By Joe Dunn, Angel Mendez, and Scott W. Dunn

 

Agribusiness clients are acutely aware of the high premiums they pay for workers’ compensation, premises liability, health insurance and the steps they can take to mitigate those costs. On the other hand, automobile liability has historically been a low-cost, low-visibility afterthought. Not anymore.

The risk associated with catastrophic vehicle-related losses is on the radar of underwriters who insure agricultural operations.

Many have seen loss ratios spike to 90 percent or higher on their auto liability book of business and are alarmed by the skyrocketing frequency and severity trends. In an informal poll, agricultural insurers expressed concerns that the market for auto coverage is seriously underpriced, and some are considering rate increases as high as 30 percent. Said one underwriter, “If you can’t get enough rate, you just have to walk away from some accounts.”

Consider the following scenarios:

  • As he does every day, a California farm labor contractor transports employees to and from job sites. One evening, while driving six workers home, the contractor drifts off the highway. He overcorrects, causing the van to flip several times. All six passengers, including two underage girls, are ejected from the vehicle. Three men are pronounced dead at the scene and one of the underage girls later dies from her injuries.
  • After inspect-ing a field to be harvested, a farm labor contractor employee stops at a bar and consumes five shots of whiskey and two 22-ounce beers in a three-hour period. He subsequently climbs into his truck and, while texting, rear-ends a car stopped at a red light. A four-year-old boy in the rear-ended car is killed instantly, while his mother and sister are injured.

Catastrophic vehicle losses have a significant impact on the agribusiness industry and create turmoil for both insureds and insurers. The emotional and financial toll in the case of a death or severe disability resulting from a vehicular accident can affect victims and their families forever. Employers dealing with vehicle-related claims involving their employees also face the devastating financial consequences of insured and uninsured costs increasing exponentially.

The insured costs most likely to be impacted arise from automobile liability, umbrella/excess liability, workers’ compensation and employers’ liability policies. Insureds typically have deductibles, or self-insured retentions and claim costs will need to be paid. In the longer run, a poor motor-vehicle or employee-injury-loss history can result in premium increases, mid-term cancellations, or worse yet — the unwillingness of any carrier to quote the account. Uninsured costs, including the following, are frequently overlooked but can be even more costly:

  • Lost production time;
  • Damage to crops/other products;
  • Increased overtime for existing employees;
  • Loss of experienced staff;
  • Need to hire and train new/temporary labor;
  • Damaged employee morale;
  • Investigation and legal expenses;
  • Governmental agency audits/fines;
  • Loss of management’s time; and
  • Negative publicity.

The risk associated with catastrophic vehicle-related losses is on the radar of underwriters who insure agricultural operations.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2016 was a deadly year on the roads with 37,461 deaths — a 5.6 percent increase over the number of deaths in 2015. In addition, vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related deaths, accounting for 24 percent of all occupational fatalities, according to the National Safety Council.

The silver lining in the NHTSA study is that more than 94 percent of accidents are caused by human error and are thus preventable with proper training.

For employers, the best preventative tools are careful driver recruitment and comprehensive driver and fleet safety education. The “gold standard” of driver training is the National Safety Council’s Certified Defensive Driver Courses, which are available in either a classroom setting or online. For employers that are unable to commit their workforce to the time and expense of an intensive certificate program, insurers and broker loss control and claims consultants can tailor short “tailgate talk” training sessions that focus on, amongst other things, the following topics:

  • Driver-selection tips;
  • Drug-and-alcohol testing protocols;
  • MVR-review policies;
  • Defensive-driving techniques;
  • Cell-phone usage;
  • Vehicle inspection and maintenance;
  • Accident response and investigation procedures;
  • Post-loss claim-mitigation strategies;
  • Driver-incentive and discipline programs; and
  • Mock DOT and OSHA audits.

Employers’ negotiating positions on auto liability, umbrella/excess and workers’ compensation program renewals are strengthened when they can demonstrate to underwriters the tangible steps they have taken to become a better-than-average risk. The potential return on investment? Objectively, a well-designed safety program that has achieved meaningful reductions in auto and employee injury claims can yield the following financial benefits:

  • Increased competition for the account as underwriters vie for quality risks.
  • The ability to effectively counter upward premium pressures.
  • The confidence to increase deductibles or retentions, thus lowering premiums.

Subjectively, employers will have a safer workplace and more contented workforce.

The farm labor contractor from the first scenario did not have a driver’s license and ended up being sued by multiple parties. He filed for bankruptcy and ultimately went out of business. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor sued the grower that hired him for violating worker safety and transportation laws.

The alcohol-impaired driver from the second scenario was sentenced to a mandatory 16-year prison term for gross vehicular homicide. His employer’s auto and umbrella liability coverage ended up paying out a multi-million-dollar settlement.

 

This whitepaper was featured in Insurance Journal’s Workers’ Compensation Newsletter on March 1, 2018 and published as an eMagazine on February 19, 2018.

Joe Dunn is the claim services manager, Mendez is a senior loss-control consultant, and Scott W. Dunn is vice president/risk advisor specializing in agribusiness, all of Pan American Insurance Services, a Relation company.

Neighbors are using their personal boats to rescue Friendswood residents in Houston during Hurricane Harvey.

Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle

Written by Kelly Tonsing

 

Each year, we watch in horror as unsuspecting folks—living normal lives similar to our own—are rescued from their rooftops via watercraft after their small town has been ravaged by natural disaster. Most recently, by Hurricanes Jose, Harvey, Irma, and Maria. In news interviews, residents express something along the lines of, “My family and I have lost everything,” or “There’s no way to understand this unless you’re here, living it.”

Do you wonder what happens to these people once the debris settles? Or how they rebuild and attempt to resume normal lives?

According to an article by the Wall Street Journal, only 50 percent of homeowners in Puerto Rico, who are currently facing mass power outages and destruction in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, have insurance policies protecting them from wind damage.

In Houston, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) data reveals only about 17 percent (1 in 6) of the homeowners most affected by Harvey have flood insurance policies. This 17 percent likely has—depending on their level of coverage—access to up to $250,000 to rebuild their homes and $100,000 to replace personal belongings.

The other 83 percent, or 5 out of 6 homeowners most affected, however, aren’t as fortunate—they’ve lost their belongings, their homes, and likely decades of hard work and savings, with nothing to show for it and likely no opportunity for short-term recovery. According to one Washington Post article, this group “will be dependent on private charity and government aid, especially grants from Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

Most people don’t realize that FEMA doesn’t pay individuals for any of their personal recovery; rather, they provide low-interest loans to homeowners who lack flood insurance if—and only if—the conditions satisfy FEMA’s specific definition of “flood” and a state of emergency is declared. Every penny of the federal loan must be paid back in full, with interest.

My name is Kelly Tonsing, and I’m a licensed insurance agent at Ascension Insurance, Inc. in North Carolina. As such, I frequently discuss flood insurance (and the lack thereof) with clients who have homeowners’ insurance. When I ask clients why they’ve opted out of such a crucial policy, I typically receive one (or more) of the following responses: “I just can’t afford it,” “My house isn’t in a flood zone,” or, my personal favorite, “I don’t need it—I live on a hill.”

I’m here to talk through each one with you.

I Can’t Afford It.

First, let’s talk about the cost of adding flood insurance to your existing homeowners’ policy. According to ValuePenguin, flood insurance policies purchased in 2017 through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)—a program established in 1968 by the National Flood Insurance Act (NFIA) allowing property and/or homeowners to purchase flood insurance directly from the federal government—averaged $56 per month. In Texas, home of Hurricane Harvey, 2017 flood-insurance premiums through NFIP were only $40 per month (that’s $482 per year—28 percent below the national average).

Other states on the lower end of the premium spectrum include Florida, which is currently experiencing the devastating consequences of Hurricane Irma, Maryland, Arizona, and Alabama. To clarify, rates have less to do with which state you live in and more to do with how far away from water you live and how much coverage you want. Private insurance rates may be even more competitive compared to those of NFIP’s.

According to FEMA, there are also other great opportunities for discounts and steps you can take to mitigate risk and lower your monthly flood-insurance premiums.

So, for the same cost as a monthly fast-food run for four, you could instead implement flood-insurance coverage, which—in the event of a damaging flood—would provide you the monetary support to rebuild your home and purchase new belongings (e.g., furniture, clothing, a television, etc.) for you and your family.

I Don’t Live in a Flood Zone.

This is one of the most common explanations I hear for not protecting one’s property from the possibility of flooding. According to FEMA, more than 20 percent of flood claims in the U.S. originate from owners of properties outside a designated “high risk” flood zone. According to an article by Maggie Koerth-Baker, senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight, that number in Houston is currently closer to 30 or 40 percent. She goes on to argue that the entire concept of the 100-year floodplain is misunderstood, and designated flood zones are “best understood as estimates—and not necessarily very reliable ones.”

Not sure if you live in a flood zone? Each year, FEMA publishes maps detailing flood hazards and showing flood risk levels “based on historical climate information and the best available science.” To check out the map for your area, click here. To view your area’s flood history, check out FEMA’s interactive visualization tool here.

I’m Safe—I Live on a Hill.

For those who live on a hill or atop a mountain, it is still wise to consider the possibility of flooding from rainfall. Consider my family’s personal anecdote: We own a mountain house located on the Blue Ridge parkway, a beautiful scenic highway in North Carolina and Virginia. Although located at an elevation of approximately 1,850 feet, the home incurred severe water damage from rainfall washing down the mountain.

Mudslides, caused by excessive rainfall, occur regularly in mountainous communities and have been known to completely wipe out homes’ walls and foundations. Without flood insurance, the full financial burden for necessary repairs after such an event falls solely on the shoulders of the homeowner. What would you do if your home in the mountains was severely damaged by rainwater flooding or a mudslide? Have you considered the potential financial devastation and how you might recover?

It’s time to take a serious look at flood insurance to protect you, your loved ones, and your property from one of the costliest natural disasters in the United States. Here are some startling statistics from Risk Analysis, An Official Publication of the Society for Risk Analysis:

  • “From 1996 to 2007, insured residential flood losses alone totaled over $26 billion (approx. $2 billion per year)”
  • “Average annual property damage cause by floods has increased 54 times over the last four decades, from $51 million in the 1960s to $2.77 billion per year in the 2000s (2000-2008).”
  • The authors use statistical evidence to argue that the flood problem in the United States will only continue to worsen, and property damage will intensify.

If you need more reasons to consider flood insurance, watch this story about two property owners who underwent the same natural disaster in 2009 and had very different experiences.

 

About the Author

Kelly Tonsing manages Ascension’s Personal Lines Practice in our eastern region. She is charged with the strategic direction of the department and for providing an excellent client experience to more than 10,000 policyholders. Upon joining the insurance industry, Kelly found her true passion and skill for leading others in a business built on the value of relationships. She enjoys writing blogs to share her knowledge of and experience in the insurance industry in an approachable and caring way. Connect with her on LinkedIn!

 

 

 

In July, The Lodi District Grape Growers Association and the Lodi Winegrape Commission held a grape harvest safety seminar for vineyard workers and supervisors to help prepare them for a safe 2017 harvest. Dan Castillo, senior loss-control consultant at Pan American, an Ascension Insurance company, presented and shared his expertise on safety-procedures for night harvesting. Click here to read the article.

Nut theft is no joking matter—it’s a significant and growing threat to California’s $9 billion+ nut-tree business. With more than 30 nut-theft events in 2015 compared to just one in 2009 and four in 2014, what once warranted only local agricultural area media coverage now garners national mainstream attention. The 2015 price tag? $4.6 million.

That’s enough of a hit to a vital California industry to make the state’s legislature sit up and take notice. Last year, both houses passed a bill—in record time—to establish a statewide, cross-jurisdictional “Agricultural Cargo Theft Working Group.” This funding mechanism would have activated and aligned numerous law-enforcement agencies in helping target these crimes, but Governor Brown unexpectedly vetoed the legislation on September 21, 2016. Additional legislation is in the works to increase criminal penalties for thieves from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Tailoring Insurance Coverage
In the event they are the victim of nut theft, growers should have a strong post-loss solution. As such, it’s important they work with an agent or broker with specialized expertise to ensure they have properly structured insurance placements. The analysis starts with contract review: Who bears the risk, and are there “handoffs” along the path from tree to processor to final end-user? Only when these terms are understood can insurance coverage be negotiated and implemented.

Why Steal Nuts?

  • They’re valuable: A truckload of nuts, especially almonds, walnuts, and pistachios, can range from $100-500K.
  • They’re in demand: Touted health benefits and drought have strained supply.
  • They’re not easily traced: Unlike electronics, nuts don’t have serial numbers!
  • They vanish quickly: By the time a theft is discovered, the nuts are often already on a ship or broken into smaller loads and dispersed to out-of-state destinations.

The following approaches are available to growers and distributors:

  • Commercial-Package Policy
    There may be some coverage for Business Personal Property Stock in Transit under the basic policy form. However, this transit coverage tends to cover only a limited number of perils, so relying on this extension could lead to an uncovered loss.
  • Cargo/Transit Policy
    Once the shipment is in the correct trucking carrier’s control, ensure the trucking carriers’ cargo policies do not exclude theft for any reason other than employee dishonesty, which is excluded by most cargo policies (this can be easily covered with a separate crime policy). Many trucking cargo policies will exclude or limit theft coverage if the vehicle is unattended or if a trailer is dropped. Additionally, consider requiring a crime policy to cover theft by employees of the trucking carrier (including theft by the dispatcher and/or the driver).
  • Stock-Throughput Policy (STP)
    An STP offers growers and distributors the most comprehensive protection: Goods are covered at all times whether they’re being moved, processed, or stored. An STP can be an “all risk” type of insurance policy that provides seamless coverage from end to end and protects against perils including earthquakes, floods, and contamination.

Pre-Loss Risk Control
Growers and distributors should do everything possible on their end to prevent a theft situation, but orchard premises security (i.e., fencing, cameras, a guard service, etc.), is not an end-all-be-all solution. Nut theft is more commonly an act of fraud rather than an act of force.

Perpetrators are often part of organized crime groups, using sophisticated technologies to hack into trucking firms and utilize Department of Transportation databases. “Drivers” show up with high-quality, legitimate-looking paperwork. These forged documents incorporate burner phone numbers and enable thieves to steal shipping information and to quickly move the product to the black market stream of commerce. The thieves, and their loot, become immediately untraceable.

Growers/distributors can take any of the following precautions to prevent theft:

  • Develop a relationship with a few select trucking carriers with whom a consistent protocol can be established to confirm the correct drivers are picking up the loads.
  • Ensure your computer systems’ security is state-of-the-art, and ask carriers about their data integrity.
  • Call the carrier on the phone number provided during the originally contracted shipment and not the phone number given on any shipping documents (given their potential fraudulent nature). Require those firms to advise detailed information at least 24 hours in advance of pick up.
  • Get each driver’s license number and thumbprint.
  • Photograph both the driver and his/her truck.
  • Consider using radio-frequency trackers to ensure the loads end up where intended.

Because of the potential high profits and low risk, nut theft continues to be alluring for thieves and a challenge for growers/distributors. Taking a 360° risk-management approach—contract review, insurance program design, and pre-loss prevention can go a long way towards minimizing or, at best, avoiding exposure to loss.

 

About the Authors

Greg Merrill is Senior Vice President and Director of Crop Insurance Services of our Pan American business unit. Greg has been helping agribusiness clients manage a wide range of operating risks for more than 13 years.

Andy Sharpe is Regional Transportation Leader for Ascension’s Transure business unit. For more than 15 years, Andy has focused on transportation risk management and insurance, and is a renowned industry specialist.