California earthquake shows importance of exercising insurance options

SACRAMENTO, CA — By now, you’ve heard there’s been a 6.0 earthquake in California, the first major quake in more than 20 years. The intensity rivaled past California quakes. I arrived in Napa on Monday afternoon, the day after the quake rattled buildings and nerves. My role here is to help spur recovery by being a resource to answer questions about the claims process and help people understand how their insurance works.

By most measures, this latest natural disaster is a moderate one. Of course, that’s not how it feels if the disaster affects you. The city of Napa is providing  status reports and so far, 116 homes have been red-tagged, meaning they are uninhabitable. And, 513 homes have been yellow-tagged, which means proceed with caution. Here’s something to put into the mix: Only about 6 percent of the homeowners in Napa buy earthquake insurance. What that means is those without insurance will have to pay for repairs and rebuilding on their own. Additionally, without earthquake insurance, a family whose home is uninhabitable won’t get reimbursed for additional living expenses that come from having to live elsewhere while a home is being rebuilt.

There are many reasons why people don’t buy optional insurance coverage, and the biggest is that too many think the translation of optional is “I don’t need this.” Another is that humans have short memories, and until we get a powerful reminder — such as a significant earthquake or epic flood — we let things slide. Yes, it’s your money that pays an insurance premium, and it’s your money that is protected when you have the right coverage and then disaster strikes.

No place in California is immune from earthquakes, and no place in Florida is immune from flooding or hurricanes. Both states have so many pluses, but never enough to outweigh the reality of paying heed to the risks.

 

Posted in Earthquake, Homeowners+Renters, Property insurance, Risk | Leave a comment

What ride sharing drivers and passengers need to know about insurance

Another innovation born of mobile technology is the move to a sharing economy. People like to connect, and many like to make extra money by sharing stuff they already own. That’s what ride sharing is all about.  It links people who need a ride with car owners who want to use their cars to bring in a little extra cash by chauffeuring strangers around town. It’s a business model that seems to fit in Florida where public transportation is often spotty and hailing a cab is simply not possible on every street corner, as it is in a metro like New York City.

Companies such as Uber and Lyft are launching in Florida, and if you’re interested in being either a driver or passenger, you should know if there are any liability risks  associated with ride sharing. No matter if you are behind the steering wheel or in the back seat, talk to your insurance professional to see if the coverage you have is sufficient protection.

For ride sharing drivers, you want to make sure there are no gaps in coverage. It may be that your own insurance offers primary coverage if an accident occurs, and the ride sharing company adds coverage on top of that. Or it may be that the ride sharing company offers coverage from the get-go. An important thing to know is how the coverage works if you are on your way to pick up a passenger and get into an accident. Who pays then?

Here is a VERY important reminder: Most personal auto insurance policies have an exclusion stating that liability coverage will not be provided if the vehicle is used as a “public or livery conveyance” – which is exactly what you’d be doing if you are a ride share driver. The exclusion does not apply if you use your car as a share-the-expense car pool. What’s the difference? One distinction is that the risk of shuttling strangers in a ride share situation is different from a daily commute with friends.

The good news is that insurance companies are starting to offer specialized products to fill any gaps associated with the new ride sharing ventures. And, the best way to know about them is to ask your insurer.

Ride sharing is not the same as taking a traditional taxi, and taxi and limousine drivers are understandably not welcoming of these new companies into what has been traditionally their business. Taxi drivers are licensed by the state, have training requirements and are subject to regulations from local transportation authorities.  The ride sharing drivers have none of that. More important, taxis and limos have insurance that protects passengers and others, such as pedestrians that could be involved in an accident.

Passengers who use ride sharing services need to be protected, too. If you own a car, you likely have coverage under your own auto insurance policy. If you don’t own a car, you might consider buying a “non-owner” auto insurance policy. These types of policies provide protection for bodily injury, property damage, medical payments and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

Wishing you safe travels – always!

Posted in Auto, Driving Safety, General, Liability Insurance, Ride Sharing | Leave a comment

20 minutes to Smartsville, Insurance Town USA

Let’s say you bought something that cost an average $1,900 each year and never took the time to figure out how it works. If you knew that in just 20 minutes you’d have it figured out, would you invest the time?

Investing time – and gaining confidence – in your insurance protection is exactly the point of the Insurance Information Institute’s new consumer email program. CHECK20 is an important new step in our mission to explain what insurance is and how it works. It’s easy, it’s free and its intent is to empower policyholders to be fully engaged in the insurance decisions affecting their family and finances.

CHECK20_270X100_LOGOWhen you sign up, you’ll get a newsletter every week offering tips on safety, preparedness and how to save money on insurance. The underlying current for this information is twofold: First is to have you spend 20 minutes each year reviewing your insurance coverage, and the second goal is to help you engage in a constructive dialogue annually with your Insurance Professional.

Knowing the basics of an insurance contract is vitally important. Your coverage is customized, and it must keep adapting to your current situation. It can’t do that stuck in a drawer somewhere. So pull it out, sign up for CHECK20, and be completely confident on your next chat with your insurance representative.

Posted in General, Homeowners+Renters, Insuring Florida, Saving money on auto insurance, Saving money on home insurance | Leave a comment

A view of insurance risk as peak hurricane season approaches

Some pictures speak a thousand words, some speak just one, and the single word isn’t always the same for everyone. Like many issues, it depends on perspective.

Take a look at this view from the 14th floor of a hotel on Clearwater Beach. At first glance, a one-word descriptor could be, “Beautiful,” immediately followed by a sigh and “Wish I lived there.” But if you look at this scene as an insurer, the first word to pop into your head would be, “Risky.” Very risky.

Like Florida itself, this tiny peninsula of land offers a snapshot of why our state embodies the seemingly contrasting characteristics of tropical beauty and tropical risk. These fingers of land, however, are not naturally occurring; they are manmade, so we did this to ourselves – and we keep on doing it.

To the right of where these single-family homes sit are a pair of high-rise condos, so risk grows across the land and upward. There is a very good chance these properties are insured by state-run Citizens Property Insurance, and the photo may help explain why Citizens won’t ever go away.

August is the peak time for hurricanes, and you should take a moment to review your property insurance to be financially protected from risks.

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NO FLASHERS: Florida rules of road for driving in rain

Somewhere in Florida, nearly every sunshiny summer day is interrupted by a thunderstorm – or a brief, blinding, monsoon-like downpour. I got caught in one on I-4 last week. Several drivers on the interstate had their emergency flashers on.

Why, oh why, are so many people unaware that it is illegal to drive with flashers blinking?  What are drivers trying to say by hitting the hazard button? (Yes, we already KNOW it’s raining!)

The smart thing to do if drivers consider torrential rain too dangerous to drive in (which it can certainly be) is to move over to the side of the road – or better yet, take the first exit off the interstate.

Another Rainy Day Driving Law: Whenever you need to use your windshield wipers, you also need to turn on the headlights. Not the parking lights or daytime running lights. Other drivers need to see these beacons of light through the rain. The Florida Highway Patrol has safety tips.

Spread the word that emergency hazard lights are for parked cars only, not those on the interstate or those surfing along any water-clogged roadway. Check section 316.217 of the Florida Statutes on traffic control.

Posted in Auto, Driving Safety, General, Safety | Leave a comment

Do older cars need collision coverage?

Let’s say the new-car smell wore off years ago, and the air freshener mimicking the scent can’t hide the stinky fact that your car’s best years are in the rearview mirror. You’ve always had full coverage, and that made sense then – but does it make sense now? Like so many things in life, the answer to that question is: It depends.

Your insurance company will only pay what your car is worth in today’s market. The decision on whether to keep comprehensive and collision coverage depends upon the car’s value. So, you have to do the math. A general guideline is that when auto insurance premiums reach 10 percent or more of what the possible claims payout would be, then it’s time to consider dropping comprehensive and/or collision coverage. But proceed with caution!

First, know the differences between the two coverages. Collision is self-explanatory; it’s for physical damage to the car caused by colliding with something. Comprehensive is for everything else, such as fire, theft, hail damage, vandalism, a broken windshield, a giant tree limb falling on your car – even flood damage. With a list like that, you can see that comprehensive coverage is worth keeping, for many reasons. Collision covers the dents in the fender – and worse. But if you wouldn’t repair a mechanical problem or major body damage because the car has little resale value, then you may want to drop the coverage. Again, the big caution is to first ask yourself what makes economic sense for your personal situation.

Don’t risk saving money on auto insurance today if there’s a good chance it will cost you more than you can afford down the road. In other words, choosing the lowest cost option could be costly! Do the math and consider what you gain by having better coverage, rather than what you may save by playing the odds that you could be untouchable on the highway and “unsuable” in court.

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Lightning Safety Awareness Week: Zap the myths

This is Lightning Safety Awareness Week , and we could all use a refresher course. Main lesson: If you are outside and hear thunder, get inside. Or, as the National Weather Service says, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!”

Separate the myths and facts. A few facts are these:

  • Lightning CAN strike the same place twice.

  • It can strike without clouds and rain overhead.

  • Your house is generally a safe place to be, but stay away from anything that conducts electricity to avoid a shocking reminder of exactly why.

  • High structures, pointy shapes and being “in the middle of nowhere” are lightning attractors.

  • Lightning speaks with a forked tongue. In other words, it can have multiple attachment points and can spread out some 60 feet after striking the earth.

Lightning demands your respect, so give it from afar. Florida leads the nation in the number of lightning fatalities, and the number of deaths in the first half of this year is already equal to that of 2013.

The Lightning Protection Institute is the place to go for information on protecting your property with protection systems. In Florida, we get more lightning strikes per square mile than any other state, particularly this time of year with tropical storms nearly a daily occurrence. Thankfully, we’re not in the top for the number of lightning-related insurance claims. Some of that may be due to damage amounts being small, such as when a TV blows out. It could also be related to renters who don’t have insurance, which is what happened when lightning struck an apartment complex in Tampa early this month, destroying 18 units and displacing residents.

Check out – and share – these lightning safety videos. Be safe!

This is Lightning Safety Awareness Week, and we could all use a refresher course. Main lesson: If you are outside and hear thunder, get inside. Or, as the National Weather Service says, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!”

Separate the myths and facts. A few facts are these:

  • Lightning CAN strike the same place twice.
  • It can strike without clouds and rain overhead.
  • Your house is generally a safe place to be, but stay away from anything that conducts electricity to avoid a shocking reminder of exactly why.
  • High structures, pointy shapes and being “in the middle of nowhere” are lightning attractors. 
  • Lightning speaks with a forked tongue. In other words, it can have multiple attachment points and can spread out some 60 feet after striking the earth.

Lightning demands your respect, so give it from afar. Florida leads the nation in the number of lightning fatalities, and the number of deaths in the first half of this year is already equal to that of 2013.

The Lightning Protection Institute is the place to go for information on protecting your property with protection systems. In Florida, we get more lightning strikes per square mile than any other state, particularly this time of year with tropical storms nearly a daily occurrence. Thankfully, we’re not in the top for the number of lightning-related insurance claims. Some of that may be due to damage amounts being small, such as when a TV blows out. It could also be related to renters who don’t have insurance, which is what happened when lightning struck an apartment complex in Tampa early this month, destroying 18 units and displacing residents. 

Check out – and share – these lightning safety videos. Be safe!

Posted in Lightning, Safety | Leave a comment

The right insurance keeps your boat afloat

Living in Florida means boating season never ends. With the right insurance protection, your boating days can be as carefree as a day at the beach. The type of insurance coverage you get depends upon the boat.

If you have a small boat, such as a canoe or kayak, you may have coverage under your homeowners or renters insurance policy. Coverage is usually about $1,000 or 10 percent of the home’s insured value. That amount of coverage includes the small boat, motor and anything you may use to tow it. It does not typically include liability insurance.

Extra liability coverage for boaters makes good sense. Some insurers exclude liability coverage for jet-skis under standard property insurance policies because of the high rate of accidents and injuries. Check with your insurer to see what’s covered and ask about additional protection that you can purchase through an endorsement. If you own a jet-ski or plan to rent one, check out our jet-ski safety video.

People who own small boats need to “go large” on safety. According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2013 Boating Statistics, eight of 10 boaters who drowned were in vessels of less than 21 feet. And, 84 percent of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket. Alcohol use is the leading contributor to boating accidents, along with operator inattention and inexperience. Not unlike the statistics for highways.

To cover physical loss for larger boats (and those valued above $1,000), you need broader coverage. With a watercraft policy or an endorsement to your existing homeowners policy, you’ll be covered for every type of loss or damage to your boat, including theft. There are a few coverage exceptions (such as normal wear and tear). Many boat owners choose a discounted package that covers the boat, motor and trailer.

Some people may decide to go without insurance on their boat because it’s paid in full, so no lender is “forcing” them to get coverage. That’s always an option, I guess, if you can afford to sink your investment. Back in 2004, when Florida experienced multiple hurricanes, you probably saw images of boats slammed together near marinas or flung into streets by high winds, resting a block from the ocean. I remember talking to a woman after Hurricane Ivan who said she had just sunk $10,000 into remodeling her yacht, which was found smashed to bits in a parking lot. “That’s not covered under my homeowners insurance, is it?” she asked. She knew the answer before asking the question, and now so do you.

Posted in Boats, General, Homeowners+Renters, Hurricane preparedness, Liability Insurance | Leave a comment

Definition of sanity means repeating hurricane season prep

It’s Hurricane Season, and here’s the drill:

Newspapers print their hurricane guides.
TV stations develop specials on preparedness.
County emergency managers host hurricane expos.
The director of the National Hurricane Center says Floridians are not well prepared.

Blah, blah, blah. Every year, it’s the same thing, and most people react by doing…..nothing. Until the last minute, of course, when a storm is barreling down too close to home, and there’s that crazy, mad rush to the grocery store.

It’s said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. That line has been credited to Albert Einstein and others. But whoever said it, it wasn’t a genius. Doing the same thing over and over again – in the name of hurricane preparedness – is sanity. To hold onto yours, each year you should:

  1. Review your insurance coverage.
  2. Consider getting flood insurance.
  3. Conduct a home inventory or update your existing inventory. Here’s a free online tool at www.KnowYourStuff.org.
  4. Visit your county’s website and see if you are in an evacuation zone. If you are, then develop a plan for evacuation.
  5. Tackle affordable home projects to prepare for high winds.

As you are well aware, the last hurricane to hit Florida was Hurricane Wilma in 2005. In the eight-year lull from devastating storms, what actions have you taken to be better prepared? If you can’t think of a single thing, then stop thinking and start acting. Doing nothing is certainly an option; it’s just not a good one.

At the very least, buy yourself some hurricane supplies during the sales tax holiday that runs from May 31 to June 8. It’s a start, and preparing for natural disasters is an activity that bears repeating.

Posted in Hurricane preparedness, Hurricanes, Property insurance | 1 Comment

When April showers are a deluge, flood insurance valued

“April showers bring May flowers,” as the saying goes. But it was no shower that hit Pensacola this week. It was a deluge. Some places in this Panhandle city reported 22 inches of rain within 24 hours.

Escambia County is in a state of emergency, and officials urged residents to be cautious as floodwaters were rising. Some roads are closed, and people are being asked not to drive around town. It may look like a few inches of water gently streaming over the roadway, but sometimes…..there’s no road under the water. If you have comprehensive coverage on your auto, you are covered for flood damage.

If it rains where you live, it can rain really hard – and for hours and hours. Again, we have another vivid example about why flood insurance is important coverage to have.

Average monthly rainfall in Pensacola in April is about four inches. Can you imagine getting five or six times the monthly rainfall in one day? Imagine it. It happens. It happened this week.

There was a photo posted about the flooding that showed water inside a Pensacola home as high as the doorknob. That’s about 3 feet of water. Even a couple of inches of water can cause major damage. Here’s hoping those homeowners had flood insurance.

If you’re curious about how many people in your county have flood insurance, here’s a math project for you. Locate your county’s number of flood policies from the FEMA website, then look at the housing data from the Florida Housing Data Clearinghouse. The housing data section has a chart headed “Year Structure Built,” and you’ll want that total number. In Pensacola, about 14 percent of homeowners have a flood insurance policy. Sounds rather low, maybe?

Yes, Florida has more flood insurance policies than any other state. We don’t have the highest annual precipitation; Hawaii does, ahead of us by 9 inches. A drop in the bucket, one that can be filled in a matter of hours.

Posted in Flood, Hurricane preparedness | Leave a comment