Thursday, October 1, 2015

Trick or Treat? A few safety tips to keep Halloween fun.

Halloween is a fun time of year for many people. Trick or treating, games, fairs, parties and other celebrations kick off the holiday season.

Staying safe and having fun are not incompatible goals on such a great night.

First, if you have been drinking, don't drive. Call a cab, get a sober friend, or find the number to MADD or SADD for your area. Some of the MADD or SADD local groups operate a taxi service to pick you up and take you home only if you have been drinking and need a lift.

Second, don't text and drive. It's Halloween, you want to post the photo of you in your costume on instagram, twitter and Facebook so your friends can see how scary, fun and cool you look. Do it before you get in the car or when you get to the next destination, not while you are driving. No one wants your last post to be your LAST POST.

Also, consider the following:

1. Don't go out alone. Have a few friends with you.

2. If you are with a group of children, make sure they walk, not run, to the next place. Many children trip and fall while running.

3. Watch out for face paint. Some of it is not FDA approve and it can also cause an allergic reaction.

4. Keep a flash light with you and try to avoid poorly lit or dark areas. Where reflective tape, glow in the dark costumes, etc. to help motorists see you. You can even get a flashing light to put on your belt.

5. Only eat treats from places you trust or that are in manufactures wrapping. Check for puncture marks and tears in packages. If in doubt, throw it out.

6. Keep pets inside and away from the front door if you are handing out treats. Pets that are startled or exited can move really quick. They may think the person in the costume is trying to harm you and get protective. If your back yard is difficult to access form the front, sides or rear fence, keeping them there can help, but they could jump the fence to join the fun.

7. Finally, watch out for candles, oepn flames, and light bulbs. Costumes can catch fire if too near a heat source. Bulbs that are on for along time can get hot.

So, go out, have fun and stay safe!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

What is Personal Injury Insurance and do I need it?

Personal injury insurance is a coverage available on many homeowners insurance policies that protects you if a legal action is brought against you because you post something online about them that is critical, insulting or untrue about them. The same goes for posting things in print. (Keep in mind that you have some medical coverage and liability coverage if someone gets physically hurt on the property.)

With the rise in social media, this has become more of an issue. While we enjoy the freedom to express our opinions on a wide range of topics, we are not free of the consequences of such freedom. If you have teens or children that are active on social sites, you could be liable for what they post too.

And it's not just social media. Consumer review sites are another possible source of trouble. There are many websites where a customer can review a companies products. Customers can also review restaurants, professionals, hospitals, just about anything you can think of on the web.

Where the problem comes in if you (or a member of your household)  posts something online that damages someone. This is called libel. Libel is the use of false, defamatory claims about someone in written or printed form. (from grammarist.com) There have been cases where people have been sued for reviewing someone on Yelp and other sites in a negative manner. The same has happened on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and many others. Perhaps you are a landlord and vent online about your tenant (not smart), who then sues you when a co-worker sees the post. Or you rent a property and are angry that the landlord or manager has not taken care of a matter and you fire off a searing tweet about them (it may be time to move).  There are many ways you could get in trouble for your temper. 

Personal injury coverage is a great option to have and can be added by most carriers for very little cost per year. And remember, you can voice your opinion, but you are not free of the consequences. Even if you win in court, you still have to pay court costs and lawyer fees. So try to keep it civil, accurate and maybe wait a few days before you post to cool off. It could save you a big headache. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Using Transportation Network Companies to make a little extra money? It could cost you alot.

There has been alot in the news about ride sharing apps, or as they have more recently been defined, Transportation Network Companies (TNC). These companies use apps for smartphones and other devices to connect passengers to drivers in the area. It can be cheaper to use a TNC than a cab.

So who are theses TNC's? The big names in the news have been Uber, Sidecar and Lyft, though there are others.

Here is how it works.

I sign up with one of these TNC's to be a driver. You are visiting my town and you need a ride. You go into your app and request a ride. I pick up your request on my app and come pick you up and take you to someplace more fun. You pay me through your app on your phone, the TNC and I split the payment per our agreement. Later when you want to go back to aunties, you do the same thing but someone else may pick you up and take you back unless I'm in the area and get the message first. As to the fee, the TNC is in charge of that. Uber may charge more one week and less the next in the same city. So might any other TNC.  I as the driver collect no money, unless you tip me in cash, and I do not have any control of fees. Some drivers have tried to circumvent this system, however.

Sounds easy right?

Here is the complication. If you are in an accident, do you have insurance? Well, you have your own personal auto policy, that should cover you, right? Maybe, maybe not. The problem is when you have the app open but have not accepted a passenger request. Some of the TNC's say that your personal auto policy  will cover you, however in checking with the carrier you may find out that they will not. Once you open the app you are engaged in a commercial enterprise, according to the carriers definition, and are not covered on a personal auto policy. At lease one driver in California found this out in a really bad way. I asked a few auto carriers I work with and none of them cover you while the app is open, even if it is a commercial policy. Check with your insurance provider to see how they would determine coverage.

Another problem is that taxi and traditional transportation companies have to meet state and department of transportation vehicle safety requirements. TNC's don't. California is the first state to enact regulations for these companies which will hopefully make them safer.

 Keep in mind that TNC's are pretty new as are alot of things in the age of mobile computing. It will take time for the TNC's, regulators, and courts to come to terms on them. By then we may have automated citywide cars that will come to you with the push of an app.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Have a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is for many a time to gather with family, friends and loved ones and enjoy each others company. Many reflect on what good things have happened in their lives over the last year and what they have to be thankful for.

We all have the humor of the holidays to share too. Like the time mom dropped the turkey on the floor and the dog took off with it. Or when the oven broke and you had to move everyone to another family members house on short notice. The cat got into the desert.

As you celebrate this great time of year, please remember to be cautious too. We all know that traveling can be dangerous and to watch out on the road, know when to say when, and maybe preparing for a few overnight guests is a good idea.

There are over 4,000 fires that occur nationwide on Thanksgiving day. Many of these were caused by carelessness and open flames. Some fires where minor, some not. "Touch" Football around the Turkey deep fryer is not a good idea. Setting the deep fryer up in the garage is asking for trouble too.

Here are a couple of ideas to make the holiday's a little safer:

Keep children and pets away from candles, fireplaces, stoves, fryers, and ovens.

Make sure that smoke detectors are working properly. 20% of residential dwellings that caught fire did not have working smoke detectors.

If you are deep frying your bird, read the instructions or go on line to sites like Food Network to find videos on how to deep fry a turkey and please, make sure it's thawed first!

Also, since it's getting colder now, make sure your heater is working properly. Change the filters, and if you have a space heater have it serviced. Malfunctioning space heaters are one of the top causes of fires in the winter time.

Check out the holiday safety tips at CAL FIRE. They also have a great video on you tube.

Remember, the holidays should be fun. A little caution may not avoid Aunt Wilma renewing her feud with Cousin Mary, but it can help keep everyone safe.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Halloween is not the only scary day this month.


October is here and with it there are many changes in the insurance world. 

The National Flood Insurance Program, NFIP, is being overhauled. In 2012 Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act. This legislation is intended to help with flood map updating, reauthorized the the NFIP for 5 years instead of one year and it also updates rates to reflect the true risk of flooding based on flood maps. 

It's the last that is the biggest issue. Under the previous rules many areas had rates that where subsidized or grandfathered in by NFIP. These rates did not take into account the changes in construction and disaster relief costs. When Hurricane Katrina hit, the funds in the NFIP where exhausted or nearly exhausted. After Katrina, the Midwest and other parts of the country flooded and continue to flood annually. With these repeated losses the NFIP had to go before Congress annually and ask for more money to insure properties in flood prone areas and to provide disaster relief. BW12 is meant to put money back into the NFIP's reserves and to help keep it from going into insolvency again. 

What this means to you is that if you have flood insurance, you may see your rates increase depending on where you live. It's no surprise that those that live along the coast and near rivers will see the biggest change in rates, but those of us more inland in low lying areas and near foothill run off areas may also see a more modest increase. 

What triggers the increase for existing homeowners is if your policy was originally placed on or before July 6, 2012. If so and you have kept your renewals paid on time, then you will have the current rates applied. If you let your policy lapse (you pay late) or you sell the property then you or the new owner will be rated with the new rates. If you have a non-residential property, a waterfront home, or a repetitive loss property,  then you may see up to a 25% increase in your flood insurance rates. When you sell your home you or the buyer will have to purchase an elevation certificate from a licensed civil engineer in your area in order to get flood insurance, unless you have a complete one already. Sometimes they are recorded with your county,  city or town.  If you or the buyer do not get an elevation certificate, you can still get flood insurance for one year at the new higher rate, however you will not be able to renew or get a new policy until you get an elevation certificate. If you are non-renewed, your lender will force place coverage which based on the rate increase will most likely be much higher than what you could get insurance for on your own. Changes in the flood map could also trigger a rate change. 

Currently there are a few bills in congress to postpone the price increases to allow time to study the impact they will have. With recent battle of the Congress vs. The White House  over the budget and debt ceiling, it may be some time before Congress gets to these bills.  If you want to reach out and touch someone, go to the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, find your person and send them a note. 

Health Insurance is another big change in October. Some of the exchanges are run by the state you live in, others have opted to go with the feds exchange. You can find more info at www.healthcare.gov and conveniently located near the bottom of the page is the spot where you can find your states health insurance exchange or if your state has opted to let the feds handle it. In California the site is www.coveredca.com and the plans are bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The higher the plan level, the more you pay monthly, but the less you pay for doctors visits, surgery, medications, etc. While the sites for many states and the Fed's have had trouble due to the volume of people using them, they are working out the kinks.  I mean who do you think designed these sites? Certainly not Amazon!

Yes, you can still have your employer sponsored plan if they have one, Yes, you can still buy your own insurance direct from a carrier or keep what you have, however some carriers are pulling out of the individual health insurance markets so you may have fewer options. There is a penalty if you do not have health insurance unless you meet certain conditions. Click here for more information on the penalty.  

I think I feel safer with the vampires, ghosts, werewolves and zombies than I do with the government. You know where you stand with a zombie. 




Saturday, July 6, 2013

Insurance Carriers Need to Adjust to Climate Change...That Could Mean Less Coverage, Higher Premiums



I just read an article at the San Bernardino Sun news paper that worries me. The article states that the California Insurance Commissioner is urging insurance carries to prepare for climate change.

Even if you don't believe in global warming, there is no doubt that there have been larger storms , large fires, floods and tornadoes each year. This is a huge problem not just for property owners and tenants, but for carriers too. They have had to make large payouts for these events. Add to that, carriers must also meet state solvency requirements and federal reserve requirements as well. That usually means that they have to be able to pay every policy they have placed, plus cover operating expenses (salaries, utilities, taxes, etc.) and have reserves. 

The California Insurance Commissioner, Dave Jones, sent out a survey to carriers asking about, among other things I'm sure, what carriers where doing to prepare for climate change. Of the 184 responses his department got back, only 23 had some kind of plan for dealing with climate change. You can read the article here

What worries me is that many carriers will stop writing policies in areas prone to wildfire, floods and other natural disasters, raise rates to incredible heights in those areas and that they will start placing more exclusions on coverage. Hopefully I am wrong. Only time will tell. 

Communities need to also prepare for climate change too. Increasing and maintaining flood control measures, enforcing brush clearing away from property, property owners keeping their buildings in good repair, and taking many other steps to prepare for natural disasters in their communities will all help. While it won't keep buildings and lives from being damaged or worse, it will make getting back to normal much less costly and time consuming. 





Sunday, June 30, 2013

Online Quotes - Some Points to Consider

It seems I can't watch anything on TV these days without at least 4 insurance commercials coming on. Some of them are pretty good, others offer you "anonymous" quotes from their websites or talk about all the discounts you can get by bundling everything with one carrier. I always thought bundling had more to do with rope than insurance.

While online quotes are great, they are quick, you can pick and choose your coverage, you can get several of them in a short time, there are some disadvantages to them that you, the customer, should watch out for.

First, they rely on you to put in accurate information. I'm not saying  that you don't pay attention to detail, just that what that information means to the carrier and to you could be different. I know that when I talk to many of my clients they will say "...the house is about 1800 square feet." For the carriers, there is no about, what is the exact square footage. If it's 1820 and you put 1800 this causes a little problem which the carrier may adjust and charge you for later, or when you go to rebuild you may have to pay out of pocket for 20 square feet of master bathroom.

Second, how well do you know insurance terms? There are some I even have to look up. While some websites are helpful, the industry still has some ways to go on using clear lingo. If you answer x to a question that should have been answered y and something happens, you may not be covered.

Last, many of these online quotes are designed to be fast and simple, not accurate. So you get a great quote back from generic insurance website for $300 when everyone else quoted you $500. You jump on it. You go through the online buying process or call their sales department to lock up this great rate. You complete the process and are asked if you would like to pay your $800 yearly premium by credit card, check, payment plan or sacrificial first born.

So what happened to $300?! Well, during the buying process you should have been asked some questions. Your answers to those questions changed your coverage.

While online quotes can be a good way to see whats out there, you should be prepared for coverage changes at the end. A half our on the phone or a site that sends the information you provide to a licensed insurance professional to work up your quote and respond by e-mail can help take the tease out of those online teaser quotes and make the whole process less stressful for you.