very broad term. But a key reason these firms need D&O coverage is the increasing number of employment practices lawsuits, brought by employees, alleging claims such as sexual harassment, discrimination, or wrongful discharge. A policy that couples D&O and employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) works well for these firms.

A claim against a company’s CEO, chief financial officer, vice president, etc.-whether based on allegations of misrepresentation, negligence, employment discrimination, or the like-has the potential to cripple an organization financially. Even if a claim does not result in a legal judgment or settlement, it will need to be defended, resulting in substantial legal costs to the organization.

A properly written policy will provide protection both to the company, and to the individual insured directors and officers. The personal assets of individual directors and officers-and thus those of their spouses and estates-can be at risk if the company is not in a position to indemnify them for any losses. Such a situation could occur if corporate bylaws or public policy would not permit indemnification based on the particular allegations, or if the company is in a bad financial condition, or even bankrupt.

Today’s insurance market offers D&O coverage at surprisingly affordable rates. Given the financial loss potential, it’s a coverage that any company should consider adding to its insurance portfolio.

How to Prevent Emergency Generators from Becoming a Danger

Having a reliable backup generator can be invaluable during a power outage. From powering a refrigerator, the lights, or heating or cooling during an emergency power outage, an emergency generator can be a real asset and provide many of the essentials that your family would otherwise be without during an outage. That said, generators shouldn’t be used haphazardly. If safety regulations aren’t followed, a generator can become more of a danger than an asset.

Determine what size generator you’ll need. The size of a generator will be based on the items you’d like to power during a power outage. For example, those in colder climates will want to power the furnace to keep the home warm and help prevent pipes from freezing and breaking. A well pump, refrigerator, freezer, and electrical in-home medical equipment should also be considerations. Keep in mind that the generator’s size and cost will increase with the more you need the generator to support.

Once you’ve figured out what size generator you need, you will have two main types of generators to choose from – portable or permanent standby. Understanding the workings and what’s required for each can help you determine which type best suits your need.

Depending on the specific size, a portable generator will allow you to have television, radio, lights, furnace, water well, and refrigerator and freezer powered. Generators can range from 1000-watt to 10,000 watt, with the average home needing at least a 5,000-watt generator. You may switch out the appliances, such as by momentarily disconnecting the refrigerator to operate the microwave, but make sure not to overload the equipment. You’ll plug your desired appliances directly into the portable generator using several heavy-duty grounded extension cords. This type of generator doesn’t need to be installed professionally, but it’s of vital importance that users follow strict safety practices. Never operate the generator inside the home, garage, or otherwise confined space; it must be used in a thoroughly ventilated area. Make sure to keep gas-powered portable generators away from open flames.

On the other hand, a licensed professional electrician should be used to install a permanent standby generator since it’s connected to the home’s wiring system, the installation should meet local building codes, and must be installed with several key safety features. Special equipment must be installed to prevent the generator from backfeeding into the electrical system within the home. Backfeed can result in a fire or equipment damage. It must have a transfer switch installed so that power crews won’t be in danger from live electrical currents if they need to make repairs to lines. You’ll also need to notify the power company when you install a permanent standby generator.

A generator will only be an asset to help you safely and comfortably make it through a crisis when it’s used appropriately. Otherwise, it can create more problems than it solves.

Here’s Why Your Private Company Needs D&O Liability Insurance

If you run a small, privately held company, you may not think that you need the kind of insurance protection that larger, publicly traded companies have for their directors and officers. You would be mistaken. Directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance has a place in the insurance portfolio of just about any company.

D&O insurance is designed to cover claims based on the actions of a company’s directors and officers in their corporate capacity. Claims can be filed by shareholders/investors, competitors, customers, employees or government agencies. The cost of defending such claims can run high, and if a claim proceeds to judgment or settlement, the outcome can be financially crippling to a company.

Consider these “Top Ten” reasons for adding D&O liability coverage to the insurance protections you already have in place for your business:

1.   While private businesses may not trade company shares on a public exchange, they do have investors, who expect to turn a profit on the money they have invested. Today’s credit market makes it more difficult for deals to succeed, meaning that new business enterprises have a harder time getting off the ground. If investors lose their seed money, they may seek recourse against the fledgling firm’s top executives.

2.   Many private companies are established with the hope that someday, down the road, the business can go public. If and when that deal does happen, D&O can protect the founding entrepreneurs against claims by shareholders/investors that the sales price wasn’t good enough.

3.   Г‚ In private companies, directors and officers often are active, hands-on business executives. Because they are very involved in their company’s business operations, their actions are more likely to be called into question.

4.   Employment practices liability litigation claims of sexual harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination are growing in number. These types of lawsuits can result in staggering judgments and settlements. Hands-on management by a private firm’s key executives makes them easy targets for these types of claims. Combination D&O/EPLI (employment practices liability insurance) policies make sense for these firms.

5.   Private companies, especially in their early years, may not have the resources to hire specialized support staff or outside advisors for complex legal filings and other requirements. This makes them more susceptible to legal compliance claims brought by governmental agencies, on matters such as tax law, labor law, etc.

6.   Even when claims of wrongdoing, negligence or mismanagement are unfounded, they still need to be defended. Legal defense costs can quickly add up, straining the resources of a private firm.

7.   Directors and officers of private companies often have a great deal of their own wealth tied up in the firm. Therefore, the cost of defending, settling, or being held liable on a claim can have financial repercussions for that executive’s spouse, family and estate.

8.   D&O policies are best designed when they insure both the company, and individual directors and officers. That’s because there may be situations where the company cannot, or will not, indemnify the individually named directors/officers in a lawsuit. A company may not have the financial resources to back up the executive’s loss, or the corporate bylaws or public policy may prohibit it.

9.   The current insurance market has made D&O coverage more affordable than it has been in the past.

10.   Individuals may be reluctant to take on director/officer roles without the protection D&O insurance can provide. This may make it more difficult for a company to find the right people to serve in key corporate positions.

The right D&O coverage like any insurance protection you purchase for your company gives managing executives peace of mind, and the time to attend to running the core operations of their company which is, after all, why they went into business in the first place.

Know the Facts to Help Avoid Being a Victim of Auto Theft

According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, one vehicle is stolen about every 25.5 seconds in the U.S., which amounts to a total of 1,235,226 stolen U.S. vehicles and upwards of 7.6 billion dollars in vehicle losses.

Despite the tremendous expense involved when a car is stolen, many consumers still aren’t preparing in advance to handle the possibility of a vehicle theft. A number of common misconceptions have contributed to consumers adopting a defeatist attitude about vehicle theft. There are a number of vehicle owners that feel it’s all but impossible to prevent becoming a victim of vehicle theft, even when protective methods like anti-theft devices are used. This type of defeatist attitude can have serious and unnecessary consequences for vehicle owners.

The Wiser Drivers Wise Up project was started by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the Insurance Information Institute, and The National Insurance Crime Bureau to dispel the defeatist attitude and teach drivers how to handle their vehicle being stolen. The program includes five auto theft myths that can actually leave a vehicle owner more vulnerable to having their vehicle stolen:

1. Older vehicles aren’t targeted by thieves. Statistics clearly show this myth isn’t true. For example, The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that the five top stolen model years for 2009 were: 1994 Honda Accord, 1995 Honda Civic, 1991 Toyota Camry, 1997 Ford F-150 Pickup, and 2004 Dodge Ram Pickup.

2. The majority of vehicle thefts occur in unprotected areas. Again, statistics clearly disprove this myth. According to one FBI report on the subject, more than a third of all vehicle thefts take place from a home. The same report showed that only two in ten vehicle thefts take place in a parking lot and that only a very small number of vehicles are stolen or carjacked along roadways, highways, and alleys. So, parking in a an area felt to be secure doesn’t decrease the likelihood of your vehicle being stolen.

3. Anti-theft devices aren’t hard to install. Unless, you’re trained on the complexities of a vehicle’s electronic workings, then it’s best to pay for a professional to install, wire, and test the anti-theft device for you. It might be tempting to go with the cheapest price, but keep in mind that a cheap price doesn’t always equate to a bargain. Check with the Better Business Bureau to help you determine if the installer is running a reputable business, especially if a business is offering a substantial price difference from their competitors. If the technician that will be installing your alarm system hasn’t been certified by the Mobile Electronics Certification Program (MECP), then you might want to consider a different installer. Make sure that the installer provides instruction on how the alarm system works and is operated. You will also want a written warranty from the installer.

4. The police usually find stolen vehicles. Only half of all stolen vehicles are ever recovered. The first few days following the theft will be critical, as the chance of recovery diminishes with each day the thief possesses it. The highest number of vehicle thefts occur on Saturdays and Fridays. The highest number of recoveries are from vehicle thefts occurring on a Monday or Tuesday.

5. Insurance companies always provide victims of vehicle theft with a rental car. Check your policy; while theft coverage is part of a comprehensive auto insurance policy, it may or may not include a rental replacement car following a theft.

In closing, vehicle owners shouldn’t make the costly mistake of assuming vehicle theft is an inevitable occurrence. It’s also advisable to do an annual review of your auto policy for mandatory coverages, needed coverages, and coverage features like rentals and roadside assistance.

EEOC Issues Guidance on Discrimination Against Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities

The chances that an employee’s responsibilities to work and to family will collide have increased in the past few decades. Mothers are more likely to be employed than not, for example, and more individuals with aging parents have taken on caregiving roles.

Employees with caregiving responsibilities are not a protected group under federal workplace discrimination laws. Yet, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released Enforcement Guidance under the title “Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities.” According to the EEOC, the guidance is not intended to create a new protected category, but to illustrate circumstances in which stereotyping of caregivers, or other types of disparate treatment against caregivers, might violate Title VII discrimination laws or run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s prohibition of discrimination based on a worker’s association with a disabled individual.

The guidance discusses seven broad categories of possible unlawful discrimination against caregivers. The bulk of the guidance is about gender-based disparate treatment of female caregivers. The guidance explains that employment decisions that discriminate against workers with caregiving responsibilities are prohibited if they are based on gender or another protected characteristic, regardless of how other workers in the same protected class, but without the caregiving responsibilities, are treated. For example, if women with children are routinely passed over for an executive training program while men with children are selected for the program, the fact that women without children also are selected for the program would be no defense against a sex discrimination charge.

Similarly, gender-based assumptions about a future caregiving role-such as asking young female applicants, but not young men, their plans for marriage and children-would be unlawful. Other examples in this category include assigning lower-level projects to a new mother, not making an offer which requires a relocation to a qualified woman with a family based on the assumption that she wouldn’t want to move, or assigning more weight to absences or tardiness due to caregiving responsibilities than to those due to other reasons.

The guidance recognizes discrimination against male caregivers, stating that stereotyping about men as caregivers can result in them being denied certain opportunities that female co-workers have, or in harassment. So, for example, refusing to grant a male employee’s request for leave for childcare purposes while granting female employees’ requests would be discriminatory.

The EEOC notes that because the law does not prohibit discrimination based solely on parental or other caregiving status, there generally would not be a violation if working mothers and working fathers were both treated in a similar unfavorable (or favorable) manner, as compared to workers without children.

Assumptions about the job commitment of pregnant women, or about their ability to perform certain physical tasks, can amount to pregnancy discrimination. The guidance warns against pregnancy-related inquiries and treating a pregnant employee who is temporarily unable to perform some of the duties of her job differently than workers who are temporarily restricted for other reasons.

The guidance also addresses discrimination against women of color, unlawful caregiver stereotyping under the Americans with Disabilities Act and subjecting employees with caregiving responsibilities to hostile work environments.

The EEOC guidance should put employers on notice to review their workplace policies to ensure that hiring, promotion and other practices do not, inadvertently, treat employees with caregiving responsibilities in ways that violate federal discrimination laws for protected classes of workers. Also, state, city and county laws should be reviewed, as these may impose additional requirements.

Simple Keys to Understanding Homeowner’s Insurance

To make sure you have the right type, and right amount of homeowner’s insurance, you need to understand what it does, and doesn’t, cover. Regular homeowner’s insurance will cover damage from tornadoes, fires, and burglary; but it will not cover the calamity of hurricanes, floods, terrorism, or nuclear meltdowns.

Basic Principles

*Make sure to get enough coverage to re-build your home from bottom to top.

*Choose “replacement cost” instead of “actual cash value.”

*Regularly inventory your possessions and their replacement costs. Consider a special rider for valuables such as jewelry, furs, and family heirlooms.

*Understand “loss of use” provisions. These provisions will dictate how long your insurer will pay rent while your home is rebuilt or repaired.

Best Offerings

*Look at on-line quotes and shop around, in general. Do some research to make sure the company is financially sound.

*Consider the possibility of raising your deductible to keep rates low.

*Get discounts by purchasing homeowner’s and auto insurance from the same company.

*Consider an umbrella policy to protect against lawsuits.

*Ask if special discounts are available. Some companies offer discounts to longtime customers, seniors, and non-smokers.

*Monitor and maintain a good credit score

*Unless you plan to file a claim, don’t report damages.

What Isn’t Covered

*Home office equipment

* Damage from neglect and poor maintenance practices

*Losses caused by pests such as insects, rodents, and pets

*Sewer backups and mold

In Case of Disaster

*Get in touch with your insurance company as soon as possible.

*Begin checking for damage and take photos to document calamity. Make quick fixes and temporary repairs to mitigate further damage.

*Be cautious of repairmen charging exorbitant rates and con artists impersonating insurance adjusters.

*Read the fine print before signing anything! Be careful not to sign away future compensation upon receipt of the first check.

*If a settlement offer is clearly unfair, don’t accept it.

Learning a few simple principles in advance can save you a bundle, should disaster strike.  Speak with your insurance agent to gain a better understanding of your homeowner’s insurance needs. 

Workers’ Comp System Faces Many of the Same Problems As Health Care

Many of the same problems that plague the U.S. health care system are spilling over into workers’ compensation, including rising costs, an increased incidence of potential injuries brought on by an aging workforce and the obesity epidemic, and regulatory uncertainties. In a speech at the 62nd Workers’ Compensation Educational Conference, Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), outlined these and other challenges facing the workers’ compensation system over the next 10 to 20 years.

Hartwig first applauded businesses’ efforts that have radically reduced the frequency of workplace injuries in America. Successes on this front have-

·   Helped companies remain productive, by lowering the number of future lost workdays that result from permanently disabling injuries or fatalities.

·   Increased and preserved worker incomes-Seriously injured workers have lower lifetime earnings, a higher incidence of bankruptcy, and increased dependency on public assistance.

·   Maintained and improved the quality of workers’ home life-Seriously injured workers experience a higher incidence of divorce, substance abuse and depression.

Hartwig then turned his remarks to problems facing the workers’ compensation system-

·   The never-ending cycle of reform, fraud and abuse, which will be an endless driver of costs in the future.

·   The shift in balance between medical benefits and wage replacement-In 20 years, he predicted, 80-85 percent of workers’ compensation benefits will be medical, and only about 15 percent will be for wage replacement. As a result, the workers’ compensation system will face the same problems as the health care system, but even more so, because the workers’ compensation system doesn’t have the same tools to control costs, such as deductibles and copayments.

·   The aging workforce-Fatality rates for workers ages 65 and older are triple that of workers ages 35-44. The workplace of the future will require a complete redesign to accommodate the surge in the number of older workers.

·   The obesity epidemic-In 2006, the most obese workers filed twice as many workers’ compensation claims and had 13 times more lost workdays than healthy-weight workers.

·   Regulatory issues-Health care reform will be a major theme in the 2008 elections, as it was in 1992, when proposals surfaced that workers compensation be rolled into the general health care system. This could happen again.

Though this information is sobering, Hartwig urged businesses to use it to their competitive advantage and work to head off problems before they occur, and not wait until injury patterns emerge to take action. 

Internet Usage Spells Trouble for Drivers

Driving distractions come in many shapes and sizes. Between phone calls, text messages, Internet, television screens, unruly children, and distractions on the road, it is a wonder we ever arrive safely from Point A to Point B.

In November of 2010, State Farm created an online survey to gain a better understanding of what distracts drivers from their most important task at hand – driving. The survey went to 912 drivers who reported that they drive at least an hour per week, own a smartphone, and have a valid driver’s license.

Of those surveyed, 19% admitted to Internet usage while driving. Here are the top five internet activities that driver’s engage in:

1) Searching for and reading driving directions

2) Reading E-mail

3) Looking for specific information of immediate interest, such as where to find a restaurant

4) Reading/Updating social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook

5) Writing/sending an e-mail

When asked about when their internet usage occurs, drivers responded:

*When stopped at traffic lights

*During heavy traffic

*When driving alone

*During daylight hours only

*On long highway drives

The survey further reports that about 40% of the U.S. population currently owns a smartphone, and this statistic equates to many distracted drivers on the road at any given time. Studies show that the increasing use of smartphones, especially among young adults, increases the risk of crashes. And there is an ever-growing need to remind yourself and the ones you love to put the phone away while driving.

Driver Survey Identifies Practices That Can Significantly Lower On-The-Job Injury Frequency Rates

The best way to prevent fleet crashes and in the process lower injury frequency rates is to hire drivers based on their ability and past performance. This discovery comes from Liberty Mutual Group, which recently released the results of its annual trucker survey.

As part of the study, the company identified practices in seven key areas that contributed to lower injury frequency rates:

1.   Management Programs

·              Most companies that measure injury frequency rates have lower frequency rates.

·              Those companies that conduct driver surveys had frequency rates 18 percent lower than those that didn’t conduct surveys.

·              While most companies conduct injury investigations, those that use written injury investigation forms, ask for prevention recommendations, calculate injury rates, set injury rate goals and track injury rates by customer had a 13 percent lower injury frequency rate.

2.   Expectations

·              Four out of five companies have a written seat belt policy and close to 50 percent have both a written seat belt policy and enforcement activities. Those with both the policy and enforcement had a crash injury frequency rate that was 33 percent lower than those that didn’t use both.

3.   Selection

·              Four out of five companies use a hiring checklist to document each step of the hiring process. Those using a hiring checklist had 30 percent lower injury frequency rates.

·              Four out of five companies have job descriptions that include essential job functions. Companies including essential job functions in the job descriptions had an 11 percent lower injury frequency rate.

·              Four out of five companies designate a medical provider. Those using designated medical providers had slightly lower injury frequency rates.

4.   Monitoring Performance

·              Companies that provide technology for driver managers so they can verify available hours of service for drivers had a 37 percent lower crash injury frequency rate.

·              One out of four companies have GPS and use it to monitor speed. These companies had a 15 percent lower crash injury frequency rate.

·              Two out of three companies conduct road observations. This practice results in a slightly lower injury frequency rate.

5.   Transitional Work Programs

·              One out of four companies had someone responsible for tracking employees out of work and had written transitional work job descriptions. The group using both had a 7 percent lower injury frequency rate.

6.   Injury Prevention

·              Most companies offer some form of injury prevention activities. Those that use an injury prevention manual, provide regular training and have observations for enforcement had an injury frequency rate that was one-third of those that do not.

7.   Training

·              Three out of four companies use written agendas for training. While written agendas are important, the survey found that injury frequency rates went down as the training group size became smaller. Those with written agendas and one-on-one training had a 30 percent lower injury frequency rate.

House Fires do Happen: Take Steps to Prevent a Fire in Your Home

According to the American Red Cross, 80% of Americans don’t realize that home fires are the single most common disaster in our country.  In fact, each year fire kills more U.S. citizens than all other natural disasters combined. However, most people aren’t aware of this because house fires are “silent disasters,” seldom receiving the same publicity as floods, hurricanes and earthquakes.

Another little known fact is that very few fires are caused by natural events such as lightning or static electricity. The American Red Cross says that faulty appliances and faulty wiring cause the greatest number of house fires. The second most common source is heating devices such as kerosene heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces. These devices cause fires when furniture, boxes or clothing are placed too near to them, and the material overheats and bursts into flames. Although human error is often the catalyst for house fires, human preparedness can prevent them.

Here are some tips to keep your family and property safe:

* Purchase only quality household equipment that has been tested by Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) or other appropriate testing facilities.

*Be certain that  household equipment is installed by a technician who has been trained how to properly install, and also knows the appropriate building code requirements for the installation.

*Have your electrical wiring and heating periodically checked to be sure they are in proper working condition.

*If an appliance is behaving erratically, don’t operate it.  Instead, call a qualified repairman to find the problem and correct it.

*Control the amount of combustible material in your home by removing cardboard boxes, newspapers, old mattresses, rags, leftover paint and other items that are no longer in use. In fact, you should periodically inspect the attic and the cellar to be sure that you aren’t storing any combustible materials that should be discarded.

*Check the type of wall finishes in your home to ensure they aren’t conducive to spreading a fire. Plaster and gypsum board retard fire growth. Plywood paneling made of compressed wood pulp, known as beaverboard, accelerates the spread of fire in dwellings.

*Place fire extinguishers so they are readily available in the event a fire starts. It is important to understand what type of fire extinguisher to use:

-Class A extinguishers can be used to put out fires in wood, rubber, cloth, and paper.

-Class B CO2 or foam-filled extinguishers can be used for fires in flammable liquids, greases and gases.

-Class C CO2 or foam-filled extinguishers can be used for fires in energized electrical equipment.

-Halon can be used on any type of fire.

*It is of utmost importance to put a smoke detector in every room.

*Schedule regular practice fire drills. Be sure children are completely familiar with the correct way to evacuate in the event of a fire.

*Don’t let your family be the victim of this “silent disaster.” Become familiar with these fire prevention tips and put them into practice.

CERCLA Rights to Sue for Clean Up Costs Reinstated

In the case of United States v. Atlantic Research Corporation, the Supreme Court ruled that potentially responsible parties (PRPs) that voluntarily clean up contaminated sites may sue other PRPs to recover their cleanup costs under section 107 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The reinstatement of this right comes after many years of federal court battles over the issues of authority and methodology for recovering cleanup costs from other PRPs.

When CERCLA was originally enacted, the courts interpreted section 107(a) as providing a method for PRPs to recover their costs from other PRPs. However, in 1986, Congress enacted the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). Section 113(f) of this law outlined explicit means for PRPs to pursue contribution from other PRPs. After the enactment of SARA, some federal courts held that section 113 was the only remedy for cleanup cost recovery. Other courts prevented PRPs from suing under section 107 of CERCLA and expanded section 113 to allow PRPs’ contributions without the need for a suit.

Section 107 makes PRPs liable for “all costs of removal or remedial action incurred by the United States Government or a State or an Indian tribe” and “any other necessary costs of response incurred by any other person.” In Atlantic Research, the United States argued that the section 107 use of “any other person” was limited to suits brought by “non-PRPs.”  That meant that Atlantic Research, a PRP, was barred from filing suit. The Supreme Court held that all the words of the statute must be “read as a whole.” They added that using the United States’ reading of the language would decrease the number of plaintiffs permitted to sue to almost zero, which would make Section 107 worthless.

Section 113 prohibits claims against PRPs who have satisfied their liability to the United States or a state in an administrative or court approved settlement. In Atlantic Research, the United States argued that permitting PRPs to seek recovery under section 107 negates the protection offered to PRPs who have settled under section 113. The Supreme Court conceded this. However, the Court stated that this “supposed loophole” would not discourage settlements because district courts would take into account any earlier settlements when assigning the level of liability to the various PRPs involved.

The Supreme Court also ruled that section 107 and 113 provide two “clearly distinct” remedies. Section 107 permits PRPs to recover cleanup costs they have incurred from other PRPs. A PRP that has satisfied a settlement agreement or court judgment under CERCLA may pursue contribution from other PRPs through section 113. The Court made clear that simultaneous recovery under section 107 and section 113 is not allowed. PRPs can’t choose their method of recovery. The appropriate remedy will depend on the circumstances in each case.

Four Tips to Keep Your Teen Driver Safe when You Aren’t in the Car

Newspaper columnist and author Erma Bombeck once humorously advised parents to never lend a vehicle to anyone to whom they’ve given birth. If only life could be that simple. Most parents don’t find deflating the tires and locking away the keys from their teen driver a feasible approach and will eventually let their teen driver borrow the car.

Just because you’ve decided to let your teen get behind the wheel doesn’t mean that you want to hand the keys over haphazardly. There are several things that you can do to prepare your child and help relieve some of the uneasiness you might feel.

1. Enroll in a motor club.

One of the most important features is that the emergency roadside service you pick offers 24/7 roadside assistance. Your teen will then be able call for professional help whenever he/she might need it. You may also consider asking your motor club if they offer emergency roadside services for when your teen is riding in a friend’s car.

2. Have a candid conversation with your teen about driving.

You’ll never know your teen’s knowledge and attitude about driving if you don’t talk to them. Although the graphic details of what can happen when speed limits, stop signs, signal lights, and roadwork cautions are ignored might not be fun topics, it’s important for kids to know the consequences of their driving actions.

You’ll also want to establish ground rules for using the car, such as how many passengers will be allowed, what time it should be returned, and where it can and can’t be taken. Keep in mind that some state laws will dictate the answers to some of these questions.

Another topic of discussion should be drinking and driving. No parent wants to believe that their sweet and levelheaded child would be the type to drive intoxicated, but the reality is that even good kids can be foolish or succumb to peer pressure. Make it clear that you’ll have zero tolerance for both drinking and driving -and- riding with someone else drinking alcohol. At the same time, you’ll want your teen to know beyond a doubt that they can call you anytime they get into a bad situation and you’ll be there to come pick them up.

3. Purchase a global positioning system.

A GPS is a device that you can install to apprise you on the location of your vehicle and teen. You will establish a radius of operation for the device. The GPS will alert you if the teen takes the vehicle outside of your set radius, is driving the vehicle beyond their curfew, and if they break the speed limit.

4. Purchase a speed-monitoring device.

This device, also called a governor, restricts the fuel injection of the vehicle. This restriction prevents the vehicle from going over a certain speed. In addition to standard GPS and governor devices, there are also much more expensive high-tech options like tiny on-board drive cams that capture risky driving behaviors on video.

If you feel like you’re being intrusive, just keep in mind that NHTSA data shows the crash rates for drivers between 16 and 17 years of age are nine times that of an adult driver. As your teen driver becomes a more experienced driver and develops safe driving habits, you can always reconsider your approach.

Duke Study Says Obese Workers File More Worker Compensation Claims

A Duke University Medical Center study revealed that obese workers filed twice the number of workers’ compensation claims as non-obese workers. In addition the over-weight workers had 7 times higher medical costs from those claims and lost 13 times more days of work from work injury or work illness than did non-obese workers.

The results of the study were published April 23, 2007, in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The researchers looked at the records of 11,728 employees of Duke University who received health risk appraisals between 1997 and 2004. Duke ordinarily gathers this information anonymously as a way of identifying potential areas of occupational risk in order to develop plans to reduce that risk. The analysis covered a variety of occupational titles, such as administrative assistants, groundskeepers, nurses and professors.

The study compared the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and the rate of workers’ compensation claims. BMI assesses a person’s weight in relationship to their height, which is why it is considered the most accurate measure of obesity. For Americans, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal; 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and 30 and above is considered obese.

The researchers discovered that workers with a BMI greater than 40 had 11.65 claims per 100 workers, compared with 5.8 claims per 100 workers for employees with a normal weight. They also found that obese workers averaged 183.63 lost days of work per 100 workers, compared with 14.19 per 100 workers for employees of normal weight. The average medical claims costs per 100 workers was $51,019 for the obese and $7,503 for the non-obese.

The study showed that the body parts most susceptible to injury among obese workers were the lower extremities, wrist or hand, and back. The most common causes of these injuries were falls or slips, and lifting.

The researchers concluded that their findings were applicable to the community as a whole, since the demographics of Duke closely reflect the local area. They plan to use the Duke population to help the community, so the solutions they devise can benefit the community as a whole.

However, the primary message they hoped to deliver is that the solution to reducing the burden on workers’ compensation involves eliminating both individual risk factors such as obesity and the risk factors within the workplace that cause injury. By targeting obesity and workplace risks simultaneously, businesses can reduce absenteeism, increase the overall health of workers, and decrease the cost of health care.

Know What Red Flags to Look for when Purchasing Your First Home

According to the National Association of Realtors, most average home buyers look at 10 to 12 homes before making a purchase. However, some can painstakingly look for months, even years, before finding the one.

With such a long and tiring process, it’s very easy to get starry-eyed when you finally find the house with the perfect exterior, outdoor space, paint, room sizes, and so forth. Within a month, you’ve bought and moved into your new home. It’s at this point that you discover the roof is leaking and the foundation is cracked; suddenly, everything isn’t as perfect as you imagined.

A lot of homebuyers, especially those buying their first home, get caught up in a situation just like the above by focusing most of their attention on all the pretties and easily fixed dislikes of a home. All the red flags that signal the house might be more expensive or more trouble than it’s worth are overlooked or ignored. That’s not to say that your perfect house should be nixed for having a few flaws, but you do want to avoid having one of the largest purchases you’ll ever make turn out to be a lemon. Here are a few tips on some common problem areas:

1. Foundation

Foundations are one of the most expensive repairs facing a homeowner. Therefore, it should be one of the first things a homebuyer checks. Look for any cracks in the stone or concrete basement walls, brick fireplace wall, around all windows and doors, and along the outside brick veneer. These can be the first sign of an structurally unsound foundation and should be further inspected by a professional before the home is purchased.


If the home has HVAC to heat and cool it, then make sure to ask about the system’s age and operation, look for any poorly connected vents, and watch and listen as the unit runs. Minor issues with the system can reduce how energy-efficient the home is and increase electric bills, while a total replacement can cost several thousand dollars in immediate expense.

3. Electrical

A home built in or before the 1930’s could still have knob-and-tube electrical wiring. This can be a problem if it has been tampered with, such as from attic insulation being blown-in atop the wiring. Such tampering can create dangerous fire hazards. Furthermore, most insurers don’t consider this type of electrical system safe and will charge you higher premiums or turn you down entirely. Keep in mind that rewiring the entire home will be a multi-thousand dollar expense.

4. Water Damage

Homes that have had water damage or leak issues might be hiding several expensive fixes and dangerous health issues like mold. Look for the signs of past leaks, such as any brown or white stains along the basement, main level, and upper level walls; mold growth under sinks; and horizontal stains along any bare floors. While fresh paint, especially in a basement, may just be updates, it could also be designed to hide the stains of water damage.

5. Look Twice

The first walkthrough of a home is often with rose-colored glasses. Even if you want to make an offer, take a few days to collect your thoughts and return to view the home at least one more time.

6. Pricing

There’s a big difference between getting a good deal and coming across a home with a price too good to be true. Suspiciously priced homes or sudden large price deductions can be indicators of an undisclosed problem, which is why a home inspection is so important.

7. Home Inspection

Home inspections can be a buyer’s best friend and a seller’s worst nightmare. Never make an offer before getting a home inspection. Get a second opinion anytime a home inspector files an inconclusive report.

Be safe rather than sorry.  First-time homebuyers can avoid many of the pitfalls to buying a home by just knowing what red flags to look for and not ignoring them.

Six Reasons Your Home-Based Business Needs a Small Business Policy

Like most new home-based business owners, you believe your homeowner or renter’s insurance coverage offers sufficient protection.  That is unfortunate, because in most instances these policies offer little to no coverage for business-related losses.

Homeowner’s policies are not designed to cover business losses.  Most offer a small amount of business property coverage, meant to cover incidental items, such as a computer used for office work. 

Depending on your business, you may be able to purchase a homeowner’s endorsement to cover your business property.  Your insurer is naturally going to want to know more about your business.  Questions such as what type of business, how long you have been in business and how many employees are common.

If your business is small with a low risk profile, and with limited client visits to your home, your homeowner’s insurer may offer limited liability protection. This protection would cover slips and falls when a client visits your office, which otherwise would not be covered.

If this option is not available, you may want to consider a small business policy.  Your homeowner’s insurer might offer a home-based business package for a reasonable premium, or another insurer can offer a package policy to cover the liability and property of your business.

Take a look at the following list.  If one or more of the items below apply, you may want to consider a business policy for your business:

o                   Business Property, Stock or Equipment over $10,000 in value

A business policy will allow you to insure your office contents, equipment, and stock. A homeowner’s policy will likely have little, if any, coverage for business-related items.

o                   Clients visit your office/use your product/depend on your service

Liability insurance can help cover your exposure to lawsuits resulting from slip and falls, product liability claims, personal injury claims, etc.  Perhaps even more importantly, it will provide defense costs for such actions.  Homeowner’s policies do not have coverage for business liability.  In a few instances, you may be able to purchase an endorsement to allow coverage for slip and falls due to customer visits, depending on your type of business.

o                   Damage to your office/workspace would require you to relocate/find a temporary substitute

Extra Expense coverage in a business policy will provide funds for a temporary office/workspace or cost of a mobile trailer near your damaged office site.

o                   An Error or Omission could result in a lawsuit that would need to be defended/could seriously damage your business

Errors and Omissions coverage will protect you from judgments and defense costs resulting from past mistakes. 

o                   Damage to your workplace could cause you to lose business, perhaps even lose some customers permanently

Business Interruption Coverage will help pay for expenses until your property is repaired or sales return to normal (depending on the policy form)

o                   Your employees use their vehicles to make deliveries or run errands for your business

Non-owned automobile liability will protect your business in the event that your employee has a serious accident during the course of running an errand for your business.  

Six Reasons Your Home-Based Business Needs a Small Business Policy

Like most new home-based business owners, you believe your homeowner or renter’s insurance coverage offers sufficient protection.  That is unfortunate, because in most instances these policies offer little to no coverage for business-related losses.

Homeowner’s policies are not designed to cover business losses.  Most offer a small amount of business property coverage, meant to cover incidental items, such as a computer used for office work. 

Depending on your business, you may be able to purchase a homeowner’s endorsement to cover your business property.  Your insurer is naturally going to want to know more about your business.  Questions such as what type of business, how long you have been in business and how many employees are common.

If your business is small with a low risk profile, and with limited client visits to your home, your homeowner’s insurer may offer limited liability protection. This protection would cover slips and falls when a client visits your office, which otherwise would not be covered.

If this option is not available, you may want to consider a small business policy.  Your homeowner’s insurer might offer a home-based business package for a reasonable premium, or another insurer can offer a package policy to cover the liability and property of your business.

Take a look at the following list.  If one or more of the items below apply, you may want to consider a business policy for your business:

o                   Business Property, Stock or Equipment over $10,000 in value

A business policy will allow you to insure your office contents, equipment, and stock. A homeowner’s policy will likely have little, if any, coverage for business-related items.

o                   Clients visit your office/use your product/depend on your service

Liability insurance can help cover your exposure to lawsuits resulting from slip and falls, product liability claims, personal injury claims, etc.  Perhaps even more importantly, it will provide defense costs for such actions.  Homeowner’s policies do not have coverage for business liability.  In a few instances, you may be able to purchase an endorsement to allow coverage for slip and falls due to customer visits, depending on your type of business.

o                   Damage to your office/workspace would require you to relocate/find a temporary substitute

Extra Expense coverage in a business policy will provide funds for a temporary office/workspace or cost of a mobile trailer near your damaged office site.

o                   An Error or Omission could result in a lawsuit that would need to be defended/could seriously damage your business

Errors and Omissions coverage will protect you from judgments and defense costs resulting from past mistakes. 

o                   Damage to your workplace could cause you to lose business, perhaps even lose some customers permanently

Business Interruption Coverage will help pay for expenses until your property is repaired or sales return to normal (depending on the policy form)

o                   Your employees use their vehicles to make deliveries or run errands for your business

Non-owned automobile liability will protect your business in the event that your employee has a serious accident during the course of running an errand for your business.  

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.

Do Your Employees Drive Personal Vehicles for Business-Related Purposes?

If an accident occurs while an employee or volunteer is operating their personal vehicle for company business, your company could be held liable.  Even when an employee is just running an errand, such as making a bank deposit, dropping off a proposal or picking up a part, if an accident occurs your company could suffer as a result.   

While you cannot insure a non-owned vehicle, there are other steps you can take to protect your company before a loss occurs. If your employees or volunteers use personal vehicles for company business, even if just occasionally, the following guidelines can help reduce your risk:

1.   Determine a minimum level of auto liability insurance your employees and/or volunteers must carry.  Also consider what documentation should be provided to your company to demonstrate that proper insurance coverage is in effect.  For example, you might require that employees or volunteers submit a certificate of insurance each year that verifies coverage limits.

2.   Driving records should be checked prior to an employee’s hiring.  Validate driving credentials and check for accidents and moving violations over the past 5 years.  All recruiters, managers and human resource people should be aware of this policy.

3.   Avoid having youthful drivers, those with little driving experience, or drivers with more than one moving violation or accident use their vehicle for business-related purposes.

4.   Periodically check driving records for new offenses and moving violations.  Introduce a procedure for how discovery of new offenses will be handled.

5.   Develop a written policy on business use of personal vehicles and communicate to all employees. Managers, human resource personnel and recruiters should share this information with any potential new hires.

6.   Be sure you remain in compliance with local, state and federal statutes while obtaining private information about your employees. 

Insurance can play a role in helping to protect your business from this exposure. Non-owned auto liability insurance may be obtained on a stand-alone basis or in conjunction with your general liability coverage.  Coverage for hired vehicles may also be available, if needed.

Insurance premiums for non-owned automobile liability depend on the frequency of personal vehicle use and how employees use their vehicles for your business. Premiums for this line of coverage are generally fairly reasonable.

Another way to reduce risk is to eliminate the exposure.  If employees or volunteers are prohibited from using their personal vehicles for business-related purposes, it eliminates the possibility of an accident that will affect your company.

In the meantime, while you are mapping out your risk reduction strategy, maybe you should consider making that bank deposit yourself…

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).

Longevity Is Key When It Comes to Lawyer’s Professional Liability Claims

Retirement usually means not only leaving your job, but everything associated with that job. However, when a lawyer retires, this isn’t necessarily the case. Whether they are no longer practicing law, or starting an entirely new career, lawyers may find themselves haunted by liability claims arising from their past work.

For this reason, it’s important for departing lawyers to confirm that liability coverage will remain intact for past work. To accomplish this goal, you should review the partnership agreement, the firm’s professional liability insurance, and any recent claims. Keep in mind that partnership agreements and insurance coverage vary from firm to firm. When you review the agreement, you may find an absence of provisions for the firm’s ongoing indemnity or insurance obligations towards former members.

When reviewing the firm’s professional liability policy you’ll probably find that is written on a “claims made” basis. This means that coverage is provided for any claims made during the policy term, even if the events that precipitated the claim happened before the policy’s effective date. Even if your firm has a claims made policy, it can still have coverage gaps that significantly affect you once you decide to leave. For example, the insurer may have included provisions that limit or exclude coverage of the firm’s activities in certain practice areas. Or with claims made policies, if an exclusion is added in the future, it is applicable to all past and future work in that practice area.

Your policy review should also include an examination of its coverage limits. Since these limits cover all claims made and reported within the policy term, there may not be funds available to cover a retiring lawyer if the firm has already submitted a substantial number of claims or even just one large one.

The next step in your evaluation is a determination of how the policy defines “insured.” In some attorney-client relationships, a lawyer may be considered an employee or independent contractor. Under some policies, coverage for employees and independent contractors is either limited or non-existent.

You should also review the conditions regarding the firm’s responsibilities for policy renewal and reporting claims. Don’t assume that the firm will continue to operate as a going concern after you are gone, or that it will continue to renew its liability policy. In fact, in the case of smaller firms, dissolution is often the outcome after a key partner retires.

If the practice is dissolved, it is important that the firm and its former partners maintain insurance coverage. And since time is a crucial factor in a dissolution scenario when it comes to coverage, it is important that you meet as soon as possible with your insurance representative to discuss your coverage status and appropriate options.

Four Rules of Thumb to Follow When Purchasing an Auto Insurance Policy

There probably aren’t very many, if any, drivers that look forward to buying auto insurance. If you’re like most people, you feel that you have an overwhelming task when it comes to sifting through dozens of companies and agents to find the ideal insurer for your vehicle and unique financial situation. The process can leave you feeling unrewarded and irritated as you think about writing a check for a policy that you hope you’ll never need to use.

On the other hand, you know that having auto insurance is a necessity that can be the difference between a financial catastrophe and enduring a minor inconvenience if you were to have an auto accident.  Furthermore, there are steps you can take that make the act of buying insurance less painful and complicated.

The following four rules of thumb can help you drastically simplify the process, while still getting the best auto insurance policy for your needs:

1. Don’t forget to consider the size and type of vehicle you drive when you choose your limits.

Insurers will not sell you a policy that is less than the minimum requirements for your state. However, that doesn’t mean that you should mistakenly opt for auto insurance limits based on the minimum amount required. Depending on the size and type of vehicle you drive, the bare minimum may not be enough to fully cover you if you should have an auto accident. For example, let’s say that you’ve selected the $10,000 minimum property damage amount set by your state, you drive an SUV or large truck, and you hit and cause $22,000 in damage to a brand new Mercedes. Since you’re only covered for $10,000, you will pay the remaining $12,000 out of your pocket.

2. Be forthcoming and honest with insurers.

Even if you think it won’t be favorable on your premiums, it’s extremely important for you to just tell it like it is when you’re asked about your driving history. You can choose to be less than truthful regarding your moving violations and auto accidents, but you won’t be given an accurate quote. This wastes both your time and the insurers, as all insurers will check your driving record themselves and make adjustments to the quote based on your actual driving record. Be honest from the start and you will save time by getting accurate quotes that you’ll be able to compare side-by-side.

3. Look at the whole picture.

It’s tempting to opt for the insurer offering the lowest rate, but cheapest isn’t always the best deal. Know exactly what you’re getting for your insurance dollars and pay careful attention to the fine print in the contract. Unusually low rates have a catch. Would you rather pay low rates with an insurer offering substandard service, or slightly higher rates with an insurer offering an attractive package and reliable 24/7 customer service? Are options on repairs and parts an important option to have? Is it price or convenience that’s at the top of your priorities? These are questions only you can answer in choosing your insurer.

4. Don’t waste insurance dollars on duplicate coverage.

Look at all your auto coverages and ensure options aren’t being paid for twice. For example, AAA members most likely have their towing costs already covered and wouldn’t need a policy with roadside assistance.

Finding the best auto insurance policy isn’t always fun or easy. However, by following a few rules of thumb during the selection process, you can certainly save yourself a lot of money, frustration, time, and regret.

Know Your Commercial General Liability Insurance Limits

A commercial general liability policy (CGL) lists six different limits on the policy’s declarations page. While the limits may be listed separately, it’s important to understand that they are all interrelated. That means that payment of damages for one limit will affect another limit.

To illustrate how these limits interact, it is necessary to examine each one in detail:

The General Aggregate Limit  – The maximum amount the insurer will pay during the policy period for all damages including bodily injury, property damage, personal and advertising injury except for any amount paid as damages because of bodily injury or property damage included within the products-completed operations hazard. The definition of the products-completed operations hazard is outlined in the policy and a separate aggregate limit applies to this type of claim. Also included within the general aggregate are damages paid for medical payments.

Products-Completed Operations Aggregate Limit – The maximum amount the insurer will pay for damages because of bodily injury or property damage included within the products-completed operations hazard. The specified hazards are those described within the definition of the products-completed operations hazard and are limited to bodily injury or property damage that:

1.             Occurs away from the insured’s premises.

2.             Caused by the insured’s products that are no longer in the insured’s possession or an insured’s work that has been completed.

Personal and Advertising Injury Limit – The maximum amount the insurer will pay if legally obligated to pay damages due to personal and advertising injury offenses. The personal and advertising injury limit applies separately to each person or organization that sustains damages because of a covered offense. However, regardless of the number of persons or organizations claiming damages, or the number of offenses claimed during the policy period, the insurer is only obligated to pay up to the general aggregate limit.

Each Occurrence Limit – The maximum the insurer will pay for the sum of all damages due to bodily injury, property damage and medical payments. Keep in mind that there is an aggregate limit for bodily injury and property damage claims that arise from the products-completed operations hazard and a separate limit for all other bodily injury and property damages. However, the each occurrence limit does apply to all sums paid for medical payments.

Damage to Premises Rented to You Limit – This coverage is actually an exception to certain exclusions found in the bodily injury and property damage coverage. The first exception provides coverage for property damage to a premises and its contents, rented to the insured for 7 or fewer consecutive days if an insured is legally obligated to pay for such damage due to any cause except fire.

The second exception provides coverage for damage to the premises only if an insured is legally obligated to pay for property damage due to fire. However, if an insured is held liable solely due to an agreement to be responsible for the property or for damage to the property, there is no coverage. Liability has to be imposed on the insured as the result of a lawsuit in order for coverage to apply.

The Damage to Premises Rented to You limit applies to any one premises. Any property damage paid under this limit will reduce the each occurrence limit for that same occurrence and will also reduce the general aggregate limit.

Medical Expense Limit – The medical expenses coverage is a separate insuring agreement that obligates the insurer to pay reasonable medical expenses for bodily injury, caused by an accident, without regard to fault. Medical payments are subject to the medical expense limit. The medical expense limit applies separately to each person. However, medical payments will reduce the each occurrence limit for that same occurrence and will also reduce the general aggregate limit.

Fire Insurance Coverage: Know What You Have and Understand How it Works

The extensive and costly damage caused by California wildfires over the last couple of years should serve as a reminder on why it’s vital to both know how you should proceed after finding yourself victim to a large-scale fire, and fully understand your fire insurance coverage before you need to call upon it.

Once the immediate danger of a fire is over, you will need to assess the situation and the resulting ramifications. If you find that the disaster has created large-scale destruction, then just the number of people impacted and the vastness of the destruction itself will most likely impact the cost and tempo of your rebuild. For example, available building materials will be depleted quickly and additional materials will be in high demand. Likewise, contractors will be available in limited numbers and be in high demand. The result – premium prices for supplies and contractors.

Given the above circumstances, it’s necessary for you to insist your insurance adjuster and contractor work together and reach an agreed price for your reconstruction. You might ask both parties to meet with you simultaneously at your home during the cost estimate of the reconstruction.

In addition to knowing how to proceed after a disaster, you also need to fully understand your insurance coverage. Do you know how much of the damage your insurance would cover?

If you opted to insure your home for 100% of its estimated replacement cost when you purchased your policy, then it should pay the cost to rebuild up to that estimated replacement cost. You can add at least an additional 25% if you opted for an extended replacement cost endorsement in your policy. Furthermore, a supplemental building ordinance endorsement in your policy will cover between 10% and 100% of the cost to bring your home up to code if there have been any new or changed construction codes since it was first constructed.

You will need to make an inventory of your home’s contents that were destroyed in the fire to receive compensation from your insurer. To make the settlement process go quickly and smoothly, make sure to provide the description; total cost of replacement, including sales tax; life expectancy; and age of each item. Don’t forget to verify the replacement cost by including the retailer’s name and phone number and salesperson’s name -or- the web addresses for any prices you obtained online. The average percentage of depreciation can be figured by dividing the age of the item by its average life expectancy. You will be paid the withheld depreciation difference on your destroyed items when you replace them with comparables if your policy only covers replacement value.

Additional living expenses, such as rent or a comparable furnished living area, may also be paid under your policy. Of course, this will be minus those expenses, such as mortgage payments and utilities, not directly resulting from your home having been destroyed. Coverage is usually a maximum of 20% of your home’s insurance limit and will generally continue for 12 months or less. Even if your home isn’t damaged, your living expenses may still be covered if your home is uninhabitable by government order. This coverage will end when the government allows you to return to your home.

The right coverage can ease some of the trauma a fire disaster causes to your life. However, you must know what you have and how it works to determine if you have the right insurance coverage in place to met your needs.

A Well-Designed Affirmative Action Plan Can Help You Avoid Discrimination Lawsuits

In an article titled Litigation Explosion, which appeared in the December 10, 2006 edition of the Arizona Daily Star, author Becky Pallack discusses a University of Arizona study that says employee lawsuits are on the rise:

“The researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and found 95,115 claims of employment discrimination nationwide in 2005.Federal employment discrimination lawsuits are up 268 percent since 1991, rising at a rate nine times as fast as other types of federal civil litigation.”

The financial effect on business from this increase in litigation has been devastating:

“For employers, the fallout from the lawsuit boom is expensive. Employers facing discrimination lawsuits were ordered by courts to pay $101.3 million in 2005, up nearly 600 percent from $14.7 million in 1992; and employers paid another $271.6 million in settlements, up 130 percent since 1992.”

As if this wasn’t enough, the EEOC has begun a new initiative, E-RACE (Eradicating Racism and Colorism from Employment), which is designed to improve the agency’s efforts to ensure workplaces are free of race and color discrimination. As part of this new strategy, the EEOC has said that it plans to “identify issues, criteria and barriers that contribute to race and color discrimination, explore strategies to improve the administrative processing and the litigation of race and color discrimination claims, and enhance public awareness of race and color discrimination in employment.”

With this increased emphasis on workplace discrimination, it is more important than ever to develop an effective affirmative action plan. Here are some tips to help you design a road map for ending discriminatory practices in your company:

·   Show commitment – Determine your diversity goals, make a plan to reach those goals, and then work the plan to its conclusion.

·   Identify the specific inequities you want to address – Before you create your diversity plan, perform the analysis required by law to identify what imbalances exist between the makeup of your workforce and the diversity of the workforce in the surrounding area. These are the areas your plan needs to address.

·   Perform an analysis of barriers to success – You will need to list what barriers to diversity exist in your business before you can create an effective affirmative action program. Start by asking yourself if individuals from a particular class are underrepresented in a job category. If the answer is “yes,” you need to figure out why. Is it because you recruit through word of mouth, which may be perpetuating your company’s homogeneous workforce? Where do you conduct interviews for new employees? Is it accessible to all types of applicants? If you advertise in newspapers, are they readily available to different ethnic populations?

·   Target the specific practice(s) that need altering – The corrective measures you select must be designed to remedy the imbalances identified in your assessment. If your company’s interview process puts minority candidates at a disadvantage, then focus on recruiting practices. If you have a lack of inclusion in a job category because you cannot find employees with the necessary skill set, then consider a more proactive job-training program.

·   Specify a timetable to accomplish goals – Have a clear picture of what the program needs to accomplish, and when that progress needs to take place. The ultimate success of your program is dependent upon having a quantifiable time line that clearly establishes the date by which each of your goals will be accomplished.

The Impact of Moving Violations and Driver’s License Points on Your Insurance Premiums

Americans love to hear about point systems. After all, many involve us earning desirable rewards, discounts, and freebies. However, not all point systems are about earning something desirable.

In most states, you earn points on your driver’s license after being ticketed for moving violations like running a red light or stop sign, illegal u-turns, unsafe lane changes, and so forth. While no driver relishes the thought of paying moving violation tickets, the financial implications are actually much broader when the points accumulate. This could be in the form of higher insurance premiums or even the suspension of your driving privileges. The details of the point system vary by state. For example, some states assess points to drivers that are at fault in an auto accident. That said, most point systems will assess points one of two ways:

1. One point per basic moving violation, with two points being assessed for speeding violations that involve the driver substantially exceeding the posted speed limit. Drivers assessed either eight points over three years, six points over two years, or four points over one year will have their license suspended.

2. Two points for incidences like slightly breaking the speed limit, an illegal turn, or other minor driving violation. Drivers with more serious moving violations, such as running a red light or stop sign, will be assessed three to five points. Drivers that are assessed 12 points within a three year period will have their license suspended.

Should you get a moving violation ticket, you’ll want to look for the vehicle code violation number on the front of your ticket and contact your state department of motor vehicles. Be sure to ask the number of points, if any, the violation carries; how many points you already have; and how many points will result in a license suspension.

These points can cause your insurance premiums to increase by 20% to 30%. Most insurers will regularly review the driving records for all their customers. Depending on your insurer’s policy and state’s laws, some insurers may be able to raise your premiums for just a single point. Most insurers will allow one moving violation every couple of years before they raise your premiums, but check with your insurer to determine their specific policy.

Can I Avoid/Remove Points?

You can contest the ticket. This may be especially prudent if your points are nearly suspension levels. Keep in mind that contesting the ticket is an iffy proposition in that avoiding the point will depend on you being successful.

An option that offers more certainty in avoiding the point is paying the ticket and attending traffic school. However, some jurisdictions will not allow anyone ticketed for driving fifteen m.p.h. or more over the speed limit to attend traffic school. If you’re eligible, then you may need to attend anywhere from once a year to once every two years, depending on your jurisdiction. Some states will require a court appearance or visit to the court’s clerk to enroll in the class, while other traffic schools are completed online. Some traffic schools give you the basic information with a splash of humor to make it less boring, while others may require you to sit through eight hours of lecture and films on gruesome accidents. In any case, it shouldn’t be too big a sacrifice when you consider the alternative higher insurance premiums from the point(s) going on your record.

Driver education courses, such as a defensive driving class, can help you remove existing points from your license. The department of motor vehicles for your state can give you a listing of applicable options.

In closing, insurers typically either avoid risk or charge exorbitant premiums to take it on. Having a number of moving violations is a strong indicator that you have habits that could lead to costly accidents and claims, and would therefore be a risk to insure. Most insurers do understand that humans err occasionally, but you’ll have the best chance at keeping your rates down by avoiding traffic violations altogether.

Ten Tips for Avoiding Legal Malpractice

Statistics show that in any given year, a minimum of five to six insured lawyers out of every 100 in private practice experience a malpractice claim, according to the Colorado Bar Association. In other words, a firm with 20 lawyers could be the recipient of a claim every year. As exposure to legal malpractice claims continues to rise, it is an important function of law office management to establish effective loss prevention practices:

·   Develop a standard calendaring system – This should contain all items to be calendared, deadlines for the various cases being handled, as well as deadlines for critical events. It should also include frequent reminder dates. The most effective calendaring system will have tracking procedures that identify the author of a particular entry.

·   Know the signs of substance abuse and depression – Heavy workloads can often result in an attorney becoming depressed or compensating through substance abuse. Knowing the warning signs associated with each scenario can prevent the firm from being hit with a malpractice suit because of a dysfunctional attorney. Symptoms of substance abuse include Monday morning tiredness, missing deadlines and appointments and neglecting mail and phone calls. Behavioral changes associated with depression include misplaced anger, frequent bouts of crying, self-criticism, becoming easily distracted, and lack of interest in every day activities.

·   Maintain good client relations – When accepting a new client, an attorney should discuss the purpose for which the firm was hired, reporting schedules, fees and billing arrangements, and client obligations. All of this information needs to be documented in writing and given to the client. Also, be sure the lines of communication remain open throughout the attorney-client relationship.

·   Screen clients carefully – Establish a policy of screening clients using a pre-determined set of criteria. Hold each attorney accountable for using those criteria.

·   Conduct thorough research and investigation – Some of the most common errors include failure to correctly apply the law, failure to determine a deadline, inadequate discovery and investigation, poor planning, and errors in the choice of procedure. The attorney of record should review staff work to ensure the accuracy of their work.

·    Avoid conflicts of interest and matter – Avoiding conflicts of interest involves establishing and updating a database of all clients and matters handled. To avoid conflicts of matter, create the practice of circulating a “new matter memo” to all attorneys and support staff whenever the firm accepts a new case. 

·   Never become inappropriately involved in a client’s interests – Accepting a director role in a client’s company, investing in a client’s securities, transacting business deals with a client, agreeing to contingent cash fees, and soliciting investors for a client’s business can result in a host of problems.  For example, the firm could be held liable for the attorney’s activities as the director in a client’s company or face conflict of interest charges because of an attorney’s personal involvement or investment in a client’s business.

·   Document all work – Establish a system for verifying the accuracy and content of all documents such as letters, briefs, contracts and motions. Also create separate files to store all documents prepared or received for each client matter.

·   Avoid fee disputes – Document fees and the scope of work in all matters. Bill on a monthly basis unless the client has asked for a different arrangement. Provide the client with detailed billing statements that include who performed the work and how much time was required.

·   Never delude yourself into believing you are immune from a malpractice suit – Your best defense is to remain acutely aware of how prevalent malpractice suits have become. It is this awareness that will motivate you to establish and maintain effective loss control procedures.

Home Buyers: Make Securing Homeowner’s Insurance a Top Priority

At long last, your loan package has been approved, your closing date is just days away, everything you own has been packed, and all that remains is a quick call to your insurance agent to line up a homeowner’s policy. That’s when the bad dream can begin. 

Your agent may inform you that your new home is uninsurable because of a history of insurance claims filed by the previous owner. Despite home inspections and various required real estate disclosures, this could happen to you.

Securing homeowner’s insurance used to be one of the last tasks a buyer undertook before closing. In reality, it should be one of the first.

Before issuing a policy, insurers always check a property’s claims history. Water damage claims are red flags, of course, but homeowners can also set off alarms simply by inquiring about their coverage, without ever filing a claim.

Most insurance companies research past claims through a shared database called CLUE, which stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange. When you apply for homeowner’s insurance, the insurer will request a CLUE report to ascertain whether you or the seller have filed any claims during the past five years. Even if you currently own a home and have a squeaky-clean claims history, if you buy a house with multiple claims filed against it, you may not be able to obtain insurance coverage.

Regrettably, you cannot order a CLUE report if you are not the homeowner. However, you can ask the seller to order a copy of the report as a contingency to your offer.

If you are ever denied insurance because of past claims, you can request a free copy of your CLUE report. In the event of a dispute with your insurer, you have the right to ask that your account of the events be included in the report. If you are simply curious about your home’s history, you can order a copy from ChoicePoint, the company that manages the CLUE database.

It pays to spend the time and effort to educate yourself about homeowner’s insurance when seeking affordable coverage. Consider the following ideas: 

  • Learn the rules regarding homeowner’s insurance renewals in your state. Regulators of some states exercise   control over when an insurer can refuse to renew your coverage.
  • Pay for small losses yourself. Insurers take notice of customers submitting frequent small claims.
  • Think twice before calling your agent or insurance company. When you place a call, the insurer opens a claims file on you regardless of whether you actually file a claim.
  • Increase your deductible and consolidate insurers. To reduce your homeowner’s insurance premium, consider raising your deductible. Also, most insurers offer discounts if you insure both your car and home with them.
  • Examine your credit record. In addition to your past claims history, insurers often use your credit score to determine whether to issue you a policy.

The EEOC Strengthens Commitment to Filing Class Action Suits

In 2006, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission changed its strategy when it announced plans to file more class action suits. This shift was predicated on the decrease in the number of private-sector discrimination-related class action suits and increase in wage-hour class actions. As a result of this decline in discrimination class actions, the Commission’s position may indicate a trend toward more government-led class actions in this area.

The EEOC is in a unique position to litigate this type of suit because it is not required to meet the strict requirements to maintain a class action set forth in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In addition, the agency isn’t hampered by considerations of whether the monetary compensation won will be worth the expense of a trial.

The Commission is also spurred on in its decision by the belief that a national approach to litigating workplace civil rights is necessary due to a lack of consistent effort on the part of the private sector. The Commission itself is guilty of not identifying widespread discrimination in the past, and this shift is seen as attempt to make the agency more proactive.

What means will the agency use to evaluate which cases require class action treatment? Its primary sources will be:

·               Data gathered through EEO-1 surveys of private employers of 100 or more employees

·               Analyses designed by private statisticians who act as consultants to the Commission

·               Charges filed by claimants

·               Its own databases

·               Pending litigation

·               Long-term analysis of EEO-1 reports

In light of this emphasis on rooting out systemic discrimination, employers need to be increasingly vigilant. Here are some guidelines that can help you prevent becoming party to an EEOC-initiated class action suit:

1.                  Keep your affirmative action plans updated so that when analyzing, the data will identify problem areas in recruitment, hiring, transfer, promotion, compensation, termination, or other terms and conditions of employment.

2.                  Review the criteria used for hiring, firing and other personnel decisions to identify standards or actions that can be perceived as discriminatory.

3.                  Review instances in which a personnel decision impacted negatively on an employee or employees to be sure that all criteria used to make the decision was job related and the result of the need to maintain business operations.

4.                  Provide updated training for management involved in interviewing, hiring, job assignment, compensation, job advancement, and termination to ensure that they understand their obligations under the equal employment opportunity laws.

5.                  Inform management of the negative impact that e-mails have on the defense of claims, especially if careless phrases are used, insulting comments are made or e-mails are used for inappropriate purposes.

6.                  Publish company policies that spell out a zero tolerance for all forms of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Train non-management employees in those policies and their obligation to report immediately any actual or perceived harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

7.                  Post and regularly distribute policies regarding reporting harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

8.                  Develop a program through which employees receive severance pay or other consideration in exchange for executing binding releases that comply with the Older Worker Benefit Protection Act.

9.                  Keep and regularly review electronic data to identify potential problems and to avoid the possibility of it becoming damaged.

Don’t Get Stuck Paying for Costly Storm Clean-Ups

Following a damaging fire, thunderstorm, hurricane, tornado, ice storm, or other disaster, one of your first concerns will be the structural damage your home has suffered and how to repair and restore it back to its original condition. In most cases, your homeowner’s insurance policy will pay for the labor and materials to repair your home and for you to temporarily live somewhere else while your home is uninhabitable.

But, what about the mess that the disaster has left behind? You may have anything from destroyed furniture and appliances to soaking wet insulation and lumber that must be cleaned up and disposed of somehow. Of course, this certainly isn’t an expense or a task that a homeowner wants to be worried with after a disaster. The good news is that your insurance policy may also pay for the expensive cleanup and disposal process.

A typical insurance policy will cover a reasonable expense for you to remove the debris from your property, but the damage must be caused by one of the causes of loss that your insurance policy insurers against. For example, let’s say your insurance policy covers fire and a fire has damaged your master bedroom, closet, and entry hallway. In the process, your clothes and bedroom furniture were also destroyed by a combination of fire, smoke, and water. Since your insurance policy covers fire, it will also pay for all your belongings and building materials destroyed by the fire to be removed from your property. On the other hand, do keep in mind that most typical insurance policies don’t cover losses caused by earthquakes. Depending on your insurer, this coverage may be added for an additional premium.

The cost of debris removal is included in the insurance amount covering your home, but if the amount of home damage and debris removal exceeds what your policy will pay, most policies will usually provide an additional amount for you to remove the debris.

A typical policy will also cover the cost to remove fallen trees on your property. The amount is usually up to $1,000 for multiple fallen trees and up to $500 for a single fallen tree. However, the coverage only applies with certain circumstances. Removal of fallen trees owned by you, the policyholder, are usually covered if they fell as a result of a windstorm; the weight of snow, sleet, or ice; or a hail storm. Removal of a neighbor’s tree that has fallen on your property is usually covered if it fell from fire; wind and hailstorms; vandalism; the weight of snow, sleet, or ice; and such. The fallen tree must have damaged a structure that is already covered by your policy, such as your home, fence, garage, or porch, for the coverage to pay for the removal. There are a few limited exceptions to this rule, such as if the fallen tree is blocking the driveway to the home or a handicapped person’s accesses to the residence. Otherwise, a fallen tree on your property will be your financial responsibility to remove.

Keep in mind that homeowner’s insurance policies can vary from insurer to insurer. Be sure to review your policy carefully to make certain you have the extent and amount of coverage you need. Don’t forget to confirm that you have enough insurance to cover both repairs and removal. If any of the provisions in your policy aren’t perfectly clear to you, then you should ask your insurance agent to thoroughly explain it. If your agent can’t explain your policy to your understanding, then it might be time to look elsewhere for coverage.

Take Steps to Prevent Workplace Bias Claims Before They Happen

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently reported that work-related bias complaints increased to 75,768 during 2006 compared with 75,428 the previous year. Discrimination complaints had previously risen to a seven-year high of 84,442 in 2002, but then steadily decreased from 2003 to 2005. The most frequent complaints have remained consistent throughout the years, including allegations of discrimination based on race, sex or retaliation.

This upward trend in the number of suits filed should raise alarms for employers everywhere. The legal cost to defend an allegation of discrimination that reaches trial has been estimated between $75,000 and $200,000. This doesn’t include hidden costs like work time lost because of gathering evidence or giving depositions. It also doesn’t include costs associated with an appeal or with payment of a final judgment.

The National Center for Preventive Law (NCPL) at the California Western School of Law in San Diego recommends that employers practice what it refers to as “preventive law.” That means assessing legal risks and instituting solutions to prevent them from occurring.

To assist employers in creating an effective prevention program, NCPL has established the following guidelines:

·            Manage Compliance – Develop a corporate policy regarding discrimination and document in the employee handbook. Document the specific ways in which corporate policy enforces compliance. Maintain a record keeping system that indicates what actions were taken if policies were violated.

·            Contain Risk – Identify overt employee conduct that could lead to a lawsuit. Also look for less obvious misconduct that encourages or promotes discrimination.

·            Respond to Change – Maintain the longevity and continuity of your policies by including mechanisms that allow for necessary updates caused by new business activities or other organizational developments.

·            State Compliance Policy – Take every opportunity to restate corporate compliance policies, including such practices as having department managers discuss them during departmental meetings or by distributing fliers that remind employees about these policies.

·            Top Level Endorsement – Provide continuing opportunities for senior management to oversee and promote corporate compliance policies.

·            Create Compliance Accountability – Hold all staff members accountable for compliance in every activity they initiate or oversee.

·            Ensure Program Fairness – Be sure practices treat all employees fairly and guard against retaliation for raising compliance issues.

·            Maintain High-Level Oversight – Establish a Compliance Officer who has the authority to initiate, coordinate and review corporate compliance efforts.

·            Reward Success – Promote continued compliance through rewards such as monetary compensation.

Should Your Collision Coverage be Dropped?

If you are like most new car owners, then you probably paid the extra money to include the protection offered by collision coverage in your insurance policy. However, as your vehicle has now begun to age and depreciate, you’ve likely started to ponder if and when you should drop the pricey collision coverage that’s running up your insurance bill.

There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. After all, everyone won’t have the same comfort level on risk or the same insurance needs and wants. However, there are some factors that you can consider to help you determine if and when you should drop your collision coverage:

1. Determine the value of your vehicle.

The first thing you should do when deciding if you should drop your collision insurance is determine approximately how much your car is worth. There are several ways to go about this, but one of the best methods is by getting an actual cash value (ACV) estimate. Kelley Blue Book and N.A.D.A. guides are excellent sources. However, you might want to call your insurance agent to find out which ACV source is used by their claims department, as ACV figures will often vary slightly from source to source. Do remember to factor in the wear and tear on your vehicle. Dents, scratches, upholstery holes or tears, and fading or chipping paint are just a few of the factors that can lower your vehicle’s ACV.

2. Weigh your potential risk against the cost of your collision coverage.

Although your collision coverage premiums will generally decrease slightly as your vehicle ages, you still need to make sure that the cost of your collision coverage remains a worthy expense to cover damage that may or may not occur to your vehicle. Weigh what you’re paying every year for collision coverage against the potential risk of not having it. The ACV of your vehicle should also be a factor in your decision process. For example, the new car you bought several years ago may only be worth $3,000 dollars today, and if you’re paying $600 per year for your collision coverage, then you’re paying 20% of what your car is worth for just this one coverage.

3. What’s your deductible?

Your deductible is another important factor to consider. Most drivers usually select a collision coverage deductible between $250 and $1,000 dollars. You might have even selected a higher deductible to keep your premiums lower. In any case, you need to remember that your deductible is the amount of money you’ve agreed to pay out-of-pocket before your insurance coverage takes effect. You need to decide if the combination of your collision coverage premiums and the deductible amount you’d pay after an accident are still reasonable costs for the value of your vehicle. For example, you’d be looking at a $1,600 out-of-pocket cost for the year for your damaged vehicle if you have a $1,000 deductible and you’re paying $600 for your annual collision premiums. If your vehicle’s value is anywhere close to what you’d pay out-of-pocket, then you can see where you’re likely wasting your insurance dollars. On the other hand, if your vehicle would cost a great deal more to replace or repair than what you pay out-of-pocket with your collision coverage, then it’s likely worth the expense.

4. Can you live without the perks of your collision coverage policy?

You’ll need to decide how valuable the perks of your collision coverage policy are to you. For example, your collision coverage policy might offer a free rental following an accident. Without the collision coverage providing this, could you rent a car on your own or find alternative transportation?

The bottom line is that there’s no cut-and-dried answer about dropping your collision insurance. Consider the above points and how they apply to your unique situation before making your decision. You can always schedule an appointment with your insurance agent if you have any doubts, concerns, or questions during your decision process.

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.

The CLUE Report: Don’t Be Left Clueless on Insuring Your New Home

If you don’t properly educate yourself on the home buying process, it can very well be like walking into a minefield. Most buyers at least have a novice understanding on areas like their credit, pre-approval, a home inspection, and so forth. However, most buyers don’t have a clue what a CLUE report is, much less what an important element it is when buying and insuring a new home. Considering that around 90% of all insurers underwriting homeowner’s insurance subscribe to the CLUE service, it’s certainly something that you should know about.

What Is CLUE?

The Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, or CLUE, is a database that allows auto and homeowner insurers to exchange information about property loss claims. Unless your state specifically requires it, prior notification isn’t required before your information goes into the system. ChoicePoint, one of the largest personal consumer data compilers in the United States, maintains the database. Property loss claims and even inquiries into coverage are entered into the CLUE database.

Your insurer can access the CLUE database when you apply for homeowner’s insurance on your new home. The system will allow them to see any past claims that previous owners filed on the house. It also allows them to see past inquiries on damages, even if there wasn’t a claim filed. You could find yourself in an insurance nightmare if a bad CLUE report causes insurers to be unwilling to provide you with coverage. Furthermore, it’s not just your new home under scrutiny. Old claims that you made on your previous home are also available through the CLUE database and can affect the cost and/or availability of homeowner’s insurance on your new home.

What Do I Do About CLUE?

The best thing you can do to keep CLUE from affecting the cost of your homeowner’s insurance and/or your ability to obtain insurance is to know your rights. Just as with any other credit reports, CLUE reports fall under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA. This means that you’re entitled to certain rights, including the following:

* Notification if the insurer intends any adverse actions, such as increasing the cost of your new policy’s premiums or denying your new policy, based on the information they obtained from your CLUE report.

* Get a copy of your insurance scores and the actual CLUE report. The FACT Act is a recent amendment to the FCRA that entitles you to one free copy of your CLUE report per year. Aside from your one free copy, you’re entitled to get another copy of your CLUE report if you’ve had your policy canceled, coverage limited, premiums increased, or an application for insurance denied.

* Dispute incomplete information or inaccuracies within the CLUE report. You can do this at the ChoicePoint website. ChoicePoint is required by law to investigate your dispute. If you aren’t satisfied with the investigation by ChoicePoint, you can file a statement. This statement must be attached to all future reports.

In summary, you can see how a CLUE report can substantially impact your home purchase. Do keep in mind that you can’t obtain a CLUE report on a home that you don’t own yet. This means that you will need to ask your real estate agent to obtain a CLUE report for any property you’re considering purchasing.

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. 

Save Money by Avoiding These Costly Insurance Mistakes

When it comes to purchasing insurance, fear is an important motivator. We are justified in our worries about protecting assets such as homes and automobiles, and we buy insurance to protect our financial integrity. Despite our best efforts, sometimes our insurance does not offer full financial protection. This is not necessarily because there is a problem with the insurance policy; it can be a result of human failure. When purchasing an insurance policy, many people fail to look at the true level of coverage that is necessary to restore assets to their pre-disaster conditions.

Below are five common insurance mistakes to avoid at all costs:

*Trying to do it all on your own – Shopping for insurance is complicated, and it is best to seek professional advice. While it is fine to use the Internet to educate yourself, you should ultimately work with an independent agent who can offer multiple options for your consideration. An agent will help you untangle the complex issues involved in purchasing the proper amount of coverage to meet your needs.

*Buying into the hype – If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Where insurance is concerned, you often get what you pay for. A company that promises large discounts is most likely offering less coverage.

*Slicing it too thin– In a difficult economy, many people try to cut their living expenses to the bone. While it may be prudent to cut out some of the “extras” we enjoy such as eating out and going to the movies, reducing an insurance policy is risky. If and when disaster strikes, you’ll be glad you didn’t cut back on insurance premiums, which can result in thousands of dollars of uncovered damages.

*Neglecting regular protection reviews – Consider how much your life can change in a short amount of time. For instance, has the value of your home gone up or down in the last few years? Has a new car been purchased or has a teenager just gotten their driver’s license? Has an adult child finished their higher education? These are just a few of the changes that can cause either an overlap or gap in your insurance protection.

*Restricting your options – There are quite a few insurance companies that advertise a “one size fits all” approach to insurance. In some cases, these companies do not have your best interests at heart. It is best to consider multiple options, rather than limiting yourself to one choice.

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.

Five Things You Should Know about Your Condo Association’s Insurance

A condominium unit-owner usually has her own insurance policy that covers her for loss of her personal belongings, parts of the building that the condominium agreement makes her responsible for insuring, the additional cost of living elsewhere after a fire damages her unit, and her legal liability for injuries or damages suffered by others. In turn, the condominium association has its own policy, which may cause some unit-owners to wonder why they have to buy separate insurance. Doesn’t the association’s insurance cover the same things that her policy does? Depending on the property at issue, the answer is maybe yes and maybe no. Insurance companies designed the two types of policies to complement each other in some cases and to overlap in others. Here are five things unit-owners should know about their associations’ insurance.

The association’s policy covers the building. Depending on the wording in the contract between the association and the unit-owner, the word “building” may mean several different things. If the contract requires the association to insure them, “building” can include fixtures, improvements and alterations that are part of the building and that are within a unit. For example, if a unit-owner installs new track lighting or an attached island in the kitchen, the association’s insurance would cover the cost of repairing or replacing them after a loss. Also if the contract requires, the association’s insurance will cover various appliances such as refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers.

The association’s policy covers personal property “owned indivisibly by all unit-owners.” Furniture in the building’s lobby, hand carts and other moving devices, and exercise equipment in an exercise room available to all residents are examples of the types of property that the association’s policy insures.

The association’s policy does not cover the unit-owner’s personal property. A unit-owner must buy her own insurance to cover her furniture, electronics, clothing and other belongings. Assume, for example, that the condominium contract requires the association to insure appliances. If fire damages a unit-owner’s space, the association’s insurance will cover the refrigerator but not the sofa. The unit-owner’s policy will cover the sofa. The association’s policy also does not cover an individual unit-owner’s legal liability for injuries or damages suffered by others. The unit-owner needs her own insurance to provide for her legal defense and to pay any judgments.

It is possible that both policies may apply to the same item of property. In the above example, both the association’s and unit-owner’s policies may cover the refrigerator. In that situation, the association’s policy will apply first; if it does not completely pay for the repair or replacement, the unit-owner’s policy will cover the balance. For example, if the cost of replacing the refrigerator is $5,000, and for some reason the association’s policy covers only $4,000, the unit-owner’s policy will pay the other $1,000 (the example doesn’t include deductibles that may apply.)

The association’s insurance company will not try to get its money back from a unit-owner. Suppose a unit-owner left a candle burning overnight and the unwatched candle caused a fire that damaged part of the building. Many types of insurance policies would allow the insurance company to pay its customer for the damage, then try to recover its payment from the person who caused the damage. However, a condominium association policy specifically states that the company waives its right to recover from a unit-owner. It still has the right to seek recovery from a person who is not a unit-owner and is responsible for the damage.

While comprehensive, the association’s policy is no substitute for a unit-owner’s own insurance. Unit-owners should work with professional insurance agents to ensure that they have the proper coverage.

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.

Insurance Advice for after the Storm

Severe weather can come in many shapes and sizes.  It may take the form of heavy rain or snow, strong winds, thunder and lightning, and/or flooding.   When it comes to protecting your home and auto, you must prepare for the worst.  If damaging weather does come your way, here are some suggestions on what to do when the storm has passed:

1.   Contact your agent or insurance company as soon as possible to arrange a visit from an adjuster.

2.   Take photographs of any damage before doing repairs to your home.  Also, make an itemized list of all damage sustained during the storm and its aftermath.

3.   Protect your home from further damage by making only temporary repairs until your insurance company advises you further. Save all receipts for materials purchased for repairs.

4. Exercise caution when beginning repairs and clean up. Be careful with power tools such as chainsaws, and use proper safety equipment like safety helmets and/or glasses.

5.   Do not have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected the property and you have reached an agreement on the repair costs.

6.   If necessary, rent temporary shelter. If your home is uninhabitable, most policies pay additional living expenses while it is being repaired. Before renting temporary shelter, check with your insurance company or agent to determine what expenses will be reimbursed.

7.   Unless you have purchased extra coverage, food lost in a power outage is most likely not covered. Consider buying an endorsement to cover future food losses.

8. Damages to appliances from a power surge are typically covered; however some electronic components may not be. Check with your agent to see what your policy covers.

9.   Most damage to your home or surrounding structures from fallen trees is covered. Check with your agent or company before calling a tree removal service; those costs may be covered, too.

10.   Damage to your vehicles from fallen trees or debris may be covered by your auto policy. Check with your agent.

Federal Rules Governing Civil Litigation Require Businesses to Keep Better Tabs on e-Documents

New rules, which took effect on December 1, 2006, require U.S. companies to keep better track of their employees’ e-mails, instant messages and other electronic documents in the event the companies are sued. These new rules are part of amendments to federal guidelines governing civil litigation and were approved by the Supreme Court in April 2006 after a five-year review.

Under the new rules, a company that is party to federal litigation must produce electronically stored information as part of discovery. This is the process by which both sides share evidence before a trial. Federal and state courts have already been requiring such evidence in individual cases. The new rules now make the production of such evidence mandatory for companies involved in federal lawsuits. Furthermore, any information technology employee who copies over a backup computer tape once a lawsuit has been filed could be accused of committing “virtual shredding.” Companies are still permitted to purge databases if the information they contain isn’t relevant to pending cases or cases the company anticipates being a party to in the future. However, sectors, such as financial services, remain subject to the data-retention rules they have always followed. In-house attorneys and IT staff will have to work together to ensure routine erasing of backup data doesn’t present legal issues. Lawyers must also know where company data is stored.

Many large companies are unaware of the data they have on hand, which makes them unprepared if sued. Because they lack a real knowledge of what data they house and where it is located, these companies are more likely to settle lawsuits to avoid the costs associated with electronic discovery. Better organization of the data will lower these costs and enable companies to avoid settling.

On the other hand, large companies are likely to face higher costs from organizing their data. The new rules make it necessary for companies to know about items more difficult to track, like work-related digital photos on employee cell phones and information on removable memory cards. As a result, firms that help businesses track and search their electronic data are experiencing a huge surge in new business.

Most legal experts agree that it isn’t a question of companies changing how they keep electronic files, but rather a question of having a more complete knowledge of where documents are stored. The new rules also provide more direction as to how electronic evidence is to be handled in federal litigation. This includes guidelines on how companies can be exempted from providing data that isn’t reasonably accessible, which could lessen the burden of electronic discovery.

Don’t Let Obsolete Driving Techniques Put You in Harm’s Way

It can be hard to hear your kids call your beloved television show reruns, choice of music, hairstyle, and/or clothes old school, but you’ll have to remember that you probably didn’t exactly jive with your parent’s choices either. While Elvis’s Rubbernecking may forever play in your head and never become dated in your eyes, you should realize that your driving techniques may be one dated area truly in need of an update. The advances made to automotive technology and in safety research have likely made most of what you learned as a new driver not only dated, but dangerous.

Here are six tips to bring your driving skills up-to-date and avoid jeopardizing your safety, as well as those around you.

1. Seat position – airbags have made seat positioning an important safety issue for drivers and passengers. When airbags were first placed in vehicles, they caused some serious injuries to drivers seated too close during a deployment. Even modern de-powered airbags can deploy at 150 mph and cause serious injuries if the driver isn’t seated at a safe distance. Position your seat 10-12 inches from the steering wheel.

2. Hand position – you probably learned to keep your hands palm-side down at 10 o’clock and 12 o’clock as you grip the steering wheel. Today, it’s recommended that your left hand be at 8 o’clock and your right hand be at 4 o’clock to help prevent your arms from tiring during prolonged driving. It’s also recommended to place your thumbs atop the steering wheel and wrap your fingers underneath the wheel.

3. Wheel turns – you probably learned the hand-over-hand method of turning the steering wheel. It’s now recommended to use a push-pull-slide method where one hand pushes the wheel up as the other hand pulls it down. Neither forearm will cross the steering wheel hub, and neither hand will leave the steering wheel. The upward pushing hand continues to push as it slides back to it’s original positioning. Meanwhile, the other hand is sliding back as it continues to pull. The driving technique is aimed at reducing the risk of hitting yourself in the face if your airbag were to deploy.

4. Normal breaking – it’s been discovered that you have the greatest control over breaking when you keep your heel on the floorboard and normally break with the toes. Ensure that you judge stopping distances accurately in order to use the same degree of braking pressure from the time you first break until the vehicle actually comes to a complete stop.

5. Breaking on slick surfaces – leave the transmission in drive and remove your foot from the accelerator if you’re breaking on a slick surface area. The drag of engine compression will help the vehicle to slow down quicker.

6. Emergency breaking – anti-lock breaking systems, or ABS, mean that you no longer need to pump the breaks. During emergency breaking, just maintain a firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal. Remember to steer in the direction you need the vehicle to go.

Third Party Coverage Is a Key Coverage of Employment Practices Liability Insurance

The purpose of third-party coverage in an Employment Practices Liability (EPLI) policy is to protect an organization and its employees from accusations of wrongful acts committed against customers, clients, vendors, and suppliers. Some EPLI policies also cover wrongful acts committed by third parties against the insured’s employees.

Harassment and all forms of discrimination are covered under wrongful acts. Discrimination claims include discriminatory practices against a person based on their race, religion, age, sex, national origin, disability, pregnancy or sexual orientation. Harassment involves unwanted sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. Both verbal and physical conduct, as well as other forms of harassment that create a hostile or offensive work environment, are covered. Some policies also cover accusations of mental anguish, emotional distress, humiliation and assault.

If your organization has a lot of interaction with the public, it is especially vulnerable to third-party claims like those described above. In some cases, EPLI carriers may not provide third-party coverage to firms with a high potential for claims. What they might offer instead is limited coverage, such as covering accusations of discrimination, but not harassment claims.

To protect your organization from third-party claims, you need to go beyond just purchasing coverage. You must implement policies and procedures that address discrimination and harassment issues, both from the standpoint of an employee’s actions and the actions of third parties. EPLI insurers are increasingly requiring employers to implement these practices before they will issue a policy.

Having policies in place will offer little help to stop third-party claims if employees aren’t adequately trained. New employee orientation programs should include a presentation outlining the organization’s harassment/discrimination policies. The training must also include how to report and handle a third-party claim. However, hearing the information once is not enough to insure compliance. Employees must be periodically retrained through departmental meetings. To maintain the effectiveness of departmental training sessions, be sure that supervisors are provided with copies of all policy updates and procedural changes.

One important caveat to keep in mind is that most EPLI policies don’t provide third-party coverage for accusations involving the violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nevertheless, you should review your EPLI policy’s definition of a claim to determine the policy’s interpretation. Many policies define a claim as a “demand for monetary damages.” This definition can present a problem in an ADA claim, because many of these claims are asking for reasonable accommodations, not monetary awards. That’s why it is important to ensure that your policy’s definition of a claim includes claims for non-monetary damages. A policy with this expanded definition will cover defense costs and indemnity connected with an ADA claim, but will not provide the funds to bring your organization into compliance with the provisions of the law.

Don’t Let Driving Emergencies Take You by Surprise

There are two golden rules to remember when driving – expect the unexpected and be ready for anything. Many agencies, such as the National Safety Council, have compiled listings of the most common road emergencies and the ways that drivers can best handle them safely. Let’s look at six of them:

1. Blown Tire

Don’t over-steer, but do maintain a firm, steady grip on the wheel to keep the vehicle going in the desired direction until you’re able to slow it down. Keep in mind that a front blown tire will cause the vehicle to pull toward the blowout’s side, while a rear blown tire will cause the vehicle’s rear end to weave. Apply your brakes smoothly and slowly enough that you can pull the car to the side of the road at a safe speed. Never immediately swerve to the side of the road or jam on the brakes as you could lose control.

2. Blown / Malfunctioning Headlights

Slowly brake and come to a stop on the right shoulder. Try to get as far away from passing traffic as possible. Turn on your emergency flashers, if they’re still operational, and place road hazard markers or flares at least 300 feet from the rear of your vehicle. If you don’t have a cell phone to call for roadside assistance, then you can open the hood and try to scrape the battery cable’s lead terminal posts and the inside of connector lugs. This may provide a better connection and enough intermittent light to make it to a phone. As a last resort, you could use your emergency flashers as an intermittent light source if they’re on a separate circuit.

3. Skidding Vehicle

Remove your foot from the gas. Steer into the direction of the skid until you feel your rear wheels get traction again. Now, straighten the wheel. Never jam on the brakes or over-steer during the skid. To avoid skidding to one side when you need to come to a sudden stop, you can rapidly jam and immediately release the brakes. For those with anti-lock brakes, keep your foot on the brake and continue firm pressure while steering.

4. Engine Failure

Turn your right signal on and let the vehicle’s momentum carry you to the shoulder. If this isn’t a possibility, then remain in your lane or along the right side. Pump your brakes and turn your emergency flashers on to let other drivers know you’re in trouble. Once you’ve come to a stop, you’ll ideally exit the vehicle on the side without traffic flow. You can alert other vehicles by placing reflectors or flares; keeping your taillights on; and placing a white cloth around your handle, spoiler, or antenna. Use your cell phone to call for help or flag down a law officer. There may be an emergency call box on long bridges.

5. Stuck Accelerator

Turn off the ignition and apply the brakes. Keep in mind that your power assist feature will no longer work and braking and steering will be more difficult. Never lean down to handle the gas pedal, but you can try to lift the pedal with your toe if the pedal and throttle linkage have a positive connection.

6. Brake Failure

If your brakes still functioning properly, but you have a system light indicating a brake failure, then you should slowly take the most level route to a service station or mechanic shop.

If your breaks don’t feel normal, but are still offering some resistance, then pump them rapidly. This action could build enough hydraulic pressure to slow your vehicle down. You might be lucky enough to have a clear road and be able to coast to a stop or roll and apply your parking brake. Use your horn and flash your lights to alert pedestrians and other vehicles. You might need to carefully sideswipe hedges, snow banks, parked cars, and/or guardrails to help your vehicle stop if your on a downward, steep roadway. Never swerve to the left of a vehicle in your path unless it’s your only choice. If you’re headed straight for another vehicle, firmly press the brakes; head for a shoulder, ditch, or open ground on the right side; and try to alert others with your horn.

Driving emergencies are hard to think through as they’re happening. For the best outcome possible, you’ll need to know what the potential emergencies are, know how to safely deal with them ahead of time, and make the subjects part of your family’s safety discussions.

Proper Maintenance Can Help Businesses Prevent Weather-Related Slips and Falls

It’s that time of the year when snow, sleet and ice are a fairly common occurrence in many parts of the country. Such weather conditions pose serious problems for business owners because walkways become slippery and increase the chances for employees and customers to fall.

While you can’t control the elements, you can reduce your liability by staying alert and eliminating hazards that cause falls. One such hazard is the accumulation of ice and snow that results because deicing measures were inadequate or not properly applied.

The first step in effectively deicing a walkway is to choose the correct treatment. When selecting chemicals to melt ice, keep the following points in mind:

·   Rock salt is the most common method and the least expensive of the ice-melting chemicals. It is easy to find and can melt snow and ice until the temperature drops below 20є F. Rock salt, however, also releases a large amount of chloride when it dissolves. This chloride can pollute streams, rivers and lakes and kill vegetation. It also causes metal to corrode.

·   Calcium chloride is a deicing agent that is manufactured in small, round, white pellets. It melts snow and ice even when the temperature falls below 0є F. It is much less toxic to plants than rock salt, but it can still damage them if applied too heavily.Calcium chloride can corrode concrete.

·   Potassium chloride is a deicing chemical that doesn’t irritate skin or harm vegetation. However, it only melts ice when temperatures remain above 15є F. It must be combined with other chemicals to melt ice at lower temperatures.

·   Magnesium chloride melts snow and ice until the temperature drops below -13є F. It releases nearly 40 percent less chloride into the environment than either rock salt or calcium chloride. It is also less damaging to concrete surfaces and is less toxic to plants, trees and shrubs.

Once you have selected your deicing agent, follow these tips from the Iowa Transportation Center at Iowa State University to be sure you maintain an ice and snow-free walkway:

·   Apply deicing chemicals before a storm and remove snow/ice during and after the storm. Use plenty of deicing materials. Using too little will leave patches of ice.

·   Aim for evaporation. If the water can drain and there is full sun or even reasonable wind, the ice will evaporate. Dry pavement is a clear indication there is no ice.

·   Use a friction additive. Sand is the most popular because it’s inexpensive. Use enough to ensure that anyone walking on the surface has enough traction.

·   Check and treat surfaces every morning, especially around snow piles where melting may have created new problem areas. Reevaluate during the day and re-treat as needed.

·   Remember that a clean-looking surface is only “safe” if it is dry. A wet surface can quickly become icy in the shade or overnight.

·   Train those responsible for safety procedures how to safely maintain walkway surfaces during icy/snowy weather.

On-line Insurance as Opposed to an Insurance Agency: What’s the Difference?

Just as one may use a CPA to prepare their income taxes or an attorney to help them with their estate planning, many choose to use an insurance agency to write their insurance policies. This choice is mainly made because a person feels they need professional advice during the process. Of course, everyone will have different needs and circumstances surrounding their purchase, and this is why an insurance professional’s advice can be an invaluable asset.

If you’re debating buying insurance on-line versus through insurance agency, then you should ask yourself a couple of questions:

* Do I know for certain what specific coverage(s) I need?
* Do I know all the questions I should be asking before making an insurance purchase?
* Will the on-line purchase truly result in both time and money savings?
* Can I obtain all my insurance policies through a single on-line insurance provider?
* Can I call the on-line insurance provider and receive insurance advice when needed?
* Is the personal information I’ll be providing kept secure?

You want to know exactly what coverage you need and that the insurance you’re purchasing meets those needs adequately. Insurance can vary greatly from state to state, meaning that it’s equally important for your insurance source to be knowledgeable. You certainly don’t want to purchase an insurance policy and discover down the road that it doesn’t protect you during a claim. Making an insurance purchase with an on-line company that fails to connect professional insurance advice to your personal insurance needs can leave you at risk of being without the coverage you need. You shouldn’t be the only one taking time to ask questions. The on-line insurance company must ask you questions in order to ensure they’re recommending the appropriate coverage(s).

One of the best ways to determine if you’re really saving money by purchasing your insurance on-line is to get a quote of your policy on-line. Do keep in mind that most on-line companies don’t offer multi-policy discounts, such as for home and auto. This is because most offer homeowner’s insurance through a different company, if at all. On the other hand, an insurance agency typically allows you to select coverage from several different insurance companies and can help you determine which company will offer you the most favorable rates for your particular risk type. Another consideration is that insurance agencies typically have a much more stringent screening process in relation to these insurance companies.

Unlike insurance agencies, many on-line companies will either not have the services that you need readily available or have a system that you must sign into and learn to navigate before being able to obtain what you need. One such example would be obtaining insurance documents, such as a certificate of insurance. Let’s say you’re using your vehicle to take your child and some of his/her classmates on a field trip. You learn the day of the trip that you must have evidence of your insurance before going. If you use an insurance agency, the documented can be faxed or emailed to the school or your smart phone with a quick and simple call. A second example would be how an insurance agency can help you meet some very challenging needs associated with needing a hard to place insurance policy. Despite the trend for on-line shopping, insurance agencies continue to thrive because of the solid reputations they build from customer satisfaction.

Insurance is often required – auto insurance by your employer, homeowner’s insurance by your mortgage lender, or even coverage(s) an owner of a space you’re trying to rent for a professional or personal function may require of you. Such requirements can often be like trying to understand the tax code. If you use an insurance agency, then you can email or fax any insurance requirements to your insurance agent for quick and efficient resolution.

Carefully consider how you go about purchasing your insurance. Surprises are the last things you want when it comes to the vital protection of insurance. If you have any uncertainty about what you’re really getting with on-line insurance, then you might want to rethink your decision. If you’d like to avoid the one-size-fits-all approach of on-line insurance and receive the knowledge and expertise of an insurance agent, then you may consider opting for a professional, independent agent to prepare your insurance policy.

What Should You Consider When Shopping for Lawyer’s Professional Liability Insurance?

Controlling expenses is an important consideration in the management of any law firm, so it isn’t unusual that a firm shopping for liability coverage would take premium rates into consideration. However, even though rates are important, they shouldn’t be the overriding factor in your decision to purchase a particular policy. There are a number of other aspects you should consider to ensure you receive the best coverage for your premium dollar.

The first of these considerations is whether your policy has eroding coverage.  In some liability policies, the coverage limits include defense costs. When you file a claim, the amount of coverage for settling the claim or paying a judgment against you decreases as you incur defense costs. This type of policy is referred to as having defense costs “inside” the policy. There are policies in which the defense costs are “outside” the policy, which means they are not subtracted from the amount of coverage. In some cases, policies with outside defense costs have a cap after which the defense costs are subtracted from coverage limits.

The second consideration is whether the policy deductible includes defense costs. If the deductible is only applied to liability, the insured firm doesn’t have to pay it until there is a settlement/judgment. However, if the deductible includes defense costs, the insured pays as soon as defense expenses begin to mount until the deductible is paid in full.

Another condition that you will want to note is whether your carrier can settle a claim without your consent. Some policies have what is known as a “hammer” clause that prevents the insurance company from settling without the consent of the insured. There is an extenuating circumstance to this clause in that, if the insured refuses to consent, the carrier is only liable for the amount for which it would have settled.

You also need to determine if your policy gives you the right to select your own defense counsel. More than likely, if you are a small firm your carrier will retain the right to choose your defense counsel. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have any input at all. Most insurance companies have a panel of defense attorneys and generally allow the insured to select from this panel. Larger firms can typically select their own counsel but the carrier must approve.

All current Lawyer’s Professional Liability policies are issued as “claims-made” policies, which means that a claim must be made and reported to the carrier within the life of the policy. To prevent coverage gaps if your firm is changing policies, you should select a new policy that has a “prior acts coverage” clause. This will extend your coverage so that any claims that existed before the new policy started will be covered. If you don’t have prior acts coverage, your former claims-made policy will not cover claims that developed after it expired and your firm will be without coverage for those claims.

A number of changes in both federal and state court procedures have made sanctioning more commonplace. The cost to defend your firm against a sanction or to pay the monetary penalty associated with it can be extremely expensive. That’s why you will want to ensure your liability policy provides coverage for these occurrences.

The final consideration is whether the policy requires a new deductible if there are multiple claims made in the same policy year. Some policies only require the deductible to be applied to the first claim made in a given policy year. Other policies treat the deductible on an aggregate basis. The policy will stipulate a specific deductible dollar amount per claim, with a cap on the total deductible dollar amount in the aggregate that the insured will have to pay before coverage begins. If neither of these scenarios is spelled out in your policy, your coverage most likely requires applies deductible for each claim.

Are Your Valuable Collectibles and Antiques Adequately Protected?

Many Americans have a passion for collecting costly antiquities, while others may simple inherent some valuable antiques from their relatives. Either way, these antiques are often not adequately protected under a typical homeowner’s insurance policy. Being inadequately insured could mean significant financial and emotional loss if something were to happen to one of your antiques.

As far as antiques go, a standard homeowner’s insurance policy may very likely include restrictive coverage and limits and have a valuation only on the actual cash value. Before you mistakenly assume that adding a personal property replacement cost endorsement to your homeowner’s policy will provide you with coverage, you should realize that the endorsement lists several ineligible properties, including antiques, paintings, art, and memorabilia. There are also several coverage restrictions, such as excluding coverage if the antique is accidentally scratched or broken.

Here are six tips that may help you better protect your valuable antiques and collectibles:

1. Make an inventory of all your antiques and otherwise valuable collectibles. Take pictures and videos of each item, making sure to capture the item from all angles.

2. Ensure that your antiques and collectibles are appropriately stored and adequately secured.

3. For items of a lesser value, a general value assessment can be obtained for free online if you have a good photo and description for the antique or fine art dealer. For extensive or high-value collections, you certainly need to consider contacting an experienced antique appraiser. Most appraisers will need to inspect high-value pieces in person. The appraisal should include the replacement value, auction value, a description, and any comments the appraiser has about the item. Of course, this will most often involve a fee-for-service. Make sure the appraisal is done as per the requirements and codes of the American Appraisers Association -and- American Society of Appraisers.

4. Common, less valuable objects can usually be valuated online with the use of internet auction sites like eBay. This can give you a good market value for an item. Make sure you note both the asking and closing price of the item, but remember that the closing price will give you the best idea of the true value of the item.

5. Schedule an appointment with your insurance agent to determine if your existing coverage adequately covers and protects your antiques and collectibles, and, if not, what coverages you may need. Be sure to bring your inventory, photos and videos, and appraisals to the appointment.

6. Ask your insurance agent about a personal inland marine policy or endorsement, which can be added to your existing homeowner’s insurance policy to schedule your items on an agreed value based on the item’s appraisal. Although the above may also contain an exclusion for breakage, the exclusion can usually be eliminated for an extra cost.

Workers’ Comp Employer Costs Rose Faster Than Benefit Payments in 2004

According to a study released in July 2006 by the National Academy of Social Insurance, employer costs for workers’ compensation grew faster than combined cash and medical payments to injured workers in 2004, the most recent year for which data is available. Combined benefit payments for injured workers increased 2.3 percent in 2004 compared to prior year levels, while employer workers’ compensation costs rose by 7.0 percent for the same period.

Combined benefit payments fell by 3 cents for every $100 of covered wages, from $1.16 to $1.13. The chief contributor to this decline was the state of California, where benefits dropped by 10 cents per $100 of covered wages. Nationally, premiums paid for workers’ compensation insurance rose by 3 cents per $100 of covered wages, to $1.76 in 2004. The increase was the smallest annual increase since 2001.

Despite the recent rise in costs, both costs and benefits in 2004 remain far below their peak levels. Total benefits were at their highest in 1992 at $1.68 per $100 of covered wages, 55 cents higher than the 2004 figure. Employer costs were highest in 1990 at $2.18 per $100 of covered wages, 42 cents higher than in 2004.

Since 2000, the rise in benefit payments has resulted from increased spending for medical care. Spending for medical treatment rose from 47 cents in 2000 to 53 cents per $100 of covered wages in 2004. Spending for cash payments to workers remained the same during this period at 60 cents per $100 of wages.

There are specific actions employers can take to curb workers’ compensation costs. The first step is to examine accident records for the past three years. Take each year’s reports and examine as a whole. While reviewing look for specific accident causes and note hazards that should be remedied. You should also be looking for injury repetition and in which department injuries frequently occurred.

The next step is to conduct a physical analysis of the workplace. Utilize your health and safety committee as the catalyst, but be sure workers are also involved. Look for equipment hazards that need replacement or repair. Then search for environmental hazards such as chemical exposures, noise, temperature and ventilation issues.

The third step is to look for task or ergonomic hazards. Request employee input to encourage workers to take ownership of safety in their departments. When workers provide input, make sure actions resulting from their suggestions are documented in health and safety committee minutes and posted on bulletin boards in common areas. If employees do not feel their suggestions matter, they won’t bother to suggest improvements in the future.

Are Your Safe Driving Skills Up to Par?

As if we didn’t already have enough distractions, on-board GPS systems, portable DVD players, iPods, and Smartphones have created more driving distractions than ever before. And, it’s certainly not atypical for a vehicle to simultaneously have ringing phones, cartoons blaring from the backseat, a GPS incessantly yelping orders out, and fast-food fries flying around like ninja weopons.

Even though elements like the above have been proven to make it nearly impossible for a driver to devote their full attention to the road at all times, many drivers still think they’re perfectly safe drivers. Here’s a simple yes -or- no quiz that you should take to really determine just how safe you are when driving with distractions:

1. So long as I’m not watching, it’s okay for passengers to watch a movie on the vehicle’s in-dash video screen?

The answer is no. Not only do most front seat, in-dash video screens generally have a feature that prevents it from showing entertainment or business video when the car is moving, but it would also be completely unsafe to do so since it would inevitably catch the driver’s peripheral vision and distract them. Furthermore, many state laws regulate the placement and use of on-board video screens.

2. Have there been any criminal cases alleging electronic devices were the causative factor in vehicle accidents?

The answer is yes. One example would be a 2004 case that took place in Alaska. The driver was allegedly watching something on his DVD player when he struck another vehicle and killed two people. Although the driver claimed he was only adjusting his CD player, he was charged with second-degree murder on the premise that he engaged in conduct showing an indifference to human life.

3. In-dash monitors for rear-view camera and navigation purposes can be installed in the front seat?

The answer is yes. If the device has the feature that prevents it from showing entertainment and business video, then it can be installed and used in the vehicle’s front seat.

4. It’s okay to drive as you eat or drink?

The answer is no. While driving as you drink coffee or eat a granola bar usually isn’t the distraction that watching a movie or text messaging is, it’s still an unsafe driving practice. The bottom line is that doing and thinking about anything aside from driving can distract you from the road and lead you to look away, remove your hands from the steering wheel, or become mentally preoccupied.

5. Does driver distraction cause very many accidents?

The answer is yes. Over 6 million crashes, 3 million crash-related injuries, and 42,000 crash-related deaths occur each year in the U.S., of which driver distraction accounts for 1.2 million to 1.8 million, or roughly 20-30 percent.

6. Do federal laws govern the use of mobile devices like a GPS in moving vehicles?

The answer is no. In some states, there are state laws that prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones in moving vehicles, but there aren’t any federal laws regulating the use of mobile devices in a moving vehicles.

7. Can the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulate cell phone usage in moving vehicles?

The answer is no. Cell phone laws are enacted at the state or local levels. However, NHTSA is able to regulate the use of motor vehicle equipment and devices.

8. Are lawmakers concerned with vehicle crashes related to driver distraction?

The answer is yes. Over the last decade, several states have already passed or presented legislation related to driver distraction and vehicle crashes, and the number of states looking into such laws grow every day.

9. Do any states totally ban hand-held cell phone use while driving?

The answer is yes. Nine states, including California, Connecticut, Washington, New York, New Jersey, and Utah, prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Additionally, 30 states and the District of Columbia ban novice drivers from using both hands-free and hand-held cell phones.

10. Can your employer be held liable if you’re using a cell phone and crash into someone or something?

The answer is yes. Your employer can be held liable in a court of law. Under respondeat superior, an employer can be held liable in civil court for employee acts committed within the course of employment.

How many did you get right? Maybe you’ve learned a few new facts, or maybe you gained a new respect for what you already knew. Either way, it’s time to put down the food, turn off that cell phone, and start keeping your mind and body focused on the road ahead of you. 

Worker Found Eligible for Compensation from Seizure Related Injury

In an August 2006 ruling, Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled that the claimant in the case of Michael G. Blakeslee Jr. vs. Platt Brothers & Co, who was injured when co-workers tried to help during a seizure, is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Typically, workplace injuries caused by a seizure wouldn’t be eligible for compensation because the injuries arise from the medical condition itself and not from conditions in the work area. In the Blakeslee case, the claimant received two dislocated shoulders on February 13, 2002, when three co-workers tried to restrain him during his seizure. He had fallen near a large steel scale, and then started flailing his arms and legs as he regained consciousness.

The claimant filed a workers’ compensation claim contending that because the actual injury resulted from the restraint, and not the seizure itself, the shoulder injuries should be covered. The claimant argued that an injury received during the course of employment is eligible for compensation even if infirmity due to disease originally set in motion the final cause of the injury. The claimant also asserted that an injury inflicted by a co-employee is eligible for compensation, unless the injured employee engages in unauthorized behavior or the injury is the result of an intentional assault.

Initially, a workers’ compensation commissioner decided that Blakeslee was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The commissioner determined that the claimant’s injuries resulted from a chain of events set off by a grand mal seizure unrelated to his employment. A workers’ compensation review board agreed with the finding. The review board stated that there is a prerequisite requirement for eligibility for compensation, which the claimant overlooked. The cause of the injury must arise out of the employment and work conditions must be the legal cause of the injury. The review board contended that the claimant’s seizure caused the need for first aid, which caused the injury. There was no element of the claimant’s employment involved.

Five out of seven Supreme Court justices reversed the board’s ruling. They were not persuaded by the argument posed by Platt Brothers, and the employer’s insurer, Wausau Insurance Co., that finding for the defendant would be in direct opposition to public policy because it would prevent employees from assisting co-workers in future medical emergencies. The majority noted that the co-workers restrained Blakeslee to keep him from harming other employees as well as himself. Their actions benefited the employer. The action was directly related to the employment and would therefore be eligible for compensation.

The two dissenting justices argued that the Supreme Court should not have accepted review of the case.