Monday, August 31, 2009

WESTERN NEWS ZONE......

Firefighters and residences in the greater Los Angeles area are in a race against time, as a quick-moving wildfire has almost doubled in size and is threatening 10,000 homes as of Monday afternoon.

Fire officials have ordered mandatory evacuations for residents of the 10,000 homes under threat. The city of Los Angeles today issued a mandatory evacuation order for an area of Sunland-Tujunga bordering the Angeles National Forest from roughly Alpine Way on the north to Haines Canyon Avenue on the east.


According to one fire spokesman, The Station Fire had increased to 85,576 acres as of Monday morning. The blaze is only 5 percent contained while being fueled by dry air and protected by the steep terrain in and around the Angeles National Forest.


Officials are keeping a close eye on the blaze, which is being aided by warm temperatures and low humidity, as it creeps closer to the Mount Wilson Observatory. The facility holds 20 television and radio transmission towers along with fire and police communication equipment.

Tragically, two firefighters died Sunday when their vehicle went down a steep enbankment as they were battling the Station Fire.

Officials identified the dead as Capt. Tedmund Hall, 47, and Spc. Arnaldo Quinones, 35.


"Our hearts are heavy as we are tragically reminded of the sacrifices our firefighters and their families make daily to keep us safe," California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement issued Sunday. "This is a devastating day for firefighters everywhere, and Maria and I join all Californians in expressing our gratitude and sadness. Our hearts go out to their loved ones."

Two residents who ignored mandatory Station Fire evacuation orders were severely burned when they decided to wait out the blaze in a hot tub, according to sheriff's officials.


Both were severely burned when flames ripped through their Big Tujunga neighborhood Saturday.


The Station Fire began Wednesday and had destroyed 18 structures by Sunday. The fire also is threatening 500 businesses and 2,000 other structures. The blaze grew over the weekend in an area that has not witnessed a major fire in more than six decades.


Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday as a result of the Station Fire. He has also declared a state of emergency in Monterey County, where one blaze, called the Gloria Fire, has burned approximately 6,500 acres, and another, called the Bryson Fire, has charred more than 3,000 acres.

SOUTHEASTERN NEWS ZONE......

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has issued an Immediate Final Order to Peck & Peck Inc. (Peck & Peck), Green Cross Managed Health (Green Cross) and Depawix Health Resources Inc. (Depawix) to immediately cease and desist transacting the unauthorized marketing and selling of health insurance.


The Office of Insurance Regulation (Office) began investigating the activities of these companies earlier this year and has determined that they are marketing group and individual health insurance plans to small businesses and individuals, both directly and through licensed and unlicensed insurance agents, under the guise of selling an employment opportunity with Depawix that provides medical benefits. Groups and individuals who wish to participate in the Green Cross program are, in addition to any existing employment they may have with a Florida business, required to be “dually employed” by Depawix.

Among other requirements listed in the Immediate Final Order (IFO), the companies are required to report to the Office within 10 days of the issuance of the Order, a copy of all policies issued to residents of the State of Florida as well as a detailed spreadsheet compiling the information contained in all contracts issued. The Order also requires that the companies honor and otherwise fully service all valid claims on any and all policies the companies have executed.

The companies have 30 days to file an appeal of the Order with the District Court of Appeal.

The Office's investigation parallels a similar investigation by the Department of Financial Services' Division of Agent and Agency Services; the CFO has also issued an IFO against the agents and unlicensed representatives of these entities. Consumers may determine if an insurer is licensed in Florida by visiting the Company Search tool on www.floir.com.

EASTERN NEWS ZONE......

HealthMarkets Inc. announced that its subsidiary insurance companies will focus solely on marketing its ancillary vision, dental and related specialty plans in Massachusetts and discontinue marketing health insurance products in the state after Sept. 30.

The company worked with the offices of the Massachusetts Division of Insurance Commissioner and the Massachusetts Attorney General to resolve all matters related to regulatory issues with the Division of Insurance dating back to 2003, and to litigation brought by the Attorney General’s office dating back to 2004. HealthMarkets stated that given the unique environment regarding health insurance in Massachusetts, marketing only ancillary products, underwritten by its subsidiary insurance companies, is the best business strategy going forward.

This decision has no impact on the company’s marketing efforts outside the state of Massachusetts.

HealthMarkets subsidiaries have approximately 27,000 health insurance members in Massachusetts, and will continue to service those members and administer the health insurance plans currently in-force in the state, consistent with the terms of the settlement agreements.

As a result of the voluntary agreements, the company will make payments totaling $15 million to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, from which $11.25 million will be used by the Attorney General’s office to provide restitution or other relief to Massachusetts residents who meet certain criteria and $750,000 will be used for attorney’s fees and related costs. The payment includes a $3 million civil penalty and the company will be implementing a claims reassessment program under the terms of the agreement with the Division of Insurance. In addition, the companies have previously paid amounts of more than $2.1 million in claims remediation in Massachusetts since litigation commenced.

NATIONAL NEWS ZONE......

National Interstate Insurance Company has added a consignment coverage endorsement to its recreational vehicle product line.

This endorsement, offered by only a limited number of insurance companies, was designed to provide additional protection for RV owners who sell their units on a consignment lot. Distributed exclusively through appointed agency partners, National Interstate is currently offering consignment coverage in 27 states, and the endorsement is available on both new and existing policies.

Most RV insurance policies list RV consignment as an excluded usage, meaning that when an RV owner places their unit for sale on a consignment lot, physical damage coverages are removed. In addition, RVs are seldom, if ever, insured under the dealership's policies.

National Interstate offers a portfolio of specialty products for recreational vehicle owners. The company is rated "A" (Excellent) VIII by A.M. Best Company. To learn more about National Interstate's consignment coverage, contact Jason Sinkovitz at 800-929-1500, or email: Jason.Sinkovitz@NATL.com.

Friday, August 28, 2009

NATIONAL NEWS ZONE......

Proponents of health reform say they want a government-run health insurer to give people more choice in how they are insured. Industry opponents say there is plenty of choice in the existing market, which includes hundreds of insurance companies across the United States.


While it’s true that many markets are flush with choice, people living in some states have few options for insurance — with almost all consumers ending up in the same plan, according to an article in BestWeek U.S./Canada. An early 2009 report from the Government Accountability Office that ranked the market share of insurers in each state pointed out that 17 states had a single insurer that served at least half of the market.

Also, in BestWeek Europe, Belgian insurer Fortis has reported a group net profit after minority interests of 886 million euros (780.6 million pounds) for the first half of 2009, showing a marked recovery from the same period of 2008, when it made a profit of just 25 million euros. This was driven by a number of events related to the closing of the transactions with BNP Paribas, the Belgian State and Fortis Bank, as well as a net-of-tax charge of 301 million euros related to the legal dispute with Fortis Capital Co. Ltd., the company said.

The death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, beyond its tragic weight for his friends, constituents and public admirers, further highlights a basic math problem that his Democratic colleagues in the Senate have been facing, according to an article in BestWeek U.S./Canada. It takes one vote away from Democrats, dropping the number they can muster to 59 — not a filibuster-proof majority. But the truth is, they never experienced filibuster freedom.

BestWeek is published by A.M. Best Co. for insurance professionals. To subscribe, visit www.ambest.com/sales/BestWeek, or e-mail your request to customer_service@ambest.com.

WESTERN NEWS ZONE......

With several fires forcing the evacuation of thousands of California residents near Rancho Palos Verdes and La Canada Flintridge, homeowners in hillside and brush areas are reminded of the importance of a family disaster plan.

Homeowners often have only minutes to evacuate, and in a panic may forget critical items such as financial documents, medications and other items.

Those not immediately threatened by fire should take the time to create a home inventory and family evacuation plan in the event that fire threatens their neighborhood. In other fire prone areas, residents should create a defensible space around their homes by trimming trees and shrubs on their property.

B-roll illustrating evacuation do’s and don’ts, as well as information on preventing underinsurance and creating a home inventory, is also available for your review on IINC’s Web site at www.iinc.org and the IINC Spots podcast at www.iincspots.org. Information specific to wildfire preparation and recovery is also available at “Disaster Central” at http://www.iinc.org/pages/The%20Wildfire%20Page.


  • California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner announced that he will file a lawsuit to have the $1 billion sale of State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF) assets declared unconstitutional.


  • Poizner indicated the transaction could lead to major workers' compensation insurance costs for California's construction firms, agricultural industry and other small businesses.


  • "In these tough economic times, the state should be doing everything possible to create jobs, not use budget gimmickry to hurt the economy," Poizner said in a statement. "The Schwarzenegger Administration simply got it wrong with their proposal and the Legislature failed to adequately scrutinize the consequences."


  • "Selling SCIF at fire-sale prices could further destabilize the workers' comp market in California, and Commissioner Poizner is right to demand a halt to the governor's plans," according to the Los Angeles-based group Consumer Watchdog.


    Overall, SCIF sells close to one out of every five workers' compensation insurance policies in the state.


  • The lawsuit will likely be filed in Sacramento County Superior Court in the coming days.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

WESTERN NEWS ZONE......

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner announced in Los Angeles Wednesday that recently compiled Department of Insurance statistics show that financially desperate residents and scam artists may be committing more automobile insurance fraud to cash in on insurance money. The Department of Insurance has seen an increase in suspected auto arson and auto theft fraud referrals last year.

The Department of Insurance receives referrals of suspected fraud cases from insurance companies, local law enforcement agencies and directly from consumers. CDI enforcement officers carefully examine every case that is brought to the Department's attention.

CDI saw an alarming 31 percent increase in suspected vehicle arson fraud cases in 2008 as compared with referred cases in 2007. (In 2007, CDI received 344 referrals for suspected automobile arson; in 2008, CDI received 451 referrals for suspected automobile arson.) Overall, the Department received almost 300 additional suspected vehicle theft and vehicle arson cases statewide in 2008 than in 2007. CDI received approximately 200 more suspected vehicle theft fraud case referrals in 2008 than in 2007.

While the total number of suspected fraud case referrals received by CDI for all automobile fraud categories (including inflated damages, vandalism and hit and run,) has remained relatively constant since 2007, suspected vehicle arson and theft referrals have noticeably increased.

Poizner oversees 16 CDI Enforcement Branch regional offices throughout the state. Close to 1900 insurance fraud-related arrests have been made by the Department of Insurance's enforcement division since Poizner took office in 2007 - more arrests than have been made during any other two year period, under any previous insurance commissioner.

NATIONAL NEWS ZONE......

Unfortunately, many United States residents have been impacted negatively by the downturn of the economy often leading to the unwise decision of either lowering or cancelling automobile insurance coverage to save money. The serious risks and consequences of such decisions are often not realized, turning out to be more costly in the long run.

Failure to Maintain Mandatory Insurance Coverage

All but two states make having some kind of protection mandatory in order to operate vehicles legally. Driving without proof of financial responsibility may result in citations and even the impounding of vehicles. Some states may even suspend driving privileges and vehicle registrations and the penalties and fines incurred will most likely turn out to be far more costly than having maintained coverage in effect.

Furthermore, a person financing a vehicle is usually required by their lien holder to have "Comprehensive and Collision" coverage in order to protect their automobile for physical damage and theft. Failure to maintain such coverage may lead to the forced placement of a policy by the financing institution where the premium is usually much higher than what an individual would normally pay, resulting in an increased financial burden.

The Dangers of Uninsured or Underinsured Driving

Various types of coverage are designed to protect an insured's investment in their vehicle, pay medical damages and cover legal liability to other's injury or damages as a result of an accident. Without a policy in force or without the proper coverage, a person would have to bear the entire cost in the event of an accident, leading to a crippling financial loss.

It's far too expensive and dangerous to cancel or lower coverage. As advised by most government-issued consumer guides, comparison shopping for the right insurer increases the chances of finding affordable premiums without having to compromise the desired protection.


  • Small business owners are struggling to provide health insurance for their staff and do not feel confident in determining the health insurance that best fits their employees’ needs, according to a new survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). The finding highlights the need for more insurance education, even as the debate over national health care reform continues around the country.

  • In the NAIC survey, conducted July 22-31, among a participant sample of 500 small business decision makers, 64 percent of small business owners responded that they are not confident picking a health insurance policy that fits their budgets and their employees’ needs. One-third admitted that they cannot afford to provide health insurance to their employees.


  • Additionally, the study found a clear gap in understanding the fiscal responsibilities associated with offering health insurance. Of the small business owners surveyed, 60 percent said they are not confident they understand the tax implications of paying for a portion of their employees’ health insurance premiums. Only 27 percent say they understand all the factors that can affect their small group health premiums.


  • “In this economic environment, small business owners need to be especially mindful of any decision that will affect their financial future,” said NAIC President and New Hampshire Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny. “Now, more than ever, it is important they get smart about their choices and consider the implications that making a bad decision could have on their business and their employees’ future.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

MIDWEST NEWS ZONE......

Two subsidiaries of United Healthcare, based in St. Louis, will pay $536,000 in fines and reopen chiropractic claim files it denied since 2004.

Under a settlement with the Missouri Department of Insurance, United Healthcare has agreed to reexamine at least 50,000 claims filed by chiropractors who treated the company’s policyholders. The Department of Insurance found United Healthcare violated state insurance laws by limiting coverage to 26 visits per year. In other cases, the department says the company failed to evaluate the medical necessity of treatment before denying claims.

For any chiropractic claims it finds were improperly denied, United Healthcare must reimburse the physicians for those claims, plus interest. In some cases, consumers may have paid the bills, rather than the chiropractors. Those consumers should contact United Healthcare at 800-873-4575. Patients or chiropractors with questions about the settlement can the Department of Insurance Consumer Hotline at 1-800-726-7390 or visit insurance.mo.gov.

The department conducted a market conduct examination of United Healthcare, after patients and chiropractors filed complaints about the company denying claims. A 2004 Missouri law requires health insurance companies to cover the costs of at least 26 chiropractic visits per year without prior authorization.

For the first 26 visits, coverage can only be denied if the treatment is determined not to be medically necessary. The department’s exam reviewed United Healthcare chiropractic claims since the law took effect.

EASTERN NEWS ZONE......

New York State Insurance Department personnel will be sent to Silver Creek starting Thursday to continue providing consumer assistance with insurance-related issues in the aftermath of the serious flooding that affected Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Erie Counties earlier this month.

The Insurance Department's Mobile Command Center will be located at Mt. Carmel Church, 165 Central Ave. in Silver Creek from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. Personnel staffing the command center will be available to answer inquires regarding insurance policies and coverage, as well as to assist with insurance-related complaints.

The mobile command center is currently located at Gowanda Village Hall at 27 East Main St.

In addition to the on-site disaster recovery assistance, residents seeking help on insurance questions may also contact the Department's Disaster Hotline 1-800-339-1759 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Homeowners' policies do not usually cover damage from floods, but such coverage is available through the National Flood Insurance Program. Owners of damaged vehicles whose automobile insurance policies contain comprehensive coverage, also known as "other than collision," are covered for flood damages.

The disaster recovery efforts follow serious flooding that occurred Aug. 9-10.

WESTERN NEWS ZONE......

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner held a hearing Tuesday for Santa Barbara residents to discuss any concerns they have with the availability of private homeowners insurance and the Fair Plan.

"I heard Santa Barbara residents loud and clear when they called for an opportunity to voice their concerns about the Fair Plan and the availability of homeowners insurance in their neighborhoods," said Poizner. "I am here today to work directly with homeowners and all stakeholders to address these issues. I'm proud to say that through productive negotiations, we have already worked with the Fair Plan to make significant changes, based on feedback from wildfire survivors. I look forward to the progress we will continue to make together."

Poizner welcomed all stakeholders to attend the hearing for the purpose of gathering information and feedback from policyholders, insurance agents and brokers, consumer groups and Fair Plan representatives.

The Commissioner plans to use information gathered in the course of the hearing process to determine recommendations he may make to improve the availability of private homeowners insurance in wildfire areas, and how Fair Plan policies are assigned.


Poizner has been working with consumers through town hall meetings and hearings to assess concerns about Fair Plan policies. In working with the Fair Plan to highlight major concerns, the insurer has already submitted revisions to they way they write fire policies. Major proposed changes include an increased dollar amount of coverage available for building code upgrades. When fire victims rebuild homes, they must comply with up-to-date building code regulations. This can be costly, and the Fair Plan has agreed to increase the previous limit to reflect the high cost of upgrading older residences to meet modern building code standards.

Another change submitted as a result of Poizner's work is the creation of a separate policy limit for living expenses when policyholders lose their homes. Previously, living expenses incurred while a home was rebuilt would be deducted from the rebuilding limit of the policy. The Fair Plan is now working to create separate coverage limit for living expenses.

Poizner continues to work with Fair Plan and policyholders to address major concerns and make changes and improvements to the policies written by the Fair Plan.

SOUTHWESTERN NEWS ZONE......

Combined Agents of America LLC (CAA), at its quarterly board meeting in Austin, Texas, announced its expansion to 42 members with new member, Hill County Insurance Agency Inc. in Hillsboro, Texas.

With a strong presence in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, CAA is a managing general agency (MGA) looking to further expansion across the country to strengthen the independent agency system through profitable growth and exceptional service for its member agencies.

"By joining CAA, our agency gained access to new insurance markets and programs that will provide our customers and prospects with broader solutions for a variety of risks," said Bill Siddons III, new CAA member and vice president of Hill County Insurance Agency. "Not only does Hill County Insurance Agency benefit from the external relationships CAA built with insurance providers, but it has already begun to tap into the wealth of industry knowledge fostered among the 42 high-caliber CAA member agencies."

Started in 1912 and family-owned and operated by the Siddons family since 1921, Hill County Insurance Agency has provided a full range of personal and business insurance solutions to central Texas residents for over 90 years. W.W. "Bill" Siddons, Jr., president, took the helm as the second-generation leader at Hill County Insurance and began managing the office in 1956. W.W. "Bill" Siddons, III, vice president, joined the agency full time in 1990. His industry participation includes serving as past president of the Independent Insurance Agents of Central Texas. Also he served on the Agent Advisory Boards of the Hochheim Prairie Insurance Co., Allstate Insurance Company, and Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance Company.

"Bill Siddons is a very professional insurance agent who wants to grow his agency in central Texas, and we at CAA are proud to have him as a new member," said Bill Bridges, CAA chairman and executive vice president of Duncan, Fraser & Bridges, Pampa, TX. "We have already seen Bill's skills go to work for the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas where he actively serves on the board of directors alongside chairing several committees. We know Bill's broad experience and networking capabilities will greatly benefit CAA."

CAA's member agencies convene on a quarterly basis to knowledge share, discuss industry issues, review its relationships with insurance carriers, and assess CAA operations. Highlights from the recent board meeting include:

  • New member presentation to independent agency prospects,
  • Insurance carrier presentations by Swett & Crawford Group, Service Lloyds Insurance Company, Fireman's Fund Insurance Company and Brown & Brown Inc.
  • Brown & Brown sponsored social for CAA members,
  • Swett & Crawford sponsored lunch for CAA members,
  • Member golf tournament at Falconhead Golf Club in Austin, TX.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

NATIONAL NEWS ZONE......

Travelers National Accounts has unveiled a Money Market Collateral Account solution.

The new product, offered exclusively to qualified Travelers National Accounts, Construction and Discover Re customers, provides clients an alternative to posting Letters of Credit (LOCs). Discover Re is the "unbundled" alternative risk transfer unit of Travelers.

Customers that qualify for the Money Market Collateral Account option will be directed to a licensed representative of the securities firm administering the Money Market Collateral Account, who will provide a prospectus, details on investment options and instructions on how to proceed.


From there, customers will have the ability to invest the collateral provided to Travelers in a number of National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) approved Money Market Mutual Funds, U.S. Treasuries or other government instruments. The disbursement of interest, dividends or other investment income in excess of the required collateral amount may be requested on an annual basis.

WESTERN NEWS ZONE......

A poll by PEMCO Insurance reveals that the practice of reading and sending text messages while driving has more than doubled in the past 18 months, even while an increasing number of drivers believe the activity is unsafe.

The poll, taken in June 2009 shows that 18 percent of Washington drivers who use electronic devices admit to reading or sending text messages while driving, although University of Utah research suggests such behavior increases the likelihood of accidents eight-fold. Only six percent of respondents using electronic devices admitted to texting behind the wheel in February 2008.

The poll also showed that while more drivers are tapping messages on cell phones than before, a higher percentage of Washington drivers think the behavior is dangerous.

PEMCO found that 45 percent of those polled are more concerned with the driving distractions caused by text messaging than other distractions like talking on a cell phone, speeding or driving while tired - which is up significantly from the 32 percent of drivers who reported their concern for texting in 2008.

The poll also showed that a significant majority of Washington drivers want the laws surrounding texting to be strengthened. Currently, Washington classifies cell-phone related violations as secondary offenses, which means that the driver must be committing a primary violation like speeding to be cited for texting or talking without a hands-free device.

However, PEMCO's June 2009 data shows that 70 percent of drivers believe that the text-messaging law should be changed from a secondary to a primary offense. Similarly in 2008, 73 percent of drivers agreed texting should be a primary offense.

Surprisingly, when it comes to talking and driving, the poll showed data suggesting an increased acceptance for Washington's hands-free cell phone law as a secondary offense. In 2009, 58 percent support the law as a primary offense, which is down from 60 percent in 2008 and 65 percent in 2007.

This latest PEMCO poll further shows drivers are unclear whether talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving is a primary or secondary offense, with 50 percent incorrectly reporting it as a primary offense.

Overall, 94 percent of respondents do know that using a cell phone behind the wheel is against the law, with a majority reporting that it should only be legal to use a cell phone if using a hands-free device.


* Employers Direct Insurance Company (EDIC) (www.employersdirect.com) has signed a definitive agreement to sell the renewal rights of its direct placed workers’ compensation insurance policies to GNW-Evergreen Insurance Services LLC (www.gnw-evergreen.com).

Headquartered in Encino, GNW-Evergreen is one of the largest independent insurance brokerages based in Southern California. EDIC has previously announced that they are discontinuing direct sales and plan on distributing their workers’ comp policies exclusively through independent agents and brokers in the future.

EDIC will appoint GNW-Evergreen as a producer in Arizona, California, and Nevada following the close of the sale.

SOUTHWESTERN NEWS ZONE......

Farmers Insurance Group of Companies has teamed up with The Arkansas Grocers & Retail Merchants Association and revised their 10-year relationship to strengthen its member's benefits.

Types of businesses eligible for this program are: Retail Stores, Restaurants, Fast Food Restaurants, Doughnut Shops, Deli's, Coffee Shops, Bakeries, Dry Cleaners and over 80 additional types of small businesses.

The new program offers:

  • Small retail, service providers and restaurants the ability to have the same benefits as larger retailers, service providers, restaurants and franchises
  • Potential dividend to the Association and its Members
  • Loss Prevention and Safety Programs
  • Local specialized agents
  • Award winning claims services
  • Specialized Coverage's including:
    • Employment Practices
    • Property & Casualty
    • Workers' compensation
    • Commercial Auto
    • Business Interruption
    • Group Life and Long Term Care
    • Financial Solutions
Contact Ray Roberts (Administrative Agent for program) Phone (501) 945-0555 or email rroberts@farmersagent.com for more information.

Monday, August 24, 2009

SOUTHEASTERN NEWS ZONE......

Norvax Inc., a provider of sales automation and web marketing tools for the health insurance industry, announced that the Norvax Insurance Quote Engine now includes CIGNA plans for Florida.

CIGNA-appointed health insurance brokers and agents licensed in Florida can now generate instant quotes on Individual and Small Group health plans for consumers in the Sunshine State.

In addition to quoting CIGNA plans for Florida consumers, Norvax quote engine users can also generate quotes for CIGNA Individual and Small Group plans in Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Texas.

For more information about the Norvax Quote Engine, health insurance agents and brokers can call 1-866-466-7829 ext. 1, or visit the Norvax Web site at www.Norvax.com. Consumers can access this technology directly through Norvax's consumer Web site www.gohealthinsurance.com.

MIDWEST NEWS ZONE......

A Pittsburg, Kansas man has pled guilty to arson for his reported part in an insurance scam last year.

According to prosecutors, in November 2008, Wendall Martin asked James Pryor and Sidney Ulmer to burn down his house in Pittsburg to collect insurance money on the home.

Martin has pled guilty to solicitation to commit a felony for his part and will be sentenced on Oct. 5.

Pryor pled guilty to burning the home at Martin’s request, and will be sentenced next month.

Ulmer will face a jury trial in December on charges of arson.

EASTERN NEWS ZONE......

IS Partners LLC and Interactive Solutions LLC, national providers of business advisory services to America's insurance companies, and Invotex Group, national provider of accounting, financial consulting and risk management services to insurance companies and regulatory agencies, will host the Third Annual Risk Management Insurance Conference on Sept. 16 and 17, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. For more information or to register for this event, visit www.interactivesolutionsllc.com.

The conference will feature workshops and forums on such topics as Risk Management for Insurers, Reinsurance Modernization, Credit & Market Risk and more, each led by renowned industry professionals.

The two-day conference will be held at Citizens Bank Park, home of the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, located at One Citizens Bank Way in Philadelphia. At the conclusion of the first day, all attendees are invited to attend the ballgame versus the Washington Nationals.

Friday, August 21, 2009

SOUTHEASTERN NEWS ZONE......

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty announced that he has received the latest rate filing from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) for workers' compensation insurance rates due to become effective Jan. 1, 2010. The filing includes an overall average rate decrease of 6.8 percent statewide, which would produce a savings of more than $166 million for Florida employers.


If approved, the rate decrease would be the seventh consecutive decline since the Legislature passed sweeping reforms to the state's workers' comp system in 2003. The cumulative overall statewide average rate decrease since 2003 would total 63.2 percent.

Before the 2003 legislative reforms were passed, Florida ranked as the first or second state with the highest workers’ comp rates in the country. Last year, studies showed that Florida had dropped to the 28th highest. However, updating those studies with the rate changes the Office approved earlier this year, plus this NCCI filing, Florida’s ranking could now be among the 10 lowest states in the country.

NCCI, which produces and files rates for insurers in many states, noted the rate decline was primarily due to a significant reduction in claims frequency although there are signs the pace of improvement has moderated.

The Office will schedule a rate hearing in October, and the rate change would be effective for new and renewal business as of Jan. 1, 2010.

WESTERN NEWS ZONE......

A.M. Best Co. will exhibit at booth #206 at the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters Annual Meeting and Seminars, set for Aug. 29–Sept. 1 at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel in Denver, Colo. Visitors to A.M. Best’s booth can speak with company representatives, see product demonstrations and pick up informational brochures.


While at A.M. Best’s booth, attendees will learn how they can:

  • Examine in-depth analysis of insurers, reinsurers and groups with the new online Best’s Insurance Reports® – Property/CasualtyUnited States & Canada

  • Underwrite with confidence using Best’s Underwriting & Loss Control Center

  • Perform targeted analysis and strategic planning using the aggregated data contained in Best’s Aggregates & Averages – Property/Casualty – Online


  • Obtain additional information about A.M. Best's property/casualty products and more by visiting A.M. Best booth #206 at the CPCU Annual Meeting and Seminars, or by visiting www.ambest.com/sales.

More information about the conference is available at www.cpcusociety.org.


  • Ventura County (Calif.) District Attorney Gregory Totten announced that Paul Lafflitio (DOB 6/25/1984) of Simi Valley was sentenced after previously pleading guilty to felony evading a peace officer and felony auto insurance fraud.

  • Lafflitio was placed on formal probation for three years and ordered to serve 218 days in the Ventura County jail. He was ordered to pay restitution of $1,278 to Alliance United Insurance Company and an additional $1,592 to the property owners where he crashed his truck.

  • On March 25, 2009, at 9 p.m., two Simi Valley Police Department officers were working undercover in an unmarked patrol vehicle. They were stopped for a red light at the intersection of Sycamore and Royal when they saw a silver Dodge Ram pick-up truck approach the intersection. The Dodge failed to stop for the red light. As the Dodge drove through the intersection, one of the officers shined his spotlight into the cab of the Dodge and got a good look at the driver, Lafflitio. The officers tried to pull over the Dodge but the truck sped away. Lafflitio drove at times between 90 and 100 mph while fleeing from the officers. Because he was driving so fast and recklessly, the officers decided to terminate the pursuit. Minutes later, however, the officers discovered Lafflitio's truck crashed and abandoned on private property off Wood Ranch Parkway.

  • The officers discovered Lafflitio was the registered owner of the truck and called him. Lafflitio answered his cell phone and told the officers that he was “night-clubbing” in Hollywood . He added the vehicle must have been stolen from where he last parked it in Simi Valley . He said he would come to the police department the following day to report it stolen. Unbeknownst to Lafflitio, both officers got a good look at him driving as the pursuit began.

  • Additionally, cell phone tracking evidence placed Lafflitio in Simi Valley at the time of the pursuit, not in Hollywood as he told the officers. When Lafflitio arrived at the Simi Valley Police Department the next day, he was identified and arrested.

  • The officers subsequently learned that prior to arriving at the police department, Lafflitio called Alliance United Insurance Company and falsely reported his vehicle was stolen.

NATIONAL NEWS ZONE......

Kaplan Compliance Solutions (KCS), a provider of service and technology solutions designed to eliminate paperwork and reduce compliance risk for the insurance and securities industries, announced that Esurance, the direct to consumer personal auto insurance company, is the latest customer to migrate to the Compliance Management System Generation 2™
(CMS G2™) platform, KCS’ flagship compliance automation solution.

Esurance has licensed the CMS G2 Database Module (DBM) to house their licensing data. Essentially, the DBM is a unique and powerful database that manages securities and insurance compliance data in one centralized solution. DBM offers the ability to view, track and manage data for carriers, firms, branches and registered individual representatives and producers.

For Esurance, it will also manage the electronic submission of appointments and appointment terminations to the Departments of Insurance for processing.

The CMS G2 system gives Esurance agents read-only access to the database, providing 24/7 access to license information. Esurance plans to roll out this feature in early 2010. In addition, Esurance will utilize the CMS G2 NIPRSM alerts to automatically update portions of their database, eliminating most manual verification of license effective dates.

“CMS G2 is a powerful tool for Esurance’s licensing department. Now we can quickly and reliably manage the licensing and appointments of our producers,” said Kim Zanola, licensing supervisor at Esurance.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

WETSERN NEWS ZONE......

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner announced that Joseph Baiden, 56, of Diamond Bar, surrendered to the Los Angeles Superior Court pursuant to an arrest warrant issued for eight counts of workers' compensation insurance premium fraud against State Fund. Baiden is being held on $1.64 million bail.

The arrest came as the result of an investigation by the California Department of Insurance (CDI). Along with the arrest, CDI froze Baiden's bank accounts and seized numerous properties (listed at bottom) throughout the Los Angeles area estimated at $4 million. His primary residence was located in an exclusive, gated hilltop neighborhood in Diamond Bar.

The case is being prosecuted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. Each count is a felony and, if convicted on all counts, Baiden faces a maximum of 40 years in prison as well as $3.2 million in fines.

In September 2008, CDI received a referral from State Fund alleging that Baiden, doing business as Nurse Connection Inc., was underreporting his workers' comp payroll on the quarterly payroll reports. According to the referral, State Fund received an anonymous tip that Baiden had falsified payroll records as well as California and federal tax filings for the years 2001-07. It is alleged that Baiden misrepresented $20 million in Nurse Connection's payroll to conceal the actual risk to the insurance carrier, thereby illegally reducing his workers' comp insurance premiums. State Fund's estimated loss over this seven-year period is approximately $1.4 million.

Based on the investigation, additional charges may be filed at a later date.

EASTERN NEWS ZONE......

New York Gov. David Paterson announced that GEICO will open a new operations site in Amherst in Erie County, for the GEICO Insurance Agency.

The company, a subsidiary of GEICO, will sell homeowners, renters, boat and other types of insurance coverage. GEICO will invest $2.4 million in the expansion, creating an estimated 300 new jobs over three years and laying the foundation for future growth.

The key component in attracting GEICO Insurance Agency to Amherst was to certify the location and GEICO entity as a Regionally Significant Project (RSP) for an Empire Zone. With the support of the Town of Amherst, the Town of Tonawanda Empire Zone will serve as the local Empire Zone administrator and provide this designation. The collaboration and approval given by both towns was instrumental to getting GEICO Insurance Agency and the Amherst location RSP designation.

To support the company’s efforts, GEICO will receive an estimated value of $1.5 million in Empire Zone tax credits over the next five years from Empire State Development. Further, the company will receive sales tax exemption on equipment purchases from the Amherst Industrial Development Agency and an extension of low-cost power to 2013 from the New York Power Authority for the company’s Amherst facility. Additionally, the Erie and Niagara County Workforce Investment Boards will provide GEICO with workforce training assistance, as well as connect available workforce with the company.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS ZONE......

The number of female van drivers on British roads has reached an all time high, according to research by a commercial vehicle insurance provider.

Swinton Commercial has found a 23% rise in enquiries from women looking to purchase van insurance from this time two years ago. The growing number of female entrepreneurs or women working in trade professions such as plumbers and electricians is believed to be responsible for the rapid rise in 'Fem-Van' drivers.

A poll of 1,000 female van drivers by Swinton Commercial, found that 81% use the van as part of their own business and 19% drive on behalf of an employer. The survey also uncovered that the main use of the female van, or 'fem-van' was for deliveries.

Despite preconceptions, the most popular 'fem-van' colour was white (78%) followed by silver (17%) and thankfully only one female admitted to driving a pink van.

NATIONAL NEWS......

Mitchell International Inc., a provider of information, workflow and performance management solutions to the Property & Casualty claims and Collision Repair industries, announced the conclusion of its Industry Week Conference, held Aug. 3-7 at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego.


Collision repairers, insurers, and industry partners came together and took advantage of the opportunity to attend this event to learn new tools and techniques, strategies, and best practices to help drive high operational performance in their businesses.

The Conference brought industry participants together, offering each group valuable information targeted toward their specific business needs. Guest speakers inside and outside of the industry gave special presentations to help collision repairers learn about the tools and tactics they can leverage to help their operations gain a competitive edge and power the future of their business as the industry rebounds.

Claims professionals participated in informational roundtable discussions on events impacting the claims industry and shared their innovative and alternative perspectives. The Industry Parts Panel, for example, moderated by Mitchell's Vice President of Industry Relations, Greg Horn, included panelists such as Insurance Auto Auctions Senior Vice President Don Hermanek, American Honda Parts Marketing/Collision Group Assistant Manager Gary Ledoux, APU Solutions CEO Charles Lukens, Car-Part.com President Jeff Schroder; and LKQ Corporation's Vice President of Operations Rob Wagman, who discussed the current challenges of the collision parts supply and offered insight into how to overcome these obstacles. All Industry Week attendees participated in joint sessions to hear from highly-acclaimed key-note speakers, to network, and share best practices and management techniques.

Mitchell's Industry Week Conference also included the annual meeting of the Mitchell Editorial Advisory Board, a longstanding entity that has convened since 1989, to tackle the critical issues affecting both insurers and shops. Editorial Advisory Board members represent both large and small repair shops, insurers and industry organizations, all of whom are committed to improving the business performance and experience of all participants in the collision repair process.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

PEOPLE IN THE NEWS ZONE......

ZRG Partners Inc., a Boston-based global provider in Executive Search and Talent Management Solutions, announced the addition of Terry Clarke as managing director and head of the firm’s insurance practice. Clarke will be opening a new Chicago office for ZRG Partners and will head up the continued expansion of the firm’s insurance industry practice.

ZRG Partners and its subsidiaries are entering their 10th year of providing capital services to several key markets including Financial Services, Health Care and Life Sciences, Technology, Energy, and Education. Headquartered in Boston, ZRG Partners maintains strategic branch offices throughout The Americas and Asia.

  • Farmers Insurance Group of Companies announced the appointment of Paul Patsis, a 35-year insurance veteran, to executive vice president of Farmers Group Inc., and president of market management. Patsis moves to his new position from president and chief executive officer of Farmers Life.

  • In May 1998, Patsis joined Farmers as president and CEO of Farmers Life. He was promoted to executive vice president, Farmers Group Inc., effective January 2007.


  • Stephen Hunckler has joined the State Auto Insurance Companies as chief claims officer.
Hunckler was most recently executive vice president and chief claims officer at Balboa Insurance in Irvine, Calif., where he was responsible for overall claims execution and strategy supporting the company’s $3 billion book of business.

  • Hylant Group announced the addition of Tony Evans to their Chicago office.

  • Evans joins the firm as senior vice president and client executive with more than 20 years of industry experience. He will be responsible for leading the office in business development efforts, as well as assisting the Illinois and Michigan region with large account and risk management opportunities.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

NATIONAL NEWS ZONE......

Insure.com is offering the following tips for making sure one's college student is properly insured.

Car insurance:

  • If your child is taking a car to school, you must notify your insurance company if the car will be garaged at another location. This could alter your premium either up or down. Failure to reveal such a change can jeopardize a later insurance claim.
  • If your student owns a car, he or she must have his or her own car insurance policy. Again, inform the insurance company if the car will be located away from home.
  • If your student is not taking a car to school, you can likely save money on car insurance premiums. Notify your agent that your child is now driving the car only occasionally and ask that your bill be adjusted accordingly.

Home insurance:

  • Check with your home insurance company to see if you have adequate coverage for property in a student's dorm -- especially if your child has an expensive computer and other costly electronics.
  • Parents' home insurance does not extend to an off-campus apartment rented by your child; for that they'll need renters insurance.

Health insurance:

  • Most health insurance plans will allow your dependents to remain on your plan until they reach a certain "cutoff age" (usually 23 to 25 years old). However, the plan may also require that your child attend school full-time in order to remain insured.
  • If you have a managed care plan, such as an HMO, it will have geographical doctor-network limits. That means the health plan might be worthless far away from home and outside the plan's network of providers, except for emergency room visits.
  • Find out what the college health plan covers. Visits to the college health center are usually free, and your student will have a co-payment for lab tests, X-rays and prescriptions.
  • Find out if the college health plan covers pre-existing conditions and whether there is coverage during school vacations.
  • If your child is a college athlete, he may not be covered for injuries sustained during practice or a game. Check your health insurance policy to determine if your child is covered in the event of a sports-related injury.

Life insurance:

  • Would your child be able to continue college in the event of your death? If you don't have a sufficient amount of money in savings or other assets to cover the college years, consider buying a term life insurance policy for the duration of your child's college education.

EASTERN NEWS ZONE......

Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY) will be hosting a product fair at PNC Park, home of Pittsburgh Pirates, on Aug. 19, from 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. in the Press Room.

The product fair is an open-house-style event for insurance agents highlighting all of PHLY's products, including their newest Pest Control, Environmental, and Security Services (The Guardian). Agents are encouraged to attend to learn more about products, coverages and meet with PHLY representatives. Additionally, agents will have the opportunity to donate to Auberle Inc., a non-profit that provides services for troubled children local to the Pittsburgh-area.


To locate the office nearest you or for more information, visit PHLY on the web at www.phly.com or contact Elizabeth Bell at (610) 617-7734.


  • New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram and Division of Criminal Justice Director Deborah Gramiccioni announced that a Mays Landing woman pleaded guilty to illegally collecting more than $4,000 by submitting fraudulent disability insurance claims.

  • According to Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Riza Dagli, Da’Lynn White, 31, of Mays Landing, pleaded guilty in Atlantic County to second-degree insurance fraud, a charge contained in a May 13 indictment. White also pleaded guilty to two counts of identity theft brought by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office. The Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor and Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office will recommend a sentence of five years in state prison on all of the charges.

  • In pleading guilty to the charge brought by OIFP, White admitted that between March 15 and June 19, 2005, she fraudulently collected $4,357 from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development by submitting false disability claim forms. White gave the false impression that she and a co-worker were disabled and under the care of two doctors.

  • An investigation determined that White forged the two doctors’ names on the claim forms in support of the false disability claims. White admitted that she reported to the labor department that she was pregnant when, in fact, she was not. White also admitted that she falsely claimed her co-worker was injured in an accident on his way to work.

  • In pleading guilty to the charges brought by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, White admitted that she unlawfully obtained bank information of at least seven victims, and used the information to fraudulently obtain duplicate ATM and other bank cards. White admitted that she used the fraudulent cards to obtain cash and other items from various retail stores within Atlantic County.

Monday, August 17, 2009

NATIONAL NEWS ZONE......

At recent kickoff meetings throughout Michigan, The Main Street America Group’s Great Lakes Casualty Insurance Company announced the availability of its commercial product line, featuring the company’s new Main Line Business Owners Policy (Main Line BOP) product, to its statewide network of independent agents.

Michigan agents were also introduced to the super regional property/casualty insurance carrier’s new Main Street Station for Commercial Lines quoting and policy issuance system, which they will use to quote and submit new commercial lines business.

Main Line BOP and Main Street Station for Commercial Lines have also been rolled out to Main Street America’s statewide network of Georgia independent agents. In the Peach State, the product will be written with the carrier’s Main Street America Assurance Company. This now marks nine states where The Main Street America Group has launched Main Line BOP in conjunction with Main Street Station for Commercial Lines.

Great Lakes Casualty, which was acquired by Main Street America last year, had previously only written private passenger auto insurance in Michigan. Earlier this year, the Grand Rapids-based carrier began offering Main Street America’s Personal Auto MVP product via its Michigan agents.

Main Street America’s Main Line BOP property and liability product for the small business owner features broad eligibility, with nearly 500 classes through these 10 programs: wholesale, retail, services, offices, apartments, contractor, condominium associations, garages, restaurants and light manufacturing.

The product also features standard BOP coverages, as well as a host of others, including two that are particularly important to small businesses today—employment practices liability insurance and identity theft. Coverage can be extended with the product’s many options, such as product withdrawal, and condominium directors and officers, as well as Main Line Extension and contractors’ inland marine endorsements.

Main Street America’s Michigan and Georgia independent agents will also be able to write commercial auto coverages, including the carrier’s Commercial Auto Elite endorsement, and workers’ compensation coverage, via Main Street Station for Commercial Lines. They will be able to write commercial umbrella via the new processing system at a later date.

Main Line BOP and Main Street Station for Commercial Lines are being rolled out on a state-by-state basis throughout the 24 states where Main Street America writes business. In addition to Michigan and Georgia, both the product and system are available in Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Utah. The policy processing system is also available in Rhode Island for writing Main Street America’s commercial auto and workers’ compensation products.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS ZONE......

At least 22 of the insurance and reinsurance industry's leading companies will be represented on the faculty and in the audience during the Sept. 10 legal conference titled "Reinsurance Claims & Dispute Resolution," produced by HB Litigation Conferences LLC.

Chairing the event, a nationally accredited continuing legal education program, will be Ann Field of Zurich North America, Joy Langford of Chadbourne & Parke LLP, and Elaine Lenhert of Veris Consulting LLC.

Companies represented at the event include: ACE Group; AIU Holdings; Admiral Insurance Company; Axis Capital; Chubb & Son; CNA Insurance Co.; Everest Reinsurance Company; General Reinsurance Corp.; Hannover Re; MetLife; Munich Re America; Odyssey America Reinsurance Corp.; QBE Insurance Group; Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Company of Canada; SCOR Reinsurance Company; Swiss Reinsurance America; The Travelers Companies; United America Insurance Group; W.R. Berkley Corp.; WRM America Indemnity Co.; Zurich North America; and Zurich.

Topics include: writing and placing the reinsurance treaty and facultative contract; reinsurance considerations in finance; operational considerations surrounding reinsurance contracts for the cedent and reinsurer; emerging trends such as the financial meltdown and subprime; claims for ECO/XPL and reinsurability for punitive damages; in-house counsel expectations of outside counsel; arbitration best practices; options for resolution; and more.

Speakers include: Timothy Stalker, Nelson Levine deLuca & Horst, Blue Bell, Pa.; Christopher Kende of Cozen & O'Connor; Larry Johnson, Chairman & CEO, Veris Consulting, LLC; Kent Barrett, Senior Managing Director, Veris Consulting, LLC; Stephen Kennedy, Clyde & Co.; Myra Lobel, ARe, Guy Carpenter & Company LLC; Julie Pollack, Senior Vice President and Senior Legal Counsel, Contracts, Swiss Re America; Deborah Giss Stalker, Associate General Counsel, Global Reinsurance, ACE Group; John Cleary, Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP; Drew Spitzer, Senior Vice President & Director of Accounting Policy, ACE Ltd.; Beverly Sneddon, AVP, Reinsurance Claims & Legal, Zurich North America; David Sobotka, CPCU, ARe, Managing Director, Guy Carpenter & Company, LLC; Christopher Reichow, Vice President, PRO IS Inc.; Scott Birrell, Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Travelers; Marc Karnell, Senior Vice President, Global Claims Technical Director, Endurance Services Limited; Davie Bowers, Of Counsel, Zurich North America Legal; John Cole, Wiley Rein LLP; Debra Roberts, CFA, Debra Roberts & Associates LLC; Jonathan Rosen, CEO, The Home Insurance Company in Liquidation; David Silva, Mound Cotton Wollan & Greengrass; Jim Engel, former Chief Claim Officer of Zurich NA and ACA NA and CEO of Brandywine Holdings; Mark Gurevitz, Senior Vice President and Associate General Counsel, The Hartford; Richard March, former General Counsel of United National Insurance Company; Peter Scarpato, President, Conflict Resolved, LLC; Thomas Wamser, Associate General Counsel, ACE-INA.

For more information, visit the Conferences section at www.LitigationConferences.com, email HB at info@LitigationConferences.com, or call the company at (484) 324-2755.

EASTERN NEWS ZONE......

Oneonta, New York police have arrested the owner of a home heavily damaged in a July 23 fire and accused him of setting the blaze which led to the injury of two firefighters.

Donald R. Kropp, 33, was arraigned Friday afternoon and charged with third degree arson, second degree insurance fraud, two counts of second degree assault and first degree reckless endangerment. The charges are all felonies. The two counts of assault stem from the fact that two firefighters were injured.

If he is convicted, Kropp could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison on the most serious charges.

Kropp’s arrest followed a two-week investigation into the blaze that heavily damaged the two-story frame structure where he lived with his wife and three children.

Oneonta Fire Chief Robert Barnes said fire investigators determined the fire was incendiary in nature. One of the two firefighters who were injured while fighting the blaze, Barnes said the fire was started in a first floor room that was being used as a bedroom.

Located on Susquehanna Street, the home was insured for more than $500,000. Kropp filed an insurance claim for his losses following the fire, but the claim was never paid.

No one was home when the fire was discovered by a neighbor who contacted the fire department at approximately 5:45 p.m. An estimated 75 firefighters from Oneonta and surrounding departments fought the blaze in the two-story home.

The structure sustained significant smoke, water and fire damage. Most of the damage reportedly occurred on the first floor of the house. The structure contained an unoccupied rental apartment.

Friday, August 14, 2009

MIDWEST NEWS ZONE......

The 2009 State Report Card for Workers’ Compensation ranks Iowa as the most effective system in the nation. The rankings are distributed annually by the Work-Loss Data Institute.

“Iowa is consistently recognized as having a fair and balanced system,” indicated Iowa ’s Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey. “We are committed to providing impartial assistance in education, compliance and adjudication to both businesses and workers across the state.”

The 2009 rankings were derived by scoring each state on five outcome measures: incidence rates, cases missing work, median disability duration, delayed recovery rate and a key condition of low back strain.

The Work-Loss Data Institute utilizes data provided through the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. By using standardized federal data, the Institute is able to control for data variations.

“Iowa consistently ranks among the states as having one of the lowest premium rates for Iowa employers and as having one of the highest compensation rates for pay out to workers” stated Godfrey. “The combination of all of the factors makes Iowa a great place for business growth and provides a valuable safety net for injured workers. Because of this, Iowa is frequently considered a model program and other states work to achieve our success.”

EASTERN NEWS ZONE......

New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram and Criminal Justice Director Deborah Gramiccioni announced that a former Essex County insurance company employee pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal more than $94,100 through fraudulent disability insurance claims.

According to Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Riza Dagli, LaShondrea Tucker, 32, of Plainfield, pleaded guilty in Essex County to second-degree insurance fraud, a charge contained in a Dec. 18, 2008 state grand jury indictment. A judge scheduled Tucker’s sentencing for Sept. 23. The state will recommend a sentence of five years in state prison.

Three of Tucker’s co-defendants – Erick Streeter, Louise Fedrick and Deborah Ruffin are also scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 23. Streeter, 44, of Newark, pleaded guilty on April 6 to third-degree theft by deception. Fedrick, 40, of Irvington, pleaded guilty on April 6 to third-degree forgery. And Ruffin, 49, of Newark, pleaded guilty on June 18 to third-degree theft by deception. All of the charges were contained in the Dec. 18, 2008 state grand jury indictment.

In pleading guilty, Tucker, who was employed as a disability claims manager for Prudential Insurance Company, admitted that between Sept. 22, 2003 and March 23, 2004, she created fraudulent disability claims using the names and other identifiers of actual people enrolled in a teachers’ disability plan. Tucker admitted that she diverted 21 checks and two electronic fund transfers totaling over $94,100. Tucker admitted that she issued the diverted checks, which totaled $66,700, in the names of the insured individuals and sent them to Streeter. Streeter engaged Fedrick and Ruffin to assist him with the cashing of the claims checks. Fedrick admitted to forging the signatures on the checks for deposit.

The investigation further revealed that Tucker opened an Internet bank account with Net Bank. Two electronic fund transfers in the approximate amount of $27,400 were subsequently deposited into the Net Bank account representing fraudulent sick pay from Prudential Insurance Company.

WESTERN NEWS ZONE......

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is reminding residents who have been evacuated due to the Lockheed Fire in Santa Cruz County and the La Brea Fire in Santa Barbara County that they may be eligible for reimbursement for additional living expenses due to mandatory evacuations. Poizner also encouraged all Californians to make sure their insurance policies are updated and to conduct a home inventory today.

"I urge everyone who has been evacuated from their home to check their insurance policies," said Poizner. "Many homeowners policies cover additional living expenses incurred as a result of a mandatory evacuation. Coming up with extra money for hotel stays, extra food and other additional living costs are the last thing fire evacuees should have to worry about. Check your policy, and if you have any insurance questions, call the Department of Insurance at 800-927-HELP."

For the most recent information about these fires, including containment and evacuation information, visit the CAL FIRE Web site at http://calfire.ca.gov/.

Many residential homeowners insurance policies cover what is known as ALE, or additional living expenses. This permits homeowners to maintain their normal standard of living by covering the increased living expenses incurred as a result of damage caused by the fire or a mandatory evacuation. ALE coverage typically includes extra food costs, increased housing costs, furniture rental, relocation and storage costs, telephone installation and extra transportation costs to and from school or work, after the deductible is reached.

A free home inventory guide is available on the Department of Insurance Web site at www.insurance.ca.gov, or by calling the CDI Consumer Hotline at 800-927-HELP.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

SOUTHEASTERN NEWS ZONE......

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty announced the Office of Insurance Regulation (Office) and the Hartford Financial Services Group (Hartford) have entered into a consent agreement whereby Hartford will issue refunds or credits totaling $48.2 million to Florida businesses for excess profits it earned on its workers’ compensation policies for accident years 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Hartford’s refund will bring the total amount of refunded excess workers’ comp profits for all companies workers’ comp writers in Florida to more than $98.8 million so far this year. Over $29.7 million in excess workers’ comp profits were refunded to Florida businesses in 2008.

Hartford must provide refunds or renewal credits within 60 days from the date of this order and provide documentation of its compliance to the Office.

In addition, Hartford must certify that it has attempted to locate all policyholders whose refund checks are returned; and if unable to locate those policyholders, the funds must be processed as unclaimed or abandoned property pursuant to Chapter 717, Florida Statutes. Hartford also must pay the Office $5,000 in administrative costs.

  • The North Carolina General Assembly has formally ended the first year of a two-year session. Legislators adjourned after significant activity on a number of insurance issues, according to the American Insurance Association (AIA).

  • “This was a very active session for insurers, by North Carolina standards,” said Raymond Farmer, AIA assistant vice president, Southeast Region, “and we can expect a similar level of activity in next year’s session. We are pleased overall with the session’s achievements, led by passage of HB 1305, which reforms the state Beach Plan both operationally and financially, and begins the process of returning it to a market of last resort.”

  • Other significant legislative activity included passage of two auto bills: SB 749, which clarifies an insured’s coverage options under the state’s UM/UIM law, and also exempts certain commercial vehicles from the law’s requirements for UM/UIM coverage; and a bill opposed by AIA, SB 660, which provides consumers with a method for claiming diminution of value in auto property damage claims.

  • On the driver safety front, legislators passed and the governor has signed HB 9, which bans drivers from sending text messages or e-mails while driving. Insurers also were able to defeat a number of potentially costly new tax proposals, as North Carolina legislators sought new revenues to address a budget deficit.

  • Proposals that would have adversely impacted insurers, including an increase in the gross premium tax to 2.25 percent, an increase in the regulatory fee from 5.5 to 6 percent, and imposing a sales tax on auto repairs, were removed from this year’s final finance and budget package.

  • Finally, on the litigation front, AIA was part of negotiations with the trial bar who sought to change the state’s current six-year statute of repose in product liability actions. The compromise language of SB 882, which passed, extends the statute of repose to 12 years.