Friday, August 29, 2008

Best Unveils U.S. Numbers on Regulation

The 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia are projected to spend more than $1.54 billion in 2009 on the regulation of insurance, reports Best’s Review magazine.

Its September cover story, “The Cost of Regulation,” takes a close look at the regulatory budgets as reported to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Regulatory spending varies widely state to state, reports Best’s Review. It ranges from a 2009 projected high of $30 per resident in Delaware to a low of $2 per resident in 11 other states. Industry observers almost unanimously agree that states that spend the most aren’t necessarily the most active in protecting consumers, nor are states that spend the least the easiest regulatory environments in which to do business.

“A large budget doesn’t always equate to better regulations,” said former North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman. “It is about focused consumer protection. As more states work together and share resources, these figures will matter less because much more of state insurance regulation will be better coordinated.”

A September bonus. This month a copy of The Guide to Understanding Insurance Ratings is polybagged with this issue. With a look at solvency and an overview of Best’s Credit Ratings, the guide can help those insurance agents and brokers who need to explain how financial strength is measured.

Try out a Best’s Review Video Experience. Get the inside scoop by watching Best’s Review’s editors talk about their September stories at http://www.bestreview.com/videos.

September’s other HIGHLIGHTS:

—Agents—are you prepared to keep your business going after a disaster strikes? Read “High-Tech Prep” and find out which software-based planning tools can help you keep your agency open for business as usual.

—In “The Young and the Restless” find out how health insurers are marketing to twenty-somethings.

—Life insurers are expanding into foreign markets. In “Foreign Policies” discover which countries are boosting growth and diversifying revenues.

—Don’t miss the A.M. Best rankings of the top U.S. life writers by lines of business.
Best’s Review is published by the A.M. Best Co. for insurance professionals, including home office executives, agents, brokers and others who are affiliated with the industry, such as bankers, lawyers and educators.

To read these articles and more, subscribe to Best’s Review by visiting www.bestreview.com , calling the A.M. Best customer service department at (908) 439-2200, ext. 5742, or e-mailing your request to customer_service@ambest.com.

UPDATE: Gustav Hits Jamaica, U.S. Keeps Watch

Officials in the U.S. continue to keep a close eye on Tropical Storm Gustav, which rolled into Jamaica early Friday.

Forecasters say Gustav could grow into a major hurricane -- a Category 3 storm -- by the time it arrives in western Cuba on Saturday.

To date, 51 people have died in southwestern Haiti and eight were killed in the neighboring Dominican Republic as Gustav came through Thursday.

In the U.S., officials said the storm could hit somewhere along the Gulf Coast early next week.

At 8 a.m. ET Friday, the center of Gustav was near the western end of Jamaica with winds of 65 mph (100 kph) that are expected to increase later Friday.

The National Hurricane Center's five-day chart puts a potential landfall anywhere from Corpus Christi, Texas, eastward to Panama City, Florida, with Gustav being a Category 3 storm by Tuesday evening. New Orleans is right in the center of the projected path at this time, but that could change.

New Site Helps Consumers Shop for Insurance

The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) and the Office of Public Insurance Counsel (OPIC) have developed a comprehensive, interactive online resource for Texans shopping for home or auto insurance: www.helpinsure.com.

This new consumer tool was created in response to Senate Bill 611 (by Senator Lucio and Representative Martinez, 80th Texas Legislature, 2007). That legislation required the agencies to establish and maintain a single Web site that would help consumers make informed decisions about buying insurance.

Helpinsure.com allows consumers to view sample homeowners or auto insurance rates from the top 25 insurer groups, based on a personal profile submitted by the consumer. The service is free to use and no confidential information is required to be submitted. In addition to cost estimates, the Web site also provides financial ratings, complaint ratios, and recent rate changes for each insurance company listed. Summaries and explanations of what each policy covers, as well as available discounts, are also provided.

While many of these resources were previously available in some form, the new Helpinsure.com brings them together in one place to allow consumers to go beyond price and compare insurance products on a wide array of features and characteristics.
Consumers will also find insurer profiles, agent license information, a complete list of companies and agents, frequently asked questions, options for coastal homeowners, and information about how to sign up to receive quotes from companies or file a complaint.

The information is available in Spanish as well as English. Consumers who do not have access to the Internet can request a paper version by calling TDI’s toll-free Consumer Help Line at 1-800-252-3439 and submitting their profile over the phone.

San Diego Walkway Collapse Injures 16

A walkway collapse in San Diego Thursday injured 16 people, three critically.

The covered wooden walkway fell on pedestrians at an East Village construction site during lunch hour, critically injuring two middle-aged women and a middle-aged man.

The block-long pathway was constructed next to a three-story apartment building under construction at 15th Street and Imperial Avenue in downtown San Diego. The walkway was designed to protect pedestrians from debris dropping from the construction site.

Investigators with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration were on the scene and reported the cause of the accident was under investigation.

The general contractor for the project is Allgire General Contractors.

According to state records, Allgire has had at least a pair of accidents in recent years, including one which resulted in a $16,000 fine and citation for a serious violation of state safety law.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

UPDATE: Gustav Turns South and Intensifies

According to catastrophe risk modeling firm AIR Worldwide, as of 7:30 am EDT, Tropical Storm Gustav is located about 80 miles east of Kingston, Jamaica.

“Maximum sustained winds are estimated at near 70 mph and the storm is moving to the west-southwest at 6 mph,” said Dr. Peter Dailey, director of atmospheric science at AIR Worldwide.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) expressed surprise when an Air Force reconnaissance plane discovered that the center of the storm had shifted considerably southward. According to the NHC, "Gustav has either reformed to the south or been moving more to the south-southwest overnight." The new forecast track takes Gustav south of Jamaica, rather than to the north between Jamaica and Cuba.

“Interaction with Haiti disrupted the storm considerably yesterday,” continued Dr. Dailey. “As of 8:00 pm Wednesday, sustained winds had dropped to just 45 mph and they remained there until early Thursday morning. In the last several hours, however, winds have picked up again. Whether they will continue to do so will depend in part on how closely the storm will hug Jamaica's south coast as it continues generally westward.”

“Once Gustav gets past Jamaica, conditions are favorable for intensification and the NHC currently expects Gustav will become a major hurricane as it moves into the southern Gulf of Mexico on Sunday. Where the storm tracks after that is still highly uncertain, as indicated by the forecast tracks of various dynamical models shown in the map below. However, all the models currently suggest that Gustav is likely to impact oil and gas production in the Gulf, where oil workers already have begun evacuating their rigs.”

Maryland Backs Comp Loss Costs Change

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) reports that Maryland's Insurance Administration gave the go-ahead to a request to decrease by 5.4% the voluntary market workers’ compensation loss costs in Maryland. The change will be in effect starting Jan. 1, 2009.

The decrease applies to all insurers writing workers’ comp policies in Maryland except group self-insurance funds and IWIF, the Towson, Md.-based insurer that writes about 25% of the state’s business, according to NCCI officials.

The NCCI request came on the heels of new data that found claim frequency for workers' comp injuries continued to drop in 2007. However, the size of the decrease is much less than in the previous two years.

Calif. Man Charged With Series of Arsons

A 43-year-old Glendale, California man on probation for arson was charged with multiple counts of arson in connection with a series of fires in Griffith Park, the District Attorney’s office announced.

Gary Allen Lintz, (dob 3-30-65), is charged with four felony counts of arson in Griffith Park that occurred on July 27, Aug. 4, Aug. 16 and Aug. 23, said Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels with Target Crimes. The complaint includes a special allegation of great bodily injury to a firefighter and a strike allegation for a prior conviction. He is on probation for 2007 arson fire conviction.

Lintz was arrested Aug. 23 after hikers allegedly saw him near Griffith Park Drive shortly after a brush fire had broken out. He is being held on $75,000 bail. If convicted, he’s facing up to 21 years in state prison.

Industry Goes Heavy on Outsourcing

The insurance industry, which has lagged behind others in outsourcing business and technology processes abroad, is now the fastest growing offshore service sector with a CAGR of 33%.

Overall, global insurance outsourcing is growing at a CAGR of 8%, expected to become a $24 billion industry next year. Onshore sourcing relationships are the favored destination of 91% of insurance firms, while 9% elect to have suppliers from abroad. However, that mix is shifting offshore at a breaking pace.

Black Book findings for the Insurance Industry include:

Nearly three-quarters of global insurers currently use at least one information technology outsourcer and one business process outsourcer;

U.S. outsourcing vendors are preferred by 9 of 10 U.S. insurance users/clients. Offshore data security, the complexities of managing risks, cultural barriers, compliance requirements and reliability are still viewed as offshoring drawbacks by 95% of insurance users. 96.6% of onshore clients state they would consider offshore vendors if these issues manifested improvements.;

System modernization, process transformation and innovation dominate sourcing agendas as the key drivers for vendor selections - more than the cost based benefits of recent years, as risks from service interruption, customer data, information security and privacy exposures far outweigh any benefits from cost reduction to insurers;

IBM Global has made a clean sweep in all Insurance Industry outsourcing domains of Information Technology Outsourcing, Business Process Outsourcing, Call Center Outsourcing and Knowledge Process Outsourcing;

The achievement of cross-domain top honors in all the major categories in a single industry or vertical by IBM Global's collective outsourcing divisions is the first time any single vendor has accomplished full industry dominance in a Black Book client satisfaction survey since its inception in 2004;

About one out of five IBM Global employees are now located in India including over 20,000 in its Indian BPO division, IBM Daksh serving both core insurance systems and front office processes.

Scott Wilson, partner of Brown-Wilson Group, which authors The Black Book of Outsourcing, stated, "The Black Book award, completely based on client experience and satisfaction, is an acknowledgment of the culture of excellence IBM has created within the Insurance Industry and their sustained efforts in offering their insurance industry customers the best sourcing experience through a combination of people, process and innovation excellence."

A full complimentary copy of the report, featuring over 100 Insurance Outsourcing vendors, can be downloaded at www.theblackbookofoutsourcing.com/resourceslinks.htm.

Fitch: U.S. P/C Industry Sees Mixed Results

The U.S. property/casualty insurance industry reported mixed results in the first six months of 2008, according to a Fitch report. Profitability declined due to poor investment performance and deteriorating accident-year underwriting results, which were partially offset by favorable prior years' loss reserve development.

A number of insurers also experienced declines in GAAP common equity during the first half of the year (1H08), largely as a result of significant unrealized investment losses following equity market declines and widening credit spreads that caused unfavorable mark-to-market adjustments in (re)insurers'(ie, insurers and reinsurers) investment portfolios.

While competitive factors are likely to promote further deterioration in rates, Fitch expects most insurers in its publicly traded universe to post a calendar-year underwriting profit in 2008, while accident-year results will shift closer to breakeven, assuming that catastrophe activity in the second half of the year approximates historical averages. Fitch continues to expect that insurers' overall profits will decline in 2008 and that the industry will struggle to produce an adequate return on capital, which Fitch estimates for most (re)insurers as a net return on average equity of between 11% and 12%.

Fitch has compiled GAAP earnings release and 10-Q filing data from publicly traded property/casualty insurers in the debt rating universe as well as several other insurance organizations of interest, to evaluate first-half 2008 performance.

Net income for this group of 50 property/casualty organizations declined by 95% in the first six months of 2008 due largely to pre-tax realized investment losses of more than $17 billion. The net income return on equity for Fitch's universe dropped to 0.9% in 1H08 from 15.9% in 1H07.
Reserve development for the re(insurers) in Fitch's publicly held insurer universe remained favorable in 2007.

Fitch estimates that reserve releases trimmed 2.9 combined ratio points off of 1H08 underwriting results. The calendar year aggregate combined ratio of Fitch's universe was 91.7%, which corresponds with an accident year combined ratio of approximately 95%. These results compare to calendar and accident year results of 87% and 89.4%, respectively, in the year-ago period.

To access this Special report, 'Property/Casualty Insurers' Mid-Year 2008 Results Review', see the Fitch Ratings Web site, at www.fitchratings.com under Financial Institutions > Insurance > Special Reports.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Louisiana Preps for Possible Visit from Gustav

Officials in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana are taking no chances with Gustav.

Just three years after Hurricane Katrina left death and destruction, authorities have made preliminary plans to evacuate people, pets and hospitals as Gustav moves towards the Gulf of Mexico.

Gustav could form into a dangerous Category 3 hurricane in the next several days and hit somewhere along a path of the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to Texas — with New Orleans right in the middle.

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday issued a state declaration of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Gustav, which could potentially make landfall in Louisiana by early next week.

The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) will keep the Crisis Action Team (CAT) activated to monitor Hurricane Gustav.

"We are continuing to monitor this storm as state government agencies, including the State Police and the Louisiana National Guard, have been put on standby so we are ready to quickly respond if the storm heads our direction," Gov. Jindal said. "GOHSEP officials are working with parish leaders to ensure they have their emergency plans in order, and I encourage all Louisiana families again to review their gameplans, go to GetAGameplan.org and make sure you have the supplies you need and a plan in place should a hurricane come to your area. The time to act is now. We all need to be prepared and ready to respond, from the citizen level and at every level of government."

Louisiana residents are reminded to visit www.GetAGameplan.org - a Web site for residents to use to prepare their homes and their families for a hurricane. The Get a Gameplan Web site contains information and tools needed to prepare for a possible hurricane.

Gustav began as a tropical depression in the eastern Caribbean Sea on Monday and quickly intensified into a Category 1 hurricane with winds of about 90 miles (145 kilometers) an hour.

Gustav hit shore Tuesday in Haiti and has been blamed for at least 17 deaths there and the neighboring
Dominican Republic.

By early Saturday, Gustav is projected to be just off the coast of western Cuba as a Category 3 hurricane, with winds ranging from 110 and 130 miles (177 and 209 kilometers) an hour.

Calif. Commissioner Pursues Green Options

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner on Wednesday announced that he is making a new, green auto insurance option available for California consumers.

Pay-as-you-drive auto insurance is a way for motorists to more accurately pay for the coverage they need, by linking their premium more closely with the number of miles they drive. Any incentive like this to get people to drive fewer miles will help reduce greenhouse gases and vehicle accidents, according to Poizner.

The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that if 30% of Californians participate in this voluntary coverage, California could avoid 55 million tons of CO2 between 2009 and 2020, which is the equivalent of taking 10 million cars off the road. This would save 5.5 billion gallons of gasoline and save Californians $40 billion dollars in car-related expenses.

Additionally, the California Air Resources Board has recommended the adoption of pay as you drive as one of the means to meet future climate change gas reduction targets.

Current auto insurance regulations require that rates are based on estimated annual mileage. The new regulations will provide an additional option for actual mileage, or pay-as-you-drive coverage. Poizner's newly-proposed regulations will let insurers offer a voluntary option for consumers who are interested in pay-as-you-drive coverage.

Under the new regulations, consumers could verify mileage by odometer readings, automotive repair records, or a technological device used to collect mileage data. Poizner's regulations explicitly prohibit insurance companies from requiring policyholders to participate in a pay-as-you-drive program. A copy of the regulations is available at
www.insurance.ca.gov.

California law has procedures in place to allow for public involvement in adopting new regulations. After these procedures are completed, the regulations will take effect - not later than fall 2009. Insurers will then be able to apply to offer this product in California.

Texas Mutual to Appeal Court Decision

Texas Mutual Insurance Company (TMIC) said it would appeal to the Supreme Court a decision handed down Wednesday by the 14th Court of Appeals.

The 14th Court rejected Texas Mutual's appeal of a jury verdict from a district court in Harris County found TMIC acted in bad faith and that the company had knowingly violated the insurance code. The jury also had found that plaintiff P. Lance Morris had mental anguish and loss of credit reputation damages because of TMIC's actions.

In June of 2000, Morris reported an injury to his lower back while working for Justin Volunteer Fire Department, which is a TMIC policyholder.

The 14th Court of Appeals today held that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's entire verdict, with the exception of the loss of credit reputation damages.

"In Texas Mutual's opinion, the court did not correctly apply the law to the facts of this case," Mary Nichols, Texas Mutual's general counsel, said. "We feel strongly that allegations of negligence in claims handling or the fact that the insurance carrier has a difference of an opinion with an injured worker regarding the extent of his work-related injury does not rise to the level of bad faith. Texas Mutual intends to appeal this decision to the Texas Supreme Court. The facts of this case speak for themselves," Nichols said.

Fireman's Fund Unveils Fire Prevention Program

Now in the critical months of wildfire season, Fireman’s Fund is introducing a prevention-focused program for homeowners.

The Wildfire Readiness Program was developed in collaboration with fire departments and wildfire defense companies. Dan Cuccia, Fireman’s Fund wildfire specialist, emphasizes that the two best solutions for saving lives and property during a wildfire event are preparation and prevention.

“Our wildfire mitigation strategy is closely aligned with, and supported by, fire departments,” he says. “Our proactive measures play a critical role in reducing the likelihood that a home will burn if threatened by an advancing fire. Every dollar and every minute spent on prevention is invaluable to reduce wildfire risk.”

Highlights of the program include:

Wildfire susceptibility assessment: A Fireman’s Fund Risk Management advisor evaluates and scores (based on a nationally-recognized method) each area of the home and surrounding property, with areas of concern identified and recommendations made to improve survivability.

Defensible space/fuels management: Fireman’s Fund has developed close partnerships with firms that clear and manage brush and other fuels in an environmentally sensitive way.

Fire service visits: Representatives of local fire departments may make on-site visits to review firefighting strategies for specific locations.

Evacuation: Pre-planning saves time and can save property and lives. These services provide evacuation pre-planning assistance. For select accounts, these services can help ensure that family members are safely removed from harm’s way, and can have a prearranged list of valuables removed from a property.

Safeguarding: Offered with a leading firm in the firefighting industry, the program provides on-site wildfire service at preferred pricing. Firefighting equipment and crew are stationed on-site until the threat of wildfire has passed. This arrangement is complemented by a pre-event visit and customized consultation.

Fire-retardant gel application: (California only) For policyholders who hire independent companies that apply fire retardant gel, Fireman’s Fund will pay a portion of the costs incurred for applying a chemical fire retardant during a wildfire event.

9 Kentucky Residents Charged With Fraud

A sharp eye for detail in the Clay County, Kentucky clerk’s office resulted in nine Manchester area residents being charged with insurance fraud for creating or possessing fake auto insurance identification cards.

When Clay County Clerk Freddy Thompson and his staff began seeing suspicious or altered proof of insurance cards, he brought it to the attention of the Kentucky Department of Insurance (DOI) Fraud Investigation Division. DOI fraud investigators contacted Manchester Police Chief Jeff Culver and Clay County Sheriff Kevin Johnson, along with County Attorney Clay Bishop, and began a joint investigation.

Those charged with felony counts of insurance fraud for possessing fake cards are: Marshall D. Bodkins, 22; Lois Ann Hunter, 46; Daniel C. Mayfield, 27; Alta Mae Nolan, 29, and Bobby J. Wombles, 34, all of Manchester; David G. Caudill, 46, of Fall Rock; Rebecca Roberts, 29, of Big Creek; and Evelyn J. Simpson, 63, of Garrard. Teresa Bowling, 43, of Manchester was charged with a felony count of second degree forgery for creating a fake card.

The nine are scheduled to appear in Clay District Court on Sept. 16.

N.Y. Gov. Touts Success of Work Comp Reforms

New York Gov. David Paterson on Tuesday announced that the successful implementation of workers' compensation reforms will reduce insurance rates for the second year in a row.

The cost will decline again by about 5 percent for 2009, following a 20.5 percent decrease for 2008, for a total reduction of about 25 percent from the 2007 pre-reform rates. At the same time, maximum weekly benefits for workers, recently increased to $550 per week, will continue to rise each year until 2010 when they will be indexed at two-thirds of the average weekly wage.

"Last year's historic agreement set the framework for workers' compensation reform, but the savings are actually produced through the difficult work of developing and implementing the proposals. We will continue to work hard to cut costs for New York businesses and improve benefits for injured workers," said Gov. Paterson. "We have made progress. Two years ago, New York had one of the most expensive workers' compensation programs in the country. Now, we have one of the least expensive. We still need to do more and I am committed to ensuring that this reform program makes New York a better place to do business and a safe and secure place to work."

The lower rate can reportedly be credited to the successful implementation of reform legislation, which is being led by Gov. Paterson. More broadly, the reform efforts are designed to reduce costs to New York businesses while increasing weekly benefits and improving medical care for injured workers.

They include:

Increases in maximum weekly benefits from $400 to $500 in 2007, to $550 in 2008, $600 in 2009, and two-thirds of the statewide average weekly wage in 2010, where it will then be indexed annually;

A streamlined system for resolving contested claims and promptly delivering benefits to injured workers, while reducing administration costs;
Increased fraud and compliance actions, including stiffer penalties, to make sure everyone plays by the same rules;

Medical treatment guidelines that will improve care at a more effective cost;

A fair and even-handed set of guidelines for determining impairment and loss of wage earning capacity;

Fee schedules and supplier networks for pharmaceuticals, diagnostic services and medical equipment that contain medical costs.

The related reform proposals are being developed by the Workers' Compensation Board, the Department of Labor and the New York Insurance Department, which also approves the rates for workers' comp insurance. These rates take effect on Oct. 1 each year.

The 2009 rate decline is due to a new rate approval system that encourages competition among insurance companies to lower rates. The actual cost of paying claims for injured workers and the cost of a state assessment declined by 8.1 percent, according to data filed by the New York State Compensation Insurance Ratings Bureau (NYCIRB). Claims and assessments equal about 75 percent of the overall employer cost of workers' comp insurance.

Audatex Unveils New Issue of Repair Publication

Solera Holdings Inc., a global provider of software and services to the automobile insurance claims processing industry, announced that its North American subsidiary, Audatex, has released the new issue of the quarterly collision repair publication, Audatex Directions.

Audatex Directions provides vehicle insurers and collision repairers with key industry trends and in-depth analysis on the auto physical damage market, as well as global best practices that can be implemented locally, in the U.S. and Canada.

The latest Audatex Directions features an article exploring “Is Brighter is Always Better?” The article dissects the costs and benefits of high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights and delivers some illuminating findings. The issue also includes information on the rising costs of tires, the outlook on motorcycle and RVs, and forecasts on total losses, among other things.

The 24-page publication is available for download at
www.audatex.us/audatexdirections. The publication is also being delivered electronically to Audatex North America customers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Small Drop in Americans Without Health Coverage

According to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau, there has been a slight decrease in the number of Americans who do not have health insurance.

Overall, 45.7 million people, or 15.3 percent of U.S. residents, were not covered in 2007, the bureau said in unveiling its reports on poverty, income and insurance. That represents a drop from the 2006 level of 47 million, or 15.8 percent.

The percentages of people covered by private health insurance along with employment-based health insurance both dipped slightly in 2007, the Census numbers showed, although the number of those covered by employment-based insurance, 177.4 million, did not statistically change from 2006.


The percentage of people, including children, covered by government health insurance programs grew to 27.8 percent in 2007 from 27 percent the previous year. The number of children under 18 without health insurance slid to 11 percent, or 8.1 million -- lower than the previous year's numbers of 11.1 percent and 8.7 million.

Using a three-year average from 2005-2007, Texas had the largest percentage of uninsured, with 24.4 percent, according to the bureau.

With 8.3 percent, Massachusetts and Hawaii had the smallest estimates for uninsured rates, but the two were not statistically different from Minnesota (8.5 percent), Wisconsin (8.8 percent) and Iowa (9.4 percent). Hawaii also was not different statistically from Maine (9.5 percent).

Universal Insurance Writing P/C in Hawaii

Universal Insurance Holdings Inc., a vertically integrated insurance holding company, said its subsidiary Universal Property and Casualty Insurance Company (UPCIC), has received approval from the insurance division of Hawaii's Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to write property and casualty insurance in the state of Hawaii.

UPCIC intends to file for approval for its rates and forms with the insurance division of Hawaii's Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs by the end of the fourth quarter with the anticipation of writing new business in the beginning of 2009.

Bradley Meier, president and chief executive officer, commented, "With the approval to write property and casualty insurance in Hawaii, UPCIC continues with its plans for geographic expansion beyond Florida. We are very excited to have been approved by Hawaii and UPCIC looks forward to meeting the property and casualty needs of its citizens."

Florida Says No to State Farm Rate Request

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty announced Monday that the Office of Insurance Regulation (Office) has issued a Notice of Intent to disapprove the July 16 rate filing submitted by State Farm Florida (State Farm).

In its rate filing of more than 2,000 pages, State Farm requested an overall average increase of 47.1 percent for homeowners insurance policies. State Farm policyholders in certain parts of Florida could have seen increases of as much as 63 percent, or $8,300 more than their current rates, in Dade County; 70 percent, or $4,800 more per year, in Pinellas County. The smallest requested change was an increase of 19 percent, or an additional $1,376 per year, in Pasco County. These examples are for homes valued at $300,000, built before 2001 and without any mitigation devices. Other
rate examples by county are available on the Office Web site.

"The Office thoroughly reviewed State Farm’s filing and the testimony the company gave at the Aug. 12 public hearing," said Deputy Commissioner Belinda Miller. "State Farm did not provide appropriate support for the rate increase it requested."

Among the key reasons cited by the Office in the Notice of Intent were: 1) The Company failed to demonstrate that the net reinsurance costs included in the filing did not result in excessive costs in violation of the rating law, Section 627.062, F.S.; and 2) The Office also questioned the profit and contingency factor and the additional retained hurricane risk load used in the filing. The retained hurricane risk load was previously allowed by law, but that provision was repealed in Senate Bill 2860, which became effective July 1 – before this filing was made. Eighteen other reasons were cited by the Office.

State Farm now has 21 days, if it chooses, to petition the Office for an administrative hearing. In the meantime, the company cannot implement the proposed rate increases, because Senate Bill 2860 also prohibits companies from implementing rate increases through the "use and file" process, through Dec. 31, 2009. Therefore, State Farm's filing was made on a "file and use" basis.

The company’s 9 percent rate reduction that became effective in accordance with the Oct. 1, 2007
agreement remains in effect. With its March 2007 filing, State Farm initially planned to reduce its rates by 7 percent but agreed to reduce them by an additional 2 percent. State Farm received a 52.8 percent overall average increase in late 2006.

The decision to deny the rate increase followed the public hearing in which a panel of representatives from the Office questioned various aspects of the rate filing. Video of the hearing will be available soon on the Office’s Web site.


The Commissioner has the authority to hold a public hearing to question a company about its filing pursuant to Florida law. Florida law requires the Office to hold a public hearing for property insurance rate increase filings if they exceed a statewide average of 15 percent and if they are based on a computer model.

L.A. Metrolink Killer Gets Life in Jail

Saying he had shown “no remorse” for killing 11 people who perished in a fiery Metrolink crash 3-1/2 years ago, a Los Angeles judge has imposed 11 terms of life without parole on Juan Manuel Alvarez.

“I don’t believe for a moment that you meant to kill yourself,” Superior Court Judge William Pounders told the 29-year-old defendant. “You’ve shown no remorse.”

Besides the 11 consecutive life-without-parole terms, the judge ordered Alvarez to pay $92,019 to the victim’s restitution fund. He additionally imposed a two-year prison term for an arson conviction.

A jury on June 26 convicted Alvarez of 11 counts of first-degree murder and found true the special circumstance of multiple murders. He also was convicted of one count of arson. The same jury on July 15 rejected the prosecution request for the death penalty and instead recommended the defendant be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Six family members of victims spoke before Judge Pounders imposed sentence. The judge told the defendant, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and sporting a newly shaved head, that he did not believe Alvarez cares about the people whose lives were destroyed in different ways by the injuries they suffered in the pre-dawn crash on Jan. 26, 2005.

Besides the 11 deaths, another nearly 200 people were injured in the crash near Chevy Chase Drive. The train was filled with early morning commuters bound for downtown Los Angeles. It was the worst Metrolink disaster since the trains started running in 1992.

Alvarez drove a Jeep Cherokee onto the track and left it there after dousing the SUV with gasoline. He ran away, but was tracked down on the basis of various identification cards found at the scene. Arrested at a friend’s home in nearby AtwaterVillage, Alvarez has remained in custody without bail.

Killed in the crash were James Tutino, 47, a Sheriff’s deputy from Simi Valley; Scott McKeoun, 42, of Moorpark; Manuel Alcala, 51, of West Hills; Thomas Ormiston, 58, the train’s conductor from Northridge; Leonard Romero, 53, of Rancho Cucamonga; Henry Kilinski, 39, of Orange; Alfonso Caballero, 62, of Winnetka; Julie Bennett, 44, of Simi Valley; Don Wiley, 58, of Simi Valley; Elizabeth Hill, 65; and William Parent, 53, of Simi Valley. Many of the dead worked for various governmental agencies in and around Los Angeles.

FEMA Aid Available Following Tropical Storm Fay

The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that federal disaster aid has been made available for Florida to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area struck by Tropical Storm Fay beginning on Aug.18 and continuing.

FEMA Administrator David Paulison said federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by Tropical Storm Fay in the counties of Brevard, Monroe, Okeechobee, and St. Lucie.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Paulison named Thomas Davies the federal coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area. Davies said additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.

According to authorities, Fay has left 13 dead in the U.S., 11 in Florida and one each in Alabama and Georgia.

N.Y. Bar Owner Arrested for Fraud

The owner of a Tompkins County, New York bar was arrested last week after authorities discovered she employed five people off the books, including a bouncer injured when he tried to escort a patron out of the bar.

Monica J. Todd, 42, of Groton, was charged with offering a false instrument for filing and committing a fraudulent practice. She was arrested by Investigator Gordon Saggese of the New York State Insurance Department's Frauds Bureau, assisted by the Tompkins County Sheriff's Department.

Saggese said that Todd, who operates the Roman Village Bar at 346 Locke Rd., filed fraudulent workers' compensation payroll reports with the State Insurance Fund saying that the bar had no employees other than herself as owner. Then on April 14, she filed an injury report with the Fund stating that she had hired a new employee who was hurt his first day on the job.

Saggese said an investigation revealed the employee, whose leg was injured in an altercation with a patron, had actually been employed by Todd as a bouncer for two years. Investigators found that the bouncer and four others were being paid off the books, Saggese said.

Todd could be sentenced to up to four years in prison if she is convicted. She was released in her own recognizance pending a hearing to be scheduled in the Town of Groton Court.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Kingsway to Sell York Fire & Casualty

Kingsway Financial Services Inc. has entered into a definitive agreement to sell York Fire & Casualty Insurance Company to La Capitale General Insurance Inc., a member company of the mutual company, La Capitale Financial Group Inc., owned by members of Quebec's civil service. The transaction is expected to be completed during 2008 following the receipt of regulatory approvals.

York writes standard personal lines automobile and property insurance in Ontario and Alberta. For the first six months of 2008, York had gross premiums written of approximately C$48 million, or 5% of the premiums of the Kingsway group of companies, and produced an underwriting loss.

Kingsway anticipates receiving gross proceeds from the transaction of C$95 million, which is estimated to be approximately 2 times York's shareholder's equity at the closing of the transaction. At closing Kingsway expects to record an estimated gain before taxes on the transaction of approximately C$50 million.

Best Unveils Surplus Lines Market Update

While surplus lines insurers outperformed the property/casualty industry in underwriting and operating performance in 2007, the softening market and more aggressive competition portend deterioration in profitability as premium levels decline.
Absent a catastrophe that curtails the incursion of standard market insurers and the new offshore market, the surplus lines industry’s market share is expected to continue decreasing over the near term.

* After-tax return on equity, which measures after-tax profitability from underwriting and investment activity, slipped slightly to a still solid 12.4% from 15.05% at year-end 2006.

* The impact of the softening market was evident in the 8.7% drop in net premiums written in 2007 for professional surplus lines insurers. Merger and acquisition activity has been high among surplus lines companies and distribution through midyear 2008, and is expected to continue over the near term.

* For the fourth consecutive year, in 2007, surplus lines recorded no financial impairments, compared with the four impairments for the admitted P/C industry

* The top three surplus lines groups were unchanged from 2006: American International Group, Lloyd’s and Zurich Financial Service Group.

* An interstate compact designed to solve the surplus lines industry’s multistate tax and compliance problems was finalized in 2008, as Congress considered the Non-admitted and Reinsurance Reform Act (NRRA), also supported by the surplus lines industry.

BestWeek subscribers can download a PDF copy of all full special reports or a combination of the report and all related spreadsheet files of the report data at no charge at www.bestweek.com. Nonsubscribers can visit www.bestweek.com for pricing information or call customer service for more information at (908) 439-2200, ext. 5742.

Farmers' Almanac: Winter Could Be Ugly

With the high cost of heating oil in the back of many people's minds, news just released from the Farmers' Almanac will do little to ease fares of expensive bills come this winter.

Farmers' Almanac is predicting below-average temperatures for most of the U.S. this winter. The publication claims an accuracy rate of 80 to 85 percent for its forecasts that are prepared two years ahead of time.

The almanac's 2009 edition, which goes on sale Tuesday, reports at least two-thirds of the country can look to see colder-than-average temperatures this winter, with only the Far West and Southeast suited for near-normal readings.

The almanac is looking for above-normal snowfall for the Great Lakes and Midwest, especially during January and February, and above-normal precipitation for the Southwest in December and for the Southeast in January and February. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions will likely have an unusually wet or snowy February, according to the almanac.

On the other hand, the usually wet Pacific Northwest could be a bit drier than normal in February.

If there is some good news, the almanac differs with the National Weather Service, whose trends-based outlook reports warmer than normal weather this winter over much of the country, including Alaska. The almanac and the weather service do agree, however, in looking to a chance of a drier winter in the Northwest.

The majority of the almanacs are sold to insurers, banks and other businesses that give them away.

N.Y. Gov. Freezes Med-Mal Rates for a Year

New York Gov. David Paterson announced that he has signed legislation to freeze medical malpractice rates for physicians in New York for one year in an effort to provide desperately-needed premium relief for doctors already overburdened by soaring premiums.

The legislation will also allow the state additional time to continue its work to develop a long-term solution to the medical malpractice problem confronting the state.

The bill, which was part of the budget package signed into law by the Governor last week, will freeze medical malpractice premium rates for physicians and suspend an anticipated surcharge until June 30, 2009. Without this legislation, many physicians would have seen as much as a 30% increase in rates.


"I want to thank the Legislature for stabilizing malpractice rates for the short term, thereby ensuring that our doctors can continue to provide quality care in New York without getting suffocated by more back-breaking fiscal burdens," said Gov. Paterson. "However, our work is now cut out for us, and we remain committed to creating comprehensive and meaningful medical malpractice reform."

Agreement on the rate freeze was reached during the special session of the Legislature held on August 19. The bill will hold rates stable as the Legislature and Governor Paterson continue to work towards reforms that would provide significant and long-term premium relief for physicians, enhance patient safety and stabilize the medical malpractice insurance market.


The State is hopeful that these reforms can be finalized during the next regular legislative session.

Reinsurers Concerned for Cedant Data Quality

When it comes to their ability to underwrite property catastrophe exposure, the biggest concern among reinsurers is quality of cedant data, according to Ernst & Young LLP’s 2008 Catastrophe Exposure Data Quality Survey. In fact, the study found data quality can directly impact reinsurance pricing and capacity extension.

Findings from the survey were released today in a new Ernst & Young report, “Raising the bar on catastrophe exposure data quality.”

Following are highlights from the report:

Assessing the data

More than half of reinsurers currently use sophisticated tools to evaluate the accuracy of exposure data received in broker submissions, and 83% have basic checks in place confirming that the most critical data fields are populated. When asked which data items they consider most problematic, reinsurers pointed to insured values, complete inventory of locations and secondary characteristics.

High quality data has its rewards

Nearly all reinsurers (90%) acknowledge that they apply surcharges to compensate for data quality deficiencies, and among these 70% say they would include a 20-25% premium penalty. Additionally, more than one third say they would be willing to offer a minimum 10% premium credit for cedants with high quality data.

Controls report needed to boost confidence in data
When analyzing the potential risk of a cedant with poor data quality, a majority (58%) of reinsurers say they directly modify their catastrophe model results while the remaining 42% of respondents make upward adjustments to the data prior to running their models. To help boost their confidence level in data quality, the vast majority of reinsurers (92%) agree that if the cedant used strong collection, enhancement and data maintenance controls, the risk would be more attractive to them.

Indeed, seven in 10 companies would consider extending additional capacity and 75% would consider offering premium credits of 5% to 15% to a cedant who could demonstrate strong controls and policies via an independent report.

“With recent natural catastrophes exacting significant tolls, now is the time for insurers and reinsurers to take action by developing world-class data quality controls and management practices,” explains Trish Conway, Actuarial Advisor, Ernst & Young LLP. “Investing the time to improve their catastrophe data quality is a win-win situation for insurers. It helps them improve their own operations and also makes their business more attractive to reinsurers, potentially leading to better pricing and more capacity. At the same time, reinsurers who apply similar effort in assessing the data they are given by insurance companies will find success in the increasingly high-stakes property catastrophe market.”

To receive a copy of the survey report, contact Deanna Decker at +1 (212) 752-8338 or
ddecker@psbpr.com or go to www.ey.com/us/actuarial.

Friday, August 22, 2008

AIA Disappointed with Michigan Credit Ruling

The American Insurance Association (AIA) today expressed disappointment that the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that called the Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation (OFIR) 2005 ban on insurer use of credit information “illegal, invalid and unenforceable.”

“The Court of Appeals decision is a relatively unprecedented, fragmented three-part opinion that represents serious divisions on the court. For that reason, and the harm consumers will suffer by not benefiting from a proven risk assessment tool, an appeal of the decision is warranted,” said David Snyder, AIA vice president and assistant general counsel. “The Circuit Court and one of the Court of Appeals judges reached the unambiguous conclusion that the commissioner’s rules to ban credit-based insurance scores were an attempt to rewrite the state’s Insurance Code, while one Court of Appeals judge did not address issue.”

OFIR filed their rule (R 500.2151-2155) in March 2005 and insurers immediately filed a legal challenge in Barry County Circuit Court. The rule would have forced insurers to stop using credit-based insurance scores (which can only be used in Michigan to provide premium discounts) on policies after July 1, 2005 and mandated a base rate rollback. Insurers prevailed in April 2005 and OFIR appealed. Oral arguments were heard in October 2006 and the Court of Appeals issued their opinion late yesterday.

“We have maintained that a ban is the wrong public policy answer to questions about insurer use of credit information, which benefits a majority of consumers. If policy makers are intent on taking ‘action,’ a more balanced approach would be to enact something similar to the NCOIL model that addresses the real concerns of consumers as well as protects insurers’ business needs to use an actuarially proven risk assessment variable,” Snyder stated.

Currently, 26 states have adopted laws or regulations based on the National Conference of Insurance Legislators’ (NCOIL) Model Law on Credit, while only four states do not allow insurer use of credit in some manner, with one of those states only legislatively prohibiting it for one line of insurance.

The case is Insurance Institute of Mich., et. al. v Commissioner of the Office of Financial and Insurance Services (2005) #262385. The three-part decision can be found at the following links:

Judge White’s opinion: http://courtofappeals.mijud.net/documents/OPINIONS/FINAL/COA/20080821_C262385_52_262385.OPN.PDF

Judge Zahara’s opinion: http://courtofappeals.mijud.net/documents/OPINIONS/FINAL/COA/20080821_C262385_53_262385P.OPN.PDF

Judge Kelly’s opinion: http://courtofappeals.mijud.net/documents/OPINIONS/FINAL/COA/20080821_C262385_54_262385P2.OPN.PDF

14th Worker Dies from Sugar Refinery Blast

A 14th refinery worker has died from injuries sustained in a February explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery near Savannah, Ga.

Malcolm Frazier, 47, who worked as a floor manager at the site, died early today six months after being burned over 75 percent of his body in the blast.

According to investigators, the Feb. 7 blast was the result of sugar dust igniting below the plant's storage silos.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) last month suggested $8.7 million in fines against Texas-based Imperial Sugar for the tragedy.

Fla: Hurricane Deductible Does Not Apply for Fay

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has issued an advisory to remind Florida consumers and authorized insurers that the hurricane deductible of their homeowner’s policy does not apply at this time, because the National Hurricane Center has not upgraded Tropical Storm Fay to a hurricane.

Insurance companies must apply the deductible that is unrelated to hurricane, generally referred to as the “all other perils deductible” or “other than hurricane deductible.”

The hurricane deductible only applies when property damage results from a named hurricane. Consumers should review their policies and contact their agent if they have any questions.

McCarty has sent an informational memorandum on this issue to all authorized property and casualty companies.

The Office of Insurance Regulation (Office) has created a special link to information about hurricane deductibles on its Web site, www.floir.com, in the center section of the home page.
It also is important to point out that damage caused by flooding typically is not covered by the standard homeowner’s policy. Flood insurance is purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Although it is too late to purchase this coverage now for damage from Tropical Storm Fay, consumers can purchase this coverage for future storms with the help of their agent or by contacting the NFIP directly. In most cases, there is a 30-day waiting period before flood insurance takes effect.

The Office also has created a special section on its Web site with important information about flood insurance and links to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the NFIP.

N.Y. Tannery President Arrested in Comp Case

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced the arrest of the president of a Gloversville tannery who illegally failed to secure workers’ compensation insurance for more than 25 employees.

Michael DeMagistris, 35, the president of Tradition Leather Inc., was charged with failing to provide workers’ comp insurance for his employees from June 16, 2007 until March 10, 2008, a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.

In March of 2008, an uninsured worker’s claim sparked an investigation into Tradition Leather’s failure to maintain coverage for their workers. The Workers’ Compensation Board issued a “Stop Work” order. Nonetheless, DeMagistris reportedly continued to operate his business and failed to obtain the required coverage for his employees, in defiance of the order.

DeMagistris was arraigned before Judge Frederick Stortecky in Gloversville City Court and sent to jail in lieu of $75,000 bail.

Farmers Notes Sentencing for Shop Owner

Farmers Insurance announced that in a plea agreement with the San Jose District Attorneys Office in a criminal prosecution on 17 counts of insurance fraud, Gia Van Tran, owner of Tommys Auto Body, San Jose, was sentenced to three years prison time for violation of Penal Code section 550(a)(1) [false statements in support of claim for insurance benefits].

Tran pleaded to nine (9) additional counts of P.C. 550(a)(1) violations, each carrying a maximum term of three years, which are to run concurrently with the three year sentence imposed.

Farmers Insurance Exchange and Mid Century Insurance Company sued both Tran and his body shop, along with suspected co-owner Sam Phan, in Santa Clara Superior Court, alleging violations of Insurance Code section 1871.7 and Penal Code section 550(a)(1).

We are satisfied that justice prevailed in favor of Farmers, and that Farmers nationwide commitment to fighting fraud on all fronts has been vindicated in both the civil and criminal courts, said Doug Ashbridge, Farmers Director of Special Investigations. As recorded in the plea agreement, Tran settled Farmers civil lawsuit on behalf of himself and the body shop, by paying $180,000. Co-defendant Sam Phan settled for $20,000.

Farmers Special Investigations Unit (SIU), after noticing unusual billing patterns, initiated an investigation and developed evidence against the defendants.

Farmers SIU, which includes body shop experts, inspected invoices of work done on 12 vehicles and documented fraud in each invoice.

The expert inspections revealed substantial discrepancies between the invoices and the work actually performed, explained Ashbridge. The invoices reflected billing for repairs that were not done, billing for replacements where the parts were not replaced, billing for part replacements that were only repaired and other similar billing issues. Farmers sought over $320,000 in statutory damages for the intentional actions of the defendants.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Colorado Casualty Has Farm Biz on Commercial IQ

Colorado Casualty, a Liberty Mutual Agency Markets regional company, announced the introduction of its Farm line of business (ISO Division Four) on Commercial IQ, its web-based application for quoting and application submission.

Agents in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming are now reportedly realizing quicker approvals and binding turn-around time with SmartNav, the pre-qualification tool within Commercial IQ that helps agents determine which Farm exposures are acceptable risks. It also informs agents which related lines of business may be offered with Farm coverages.

“Our agents now have a paperless and easy-to-use process to quote and submit Farm business, just as they do for our other commercial lines,” said Rich Possanza, vice president, Commercial Lines Underwriting, Colorado Casualty. “It’s quick and easy because we’ve created simplified entry screens and help text called ‘Farm Logic’ that guides agents to the proper Farm line of business, classifications, and coverage options.”

To further agent convenience and quicken approval and binding, Commercial IQ also allows for the attachment of documents and photos to submissions and provides automated rating support for commonly requested coverage options and rules.

Commercial IQ can accommodate Farm business as mono-line (combined Farm Property and Farm Liability) and in combination with Business Auto, Commercial Property, Commercial Umbrella, General Liability, and Inland Marine.

Colorado Casualty’s Farm appetite is growing, offering coverage for small liability exposures up to large commercial operations. The company also specializes in writing Hobby Farms for customers who don’t farm for revenue. Coverages for Hobby Farms can include primary residences and personal liability.

N.Y. Employee Pulled Over for Work Comp Fraud

A New York State Thruway Authority employee has been arrested and charged with workers’ compensation fraud for collecting injured worker benefits from the New York State Insurance Fund while allegedly employed by an Albany area trucking company.

Police arrested Steven Epstein, 45, of Glenville, NY, charging him with violating Sect. 114 of the Workers’ Compensation Law and falsifying business records, both felonies.

Epstein, a Thruway Authority employee in the Albany operations and maintenance division, originally filed a work-related injury claim on Jan. 24. NYSIF investigators said Epstein began receiving workers’ comp benefits after having hernia surgery related to his claim on March 4.

While receiving benefits, Epstein reportedly signed and returned forms to NYSIF stating that he had not returned to any type of work. Investigators learned, however, that during that time Epstein allegedly was working for Blackburn’s Trucking, located in Colonie, NY.

Actual fraud and the estimated potential future savings in the case totaled $4,049.

Delaware Commissioner Orders Comp Cost Cut

Delaware Insurance Commissioner Matt Denn is ordering an 11.57 percent across-the-board cut in average workers' compensation premium rates effective Oct. 1, 2008, and that he will consider making additional reductions within the next 60 days.

Combined with a package of 17.75 – 22 percent rate cuts Denn ordered last fall, this reduction will mean average Delaware workers' comp rates have been cut by approximately 30 percent since last November.

The workers' comp rate cuts announced Tuesday are the first resulting from workers' compensation cost control measures passed by the General Assembly in 2008, Denn said.


But, in the order to insurance companies, Denn warned that the workers' comp insurance companies have “not made sufficient efforts to determine the potential cost savings to carriers of all of the provisions of Senate Bill 1,” and told the carriers and Department of Insurance staff to provide him with information to consider additional reductions.

“I intend to ensure to the maximum degree permitted by law that any likely cost savings resulting from Senate Bill 1 are reflected in lower premiums rather than being retained as windfall gains by insurance carriers,” Denn said in his order.

With total workers' comp premiums paid by Delaware employers estimated at $122 million a year, the rate cuts ordered by Denn should mean savings of at least $14 million to Delaware businesses.

These actions are on an application by the Delaware Compensation Ratings Bureau, which submits requests for the “loss cost” calculations upon which all workers' comp insurance companies base their rates.

Rove, Gore Headline CIAB's 95th Leadership Forum

President Bush’s key behind-the-scenes strategist, a former vice president turned environmental activist and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian are the featured speakers at the 95th annual Insurance Leadership Forum, sponsored by The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers.

The conference, which will be held Oct. 4-8 at Lake Las Vegas, Nev., brings together the leading commercial property/casualty insurance brokers and underwriters to explore industry trends, cement existing relationships and establish new business contacts.

Former Vice President Al Gore, who is as well known for his environmental activities as for his political endeavors, will lead off the conference, delivering the keynote address to the opening general business session on Monday, Oct. 6. Karl Rove, the architect of Bush’s victories in 2000 and 2004, will be the keynote speaker at the second general business session on Tuesday, Oct. 7.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, a renowned historian, author and political commentator, will speak to a luncheon crowd on Monday, Oct. 6.

Gore, the author of “An Inconvenient Truth,” an Oscar-winning documentary on global warming and threats to the world environment, also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his environmental activism. He was President Bill Clinton’s vice president and was the unsuccessful Democratic presidential nominee in 2000. Prior to that, he was both a congressman and a senator representing his native Tennessee. Gore is currently chairman of Generation Investment Management, chairman of Current TV, chairman of the Alliance for Climate Protection, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, a member of the board of Apple Inc., and an adviser to Google Inc.

Rove was one of the most prominent presidential advisers in history. After Bush won the presidency, Rove followed him from Texas to Washington and served as senior adviser and deputy chief of staff overseeing strategic planning, political affairs, public liaison and intergovernmental affairs. Before the 2000 campaign, he was president of Karl Rove & Company, an Austin public affairs firm that represented Republican candidates and non-profit and non-partisan groups. Rove left his White House post in September 2007 and now is a contributor to Fox News Channel and a columnist for both The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek.

Kearns Goodwin, a commentator for NBC and a consultant on PBS documentaries, holds a doctorate in government from Harvard and was an adviser to President Lyndon Johnson in his last year in the White House. Subjects of her political biographies include Johnson, the Kennedy family and Abraham Lincoln, who is the focus of her latest book. Kearns Goodwin received a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for her book, “No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The American Home Front During World War II.”

N.C. Duo Arrested in Auto Scheme

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Jim Long announced the arrest of two Edenton residents: Monona Copeland, 30, and Troy Anthony Coston, 29.

The two were arrested by Department of Insurance investigators on Monday and each charged with one count of obtaining property by false pretense and one count of conspiracy. They were processed at the Chowan County jail; Copeland received a $2,000 unsecured bond and Coston received a $2,000 secured bond.

Investigators allege that Copeland and Coston conspired to have their vehicle taken and wrecked, then reported it stolen and filed an insurance claim. They allegedly received a payment of some $2,200.

N.Y. Man's Smashed Window Nets Arrest

A Schenectady, New York man who filed a $3,298 insurance claim for a broken car window was arrested for fraud Tuesday for reportedly smashing the window himself after an insurance adjuster was first unable to find any damage.

Mark Davis, 49, was charged with insurance fraud and falsifying business records. He was arrested by Investigator Jaclyn Oreshan of the Frauds Bureau of the New York State Insurance Department, assisted by New York State Police from Princetown.

According to Oreshan, Davis filed a claim with State Farm Insurance Company on Aug. 19, reporting that someone had smashed the rear window of his 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse. Davis then submitted an affidavit to the company claiming the car was vandalized. He also submitted a $3,298 repair estimate.

An insurance adjuster later inspected the car and found the window intact, so the insurance company contacted Davis, who insisted the window was broken. He asked that the adjuster return to take another look. This time the adjuster found that the window had been smashed. Witnesses later told authorities that Davis broke the window before the adjuster’s second visit.

If convicted, Davis could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison. Following his arraignment in Schenectady City Court, he was released pending an Aug. 27 court appearance.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

More than 1,000 Homes Flooded in Texas

Residents in parts of Texas hope drier days are ahead as heavy rains have soaked the region for several days, resulting in some 1,400 homes being flooded in Starr County.

Parts of the region were hit with as much as 13 inches of rain to start the week. While there have been no fatalities or injuries due to the flooding, officials report that roads and sewer systems have been damaged.

Lightning may be to blame for fires that hit the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Dallas firefighters were called to a residence in Pleasant Grove that they believe was struck by lightning. There were no injuries, but the home sustained a couple of thousand dollars in damage.

A Plano church fire overnight may also be the result of lightning strikes. A fire was reported in the steeple of Christ United Methodist Church. The interior of the church reportedly did not suffer damages.

In Garland, a suburb of Dallas, a buildup of rainwater is reportedly the cause of a collapse of the roof of a strip shopping center early Tuesday. Eight businesses suffered damages, but no injuries were noted.

Elsewhere in the state, heavy flooding hit north of U.S. Highway 83 east of Roma, which is approximately 200 miles south of San Antonio.


Texas AG's Office to Assist with Contractor Issues

The state attorney general's office is ready to assist anyone who may be a victim of contractor fraud. Texas residents eager to move their recovery along following Hurricane Dolly will likely need one or more contractors to help them repair disaster damages or rebuild their homes and businesses.

Those who experience difficulties with a contactor can call the Texas Attorney General's Office Complaint Hotline at 1-800-621-0508.

State and federal disaster recovery officials are reminding citizens to be smart consumers when it comes to choosing professional help.

To help the process go smoothly, recovery officials are offering the following suggestions:

  • Use local contractors first. If you were satisfied with past work done by local licensed contractors, try them first. If they cannot help you, ask for recommendations. If you must hire a contractor you don't know, consult several companies before signing anything.

  • Ask for references. Contractors should be willing to provide names of previous customers. Contact some of those customers and ask if they would hire the contractor again.

  • Ask for a written estimate. Make sure it includes everything you expect the contractor to do. Also, find out up-front if the contractor will charge a fee for that estimate.

  • Ask for proof of insurance. Be sure the contractor has disability and workers' compensation insurance. If not, you may be liable for accidents on your property.

  • Get a written contract. The contract should clearly state all work, costs and the payment schedule. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. It may also be worthwhile to have an attorney look at the contract before signing it.

  • Ask for guarantees in writing (if separate from the contract). If the contractor provides guarantees, he/she should clearly state what is covered by that guarantee, who is responsible for fulfilling the guarantee (dealer, contractor or manufacturer), and how long the guarantee is valid.

  • Get a copy of the final, signed contract. Read it over carefully before signing. Once signed, the contract is binding for both you and the contractor.

  • Do not sign off before the job is finished. Make sure the work is done to your satisfaction before signing completion papers or making a final payment. A reputable contractor will not threaten you or pressure you to sign if the job is not finished properly.

  • Check references. Obtain written estimates and never pay cash up front.