October ranks tops for hurricanes; Keep your defenses up

October in Florida means fall has officially arrived, according to the calendar. But not according to the temperature. There is no frost on the pumpkin. (It’s dew from the high humidity.)

Many people think that when the summer is over, it takes hurricane season with it. Nope. The National Hurricane Center says that peak hurricane season extends through late October. And, an article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reiterates that by pointing out the 19 hurricanes that picked October to descend on Florida over the past 150 years.

I like this chart below from NOAA that looks like red-hot flames. It seems fitting since October is red hot for tropical storm activity.  peakofseasonThere are no storms brewing in the Atlantic now, and everyone is obviously thankful.

But Hurricane Season 2014 is not over yet.

Preparedness knows no season, so don’t let your guard down.

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No “last call for alcohol;” Call for a cab

A universal truth is something that everyone acknowledges as valid. So, should it be a universal truth that it is dumb to drive drunk? Drunk drivers do dumb things, and it’s killing them. Sometimes, they injure or kill others, too.

There was yet another wrong-way crash on the interstates around Tampa Bay this week. That means 11 people have died this year in crashes associated with drivers going in the wrong direction. Most of these incidents involved the use of drugs and alcohol, say law enforcement officials. And, many of the impaired drivers were under the age of 30.

72407,xcitefun-scary-crash-002According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the percentage of drivers in fatal crashes who were alcohol impaired was highest for 21- to 24-year-olds — at 32 percent. The next highest category is the next age group: Drivers between 25 and 34 years old were responsible for 29 percent of fatal crashes.

Alcohol-impaired drivers account for one out of three highway deaths, and that’s a drunk driving statistic to keep top of mind when the bartender asks, “What will you have?”  Order a cab.

Posted in Car Crashes, Driving Safety | Leave a comment

Life insurance is a lifeline for small business

If you own a small business, there is a lot riding on you. And, if the business has a few key employees, they may be equally irreplaceable. Every one of you has prime value to operations, and losing one highly valued individual may cause a major setback. That’s why it’s part of a smart business strategy to make an investment in life insurance. Losses from the death of a key employee are insurable.

Key employee life insurance pays a death benefit to the company when a key employee dies. Such a policy is typically owned by the company, which pays the premium and is named as the beneficiary. Having this insurance protection allows the business to regroup after a loss. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, only 22 percent of small businesses have key person life insurance.

There are several types of key person policies — and each is surprisingly affordable. Cost depends upon the age and health of the employee, of course. For example, for as little as $500 a year (or less), you can get $1 million in coverage for key employees in their early 30s whose loss to the business would be catastrophic both personally and financially.

Live long and prosper is a well-known Vulcan proverb. Although the Vulcans are fictional, the fact is that living long and prospering are easy to wish for and only slightly more difficult to do.  Wishing doesn’t make it so; planning does.

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The stinks on you without sewer back-up coverage

Even if you don’t live anywhere near a pond, lake or the ocean, you can get water backing up into your house — from a sewer. This type of damage is typically excluded from a standard homeowners policy; it requires a separate endorsement.

It’s not a pretty picture to have a toilet backup. Not pretty at all, especially if the backup spills past the bathroom, down the hallway for several feet and seeps over your hardwood floors. What’s even uglier is finding out you neglected to buy sewer backup coverage.

There are two types of insurance for ground water damage, and they require either separate coverage or an endorsement to your policy. One is flood insurance, and the other is water backup or overflow from sump pumps. There are probably not a lot of sump pumps in Florida considering our lack of basements, but water does back up through sewers and drains, particularly when there are aging sewer pipes clogged with decades of tree roots.

Always get the sewer backup coverage – and learn how to protect your home from water damage.

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

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.


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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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