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Daniel T. Murray Blog: insurance

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For most of us, the act of driving is part of our daily routine; it feels like second nature. But safe driving requires our focus and attention. Left-hand turns top the list of the most challenging and dangerous driving maneuvers. In 2013, 31% of Arbella Insurance Group’s severe accidents—claims totaling at least $100,000 in bodily injury and property damage—involved a left-turning vehicle.

As those with the largest set of crash data, the insurance industry has a responsibility to better educate consumers on the risks of left turns and other dangerous driving moves. Municipalities should also work to build and restructure roads and intersections to lessen the risk for drivers. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that nationwide, 53.1% of crossing-path crashes involve left turns. Additionally, a study by New York City transportation planners found that left turns were three times as likely to cause a deadly crash involving a pedestrian.

The reason left-hand turns are so dangerous is because the act itself disrupts the flow of traffic. Drivers must gauge the speed and distance of oncoming cars, cross the opposite lane, and watch for pedestrians or bicyclists—many of whom are becoming increasingly distracted themselves, largely due to cell phones. All driving, but particularly left turns, requires vigilance to other drivers’ movements in addition to just your own. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that close to half of the 5.8 million car crashes in the U.S. are intersection-related and the majority of those are the result of making a left turn.

So what can we in the insurance industry do to help mitigate the risks associated with left turns? We must communicate the risks involved with left-hand turns and encourage our insureds to make the maneuver as safe and risk-free as possible. This can be done by sharing safety information through social media targeted at customers and independent agents. Content for these communications can include recommendations for using intersections controlled by left-turn arrows, jug handles or rotaries; paying close attention to distracted pedestrians; staying alert when combating the sun or oncoming headlight glare; and paying close attention to other vehicles’ speed and actions, rather than anticipating what they will be. Also consider communicating the benefits of eliminating left turns from daily driving routines—the average commuter may be surprised to know that research shows consecutive right turns are faster and more fuel-efficient. This can be especially impactful to commercial customers who are better able to regulate the routes and movements of their drivers.

Could the future of driving be free of left turns? Perhaps, but it’s unlikely. Thankfully, vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology (V2V)—the dynamic wireless exchange of data between nearby cars—has reportedly advanced to such a degree that the NHTSA could start requiring it in all new vehicles as soon as 2020. Having this technology on the road could prevent as many as 592,000 left-turn and intersection crashes a year, saving 1,083 lives. But until these vehicles are the majority on the highway, left turns will continue to pose serious risks to drivers, and we need to continue to mitigate those risks through increased communication and improved engineering on all roads across the United States.

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Posted 11:12 AM  View Comments

America's most notorious insurance schemers have earned leadership of their moral wasteland by induction into the Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame.

The No-Class of 2014 was chosen by the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. The Shamers come with a warning sign: “Do Not Touch: High Revoltage.”

They represent the most brazen, vicious or klutziest insurance cons of last year. Small wonder; they inflicted costly fakes and pains on consumers and insurers throughout the nation.

America's pharaohs of fraud possess an uncanny drive to connive in pursuit of the immaculate deception. But the newly inducted meaculprits received a loud break-up call: They were convicted last year thanks to the tireless efforts of fraud fighters.

The Hall of Shame draws public attention to an $80-billion annual fraud spree that many consumers and policymakers think is a harmless and victimless crime.

Most Americans are honest, but unacceptably large percentages tolerate fraud — a kind of outrage deficit disorder, research shows. The Hall of Shame presents true-life stories to convince more consumers that insurance fraud is deviant and intolerable behavior.

Storytelling is humankind's oldest and most-effective form of communication. Our brains are biologically wired to think in narratives. Stories also are 20 times more likely to be remembered than hard facts.

Humans thus have fashioned stories to interpret and remember events since the first cave people sat around the campfire to talk about the day's woolly mammoth hunt.

Herewith is the hunt for the Coalition's newest moral invertebrates, the No-Class of 2014:

Dr. Spyros Panos | Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Malpractice Fraud

The orthopedist made more than $35 million in false claims for thousands of botched and faked surgeries. He rushed up to 20 surgeries in a day — as many as orthos normally perform in a month. One surgery lasted seven minutes.

Panos bounced from operating room to operating room in quick sequence. He performed substandard surgeries, or just sliced open patients and stitched them up without making repairs. Panos also billed routine arthroscopic procedures as expensive open surgeries.

Christine Steele had two useless knee surgeries and has been unable to work full-time ever since.

Chris Hanson never recovered after three surgeries, including two knee repairs. He can't work at age 55 and has trouble walking. Panos also operated on both Achilles tendons of a senior. She is in constant pain and can't even play with her grandchildren.

Panos received 4½ years in federal prison and faces about 260 malpractice suits.

Angela Garcia | Cleveland, Ohio
Insurance Fraud

Garcia let her infant daughters, Nyeemah and Nija, die in a house fire she set for just $64,000 worth of insurance money. Garcia had overvalued the contents of her home on a renter's insurance claim.

She made claims for possessions she didn't have. Garcia also removed valuables before the fire. The girls had died of smoke inhalation by the time firefighters pulled them from their upstairs bedroom.

Garcia tied Nyeemah with the cord from a window blind to keep her from escaping the fire, prosecutors charged. She showed no grief or other emotions, freely socialized afterwards, and filed her claim within weeks of the girls’ deaths.

The fire may have started from an unattended candle in the dining room, Garcia claimed. Yet arson investigators found two burn patterns started by a flammable liquid.

Garcia also said she crashed through a second-floor window and slid down the porch roof to the ground. Yet she had little or no soot on her, and required no treatment for smoke inhalation. Nor did she have cuts from shattering the windowpanes.

Garcia no longer wanted her children and had tried to give away custody, prosecutors also charged. She was convicted of insurance fraud and killing the kids. Garcia received life in prison.

Andy Lee House | Galveston, Texas
Insurance Fraud

House drove his rare Bugatti Veyron into a swampy lagoon to collect $2.2 million. He told his insurer that a low-flying pelican forced him to swerve off the road into the muck.

But a car enthusiast just happened to be driving by and was awed by the sleek Bugatti. He videotaped House roaring into the lagoon. The video shows no pelican in sight. Nor were there skid marks or other evidence that House tried to brake.

He also left the engine running for 15 minutes in the lagoon. The salt water filled up the engine and ruined the vehicle. House lied that he was too busy fighting mosquitoes to turn off the engine.

The Veyron is one of the world's fastest street-legal production cars. It has an everyday top speed of 213 miles per hour — and was built to reach 253 mph. Only 300 were made. House pleaded guilty and faces up to 20 years in federal prison when sentenced.

Fraud fighters created an escalator of evidence that led this year's shamers to certain justice. Americans now have more benchmarks of bleak to illustrate this crime's rule of flaw and disorder.

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Posted 11:11 AM  View Comments

In the United States, it has been a relatively quiet year for catastrophes. There were wildfires along the West Coast earlier in the year; the earthquake in Napa Valley, Calif., in August; and flooding in the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. The recent Polar Vortex that blanketed much of the country and dropped more than five feet of snow in some areas has also done extensive damage in terms of collapsed roofs and structures. Flooding from the melting snow may produce secondary damage for many homeowners.

No one can be totally prepared for everything, but taking steps before a disaster strikes can minimize the impact for insurers and their policyholders.

Here are some recommendations to help prepare for a wide variety of catastrophes.

General Preparation

  • Prepare a photo inventory of your home or office. Go room by room and take digital photos of the contents. Pay particular attention to antiques, unique works of art, office equipment and any irreplaceable items. Jewelry, furs, expensive “toys,” electronics, collections (i.e., stamps, coins, dolls, pottery, etc.) should be catalogued and may require their own policies depending on their value. Memories become fuzzy and establishing the value of heavily damaged items becomes a challenge after the fact.

  • Monitor the weather either with alerts on your desktop or phone, or on the television. This will keep you abreast of possible storms, hurricanes, snowstorms and tornadoes, so you can contact your policyholders, prepare your office and move resources into position for after the weather event.

  • Select several key news outlets like one of the major networks, the Weather Channel or several local news stations around the country to track breaking news of storms and other disasters so you’re notified as soon as possible.

  • Create an emergency disaster kit with items like batteries, bottled water, canned goods and a can opener, matches and flashlights in case a disaster hits with little notice. Most people have these items in their homes, but tracking them all down when the lights are out can be a challenge.

  • Prepare a file with all insurance policies, the photo inventory, names of contractors — e.g., roofer, plumber, electrician, disaster restoration company, etc. and keep this in a safe but accessible location.

  • Analyze possible threats to your business — i.e., fire, tornado, hurricane, earthquake, server crash, data breach, theft.

  • Determine how your company can and should respond to each threat.

  • Identify specific situations that put disaster plans in motion when facing a threat.

  • Create a plan in case a disaster hits without warning.

  • Involve your team in the planning and communicate often.

  • Identify vendors who can respond to a wide variety of perils, have the necessary training, expertise, equipment and insurance policies. Vet them in advance, check references and see what type of response times they can guarantee if a major disaster occurs.

  • Today's technology allows companies to be far more mobile than their predecessors, especially with proper planning, so consider taking your company mobile:

    1. Convert paper files to electronic files when possible.

    2. Set up several laptops to access agency management systems remotely.

    3. Create an employee phone tree with cell phone numbers, distribute the emergency numbers and test the process before a disaster hits.

    4. Investigate text communication options for your staff and clients. If feasible, gather client cell phone numbers and test the system regularly.

According to the Small Business Administration, roughly 40-60% of businesses never reopen following a disaster. “A business continuity plan is an essential factor of a small company's long-term success and will contribute to the community's economic recovery in the aftermath of a disaster,” says Maria Contreras-Sweet, administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

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Posted 11:11 AM  View Comments

In order to keep clients safe despite inclement winter weather, we're continuing with the list of guidance and advice to reduce property damage in the event of severe winter conditions. Read on for guidance for navigating the extreme temperatures and snowfalls.

Prevent Roof Collapse

Parts of the country have already experienced significant snowfalls this year before the winter season has officially begun. With a long winter ahead, homeowners and business owners should be aware that intense snowfalls and accumulation can put strain on a roof, causing damage, and potentially, a collapse.

Unless the roof structure is damaged or decayed, most residential roofs should be able to support up to 20 pounds of snow per square foot of roof space before becoming stressed. But homeowners should also know how much snow and ice weighs in order to gauge the level of risk.

According to IBHS, the following conditions correspond to the following weights:

  • Fresh snow: 10 to 12 inches of new snow is equal to one inch of water, weighing approximately five pounds per square foot of roof space. Therefore, the average home could endure up to four feet of new snow before becoming stressed.
  • Packed snow: Three to five inches of old snow is equal to one inch of water, or approximately five pounds per square foot of roof space. Anything more than two feet of old snow could be too much for a roof to handle.
  • Total accumulated weight: Two feet of old snow and two feet of new snow could weigh as much as 60 pounds per square foot of roof space, which is beyond the typical snow load capacity for most roofs.
  • Ice: One inch of ice equals one foot of snow.

 Prevent Ice Dams

 While the heat from the home may be comforting as the wind swirls outside, it is important to consider that during freezing weather, the heat from a home or business can escape through the roof and melt the snow that has accumulated there. That snowmelt can trickle down to the roof’s edge and refreeze, creating an ice dam that leaves additional snowmelt with no place to go but under the roof.

While this could lead to disastrous results, IBHS recommends the following tips for reducing the risk of ice dams:

  • Keep all drains, scuppers, gutters, and downspouts free of debris and vegetation that may restrict proper flow.
  • Remove or relocate heat sources that are installed in open attic areas directly under the roof, such as an attic.
  • Insulate light fixtures in the ceiling below an unheated attic space.
  • If you have penetrations into the attic, such as vents, seal and insulate them so that daylight cannot be seen and airflow is minimal.
  • If ice dams form around the drains, connect heating cables to the drains to prevent ice buildup. Heating cables can also be placed on the roof, connecting them to the drainage system so a path is created for the melting ice to fall.

Prevent Frozen Pipes

Frozen pipes can put homeowners at extreme risk for property damage. A burst pipe can result in more than $5,000 in water damage, according to recent IBHS research.

In order to prevent a costly water damage bill caused by frozen pipes, IBHS recommends that homeowners and business owners provide a reliable back-up power source to ensure continuous power to the building. Furthermore, attic penetrations, wall cracks, and windows should be properly insulated and sealed.

By installing insulation or heat trace tape with a reliable power source on various wet sprinkler system piping, homeowners can further prevent freezing pipes. This also includes main lines coming from the underground, passing through a wall, as well as sprinkler branch lines.

Finally, homeowners should consider placing a monitored automatic excess flow switch on the main incoming domestic water line. This will provide early detection of a broken pipe or valve when the space is unoccupied.

Install Weather Stripping and Seals

Stay warmer and keep your heating bills lower by installing weather stripping and seals to prevent freezing temperatures from infiltrating the home. Doing so will help keep severe winter weather out of the home or business, but will also increase energy efficiency by limiting drafts and reducing the amount of cold air that may enter the building.

Windows and doors, vents and fans, plumbing, air conditioners, electrical and gas lines, and mail chutes are just some of the areas home and business owners should inspect for leaks.

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Posted 11:10 AM  View Comments

With Buffalo, N.Y., buried under nearly six feet of snow, and a new band of storms expected to bring an additional three feet within the next few days, winter has arrived a month early.

Across the U.S., many regions are battling freezing temperatures and extreme weather conditions. And while the snow may be beautiful at first, the intensity and severity of recent weather events can be dangerous by inflicting personal injury, but also property damage.

Forecasters predict another cold and snowy winter season, homeowners and business owners must stay informed and take proper precautions to keep their homes and businesses safe.

“With this early onset of severe winter weather, please take the time to understand the various winter weather alerts and stay tuned to the National Weather Service advisories,” said Julie Rochman, president and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).

“We encourage residents and business owners to take steps now and use IBHS’ recommendations to protect your home or business today and be prepared. It could be a very long winter season,” Rochman said.

In order to keep clients safe despite inclement winter weather, IBHS has compiled a list of guidance and advice to reduce property damage in the event of severe winter conditions. Read on for guidance for navigating the extreme temperatures and snowfalls.

Stay safe and warm

While alternative heating, such as wood stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces, are a great way to keep warm during chilling temperatures, it does come with risks. Advise clients to take proper precautions and do their research before selecting, installing, or using an alternative heat source. See IBHS’ tips and considerations for using alternative heat sources to keep clients safe this winter.

Plan for a Power Outage

Heavy snowfalls and high winds have the potential to damage power lines. Inclement winter weather can be a recipe for widespread power outages, and it is important that families prepare for possible outages. Considering alternative sources of heat, while also keeping flashlights, batteries, and non-perishable food items handy will be helpful in the event of an outage.

Come back next week to read the rest of the tips we have to share!

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Posted 11:10 AM  View Comments

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Daniel T. Murray, Inc.
19150 Wolf Road  Mokena, IL  60448


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Serving Mokena, Frankfort, New Lenox, Tinley Park, Orland Park, Orland Hills, Manhattan
and surrounding communities in Southern Cook and Northern Will counties.