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Workers Comp Rates Up 3%: Massachusetts Insurance Commissioner Julianne Bowler has approved a 3.0 percent overall average rate reduction in workers’ compensation rates, a savings of $32.6 million in premiums paid by employers. The new rates take effect in September.

The industry’s Workers Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau of Massachusetts had requested in March that rates be increased by 1.0 percent starting Sept. 1. The Division of Insurance brokered this 3 percent cut with WCRIB along with the attorney general’s office. Paul Meagher, president of WCRIB, said the bureau agreed to the 3 percent rate reduction in order to avoid a lengthy rate case and give employers and insurers additional time to prepare for the rate change.

This is the seventh reduction since 1994, over which period rates have dropped a cumulative 60 percent.

In a related matter, Bowler directed WCRIB to take steps to improve the quality of data that is submitted for future rate cases. She said she wants periodic independent data audits and the results of those reported to the department. The DOI has been questioning data submitted by American International Group. WCRIB omitted the AIG data from its filing due to the state’s concerns.

Boston Archdiocese Settles: The Boston Archdiocese has agreed to an $8.5 million settlement with an insurance carrier that disputed the Catholic archdiocese’s claims related to payments to clergy sex abuse victims. The carrier, St. Paul Travelers, also agreed to waive certain premiums the archdiocese would have owed.

The archdiocese said some of the contested claims with St. Paul were part of the $85 million settlement with 541 abuse victims in September 2003. Negotiations with St. Paul began shortly after the settlement, the archdiocese said. In March, the archdiocese agreed to a $20 million settlement with another insurance carrier, Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Company,

The archdiocese said the settlement with St. Paul means it’s now reached agreements on the abuse claims with its two major carriers.

There are approximately 170 claims still pending, according to Kelly Lynch, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.


Senate Backs Liability for Stations: To ensure that vehicle inspection stations have the level of liability coverage for any damage sustained to a vehicle while under the control of the inspection facility, Sen. Daniel Da Ponte (D), is sponsoring legislation requiring inspection stations to maintain a minimum of $25,000 liability coverage, and to have a copy of that policy on the premises.

The bill, (2005 – S0951A), was approved unanimously by the Rhode Island Senate and has been sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

“This is a consumer protection bill,” said Da Ponte. “Stations need to carry liability coverage that is consistent with the potential for damage, and $25,000 is a fair and appropriate number, especially considering the value of many of today’s vehicles.”

The Da Ponte legislation is a companion bill to one sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. William San Bento Jr. (D-Dist. 58, Pawtucket, North Providence). That bill, (2005 – H5359aa) , was approved this week by the Rhode Island House of Representatives. It is currently before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Housing and Municipal Government.


Insurer Gets Claim for 20 Heifers: Vermont State Police are investigating the theft of about 20 heifers from the Chaput Family Farm in North Troy between February and earlier this month. Farm owner Reg Chaput said he suspected theft in February, but didn’t report it because he wasn’t sure if discrepancies in a cattle count represented theft or an inventory error. The farm has 200 animals in the barn where the theft occurred and about 1,600 cattle overall, Chaput said.

More heifers, which are young bovines that have not yet borne calves, went missing between April 17 and May 11, when farm workers conducted another inventory and noted a shortage. The thefts must have taken place during daylight hours because a nearby home has dogs that would have barked if people intruded in the night, Chaput said

“It’s not like a petty theft in a store. There has to be a farmer that’s willing to take them. It’s a little bit coordinated,” Chaput said.

Each heifer was worth $1,400. The loss was insured. “The downside is the insurance company counted this as two claims,” Chaput said. “We really hate making insurance claims.”

He said he can’t lock the door against intruders because that would make it hard to evacuate the cows during a fire. “We put in motion detectors and we’ll probably put in surveillance cameras,” he said.

Sale prices for cows have gone up because cattle imports from Canada are banned due to mad cow disease fears, making thefts more tempting, Chaput theorized.


Workers’ Comp Writers Seek 16% Hike: The New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board has submitted a filing for an average 16.1 percent rate increase effective Oct. 1, 2005. This filing came at the same time that the board withdrew its bid for a 9.5 percent increase.

NYCIRB originally sought last year a 29.3 percent increase in workers’ compensation rates, which was rejected by the New York State Insurance Department in July 2004. The insurers’ rating bureau subsequently reduced its request to 9.5 percent but the department never approved that either. A public hearing has not yet been scheduled for the latest 16.1 percent proposal.

Senate Confirms Mills: The New York State Senate confirmed Governor George E. Pataki’s nominee, Howard Mills, as Superintendent of the New York State Insurance Department. Mills has been serving as acting superintendent since January 2005. Mills succeeds Greg Serio, who resigned to take a job with a consulting firm headed by former U.S. Sen. Alphonse D’Amato.

Mills was a New York State Assemblyman, representing Orange and Rockland counties, for three terms (1998-2004) and served as that chamber’s Deputy Minority Leader while also sitting on the Assembly’s Banking, Housing, Insurance and Ways and Means Committees.

He was first elected to public office in 1989, winning the first of two terms as a Councilman in the Town of Wallkill. Mills was elected Wallkill Town Supervisor in 1993 and re-elected to that position in 1995 and 1997.

The Superintendent of Insurance is responsible for the monitoring and regulation of more than 1,000 insurance companies with total assets exceeding $2 trillion. The position, which has an annual salary of $127,000, also includes oversight responsibility for more than 100,000 brokers, agents and financial intermediaries and the management of approximately 1,500 department employees.


Ruling Allows Gays’ Consortium Claims: A judge’s ruling that a same-sex couple can sue for a loss of consortium could expand rights for gays in New Jersey. Superior Court Judge James S. Rothschild Jr. ruled that Judith Peterson and Linda Henry of Fair Lawn can continue their claim against St. Barnabas Health Care System, Clara Maass Medical Center and five individuals.

Henry, a former paramedic at Clara Maass in Belleville, claimed she was forced to endure a hostile work environment as a result of her gender and sexual orientation, and suffered retaliation after she reported misconduct by co-workers. Henry said those actions led her to suffer a heart attack and other health problems that led her to neglect Peterson, her partner of nine years.

Peterson and Henry filed an affidavit of domestic partnership last August. In legal terms, loss of consortium is defined as the inability of a spouse to engage in normal marital relations. Up to now, only married couples have been permitted to sue for loss of consortium.

“The most important aspect of the decision is that domestic partners will no longer be treated as second-class citizens,” said Clark E. Alpert, a West Orange lawyer whose firm represents six plaintiffs including Peterson and Henry. “The intent of the Legislature and rationale of Judge Rothschild are that domestic partners have the same rights as other citizens.”

In his ruling, Rothschild cited part of New Jersey’s Domestic Partnership Act, passed last year, to justify broadening “the universe of plaintiffs” who are allowed to bring similar lawsuits.

Auto Insurance Savings Tallied: New Jersey Banking and Insurance Acting Commissioner Donald Bryan recently reported that during the last two years 64 percent of auto insurance policyholders have received rate reductions or special dividends. Since the auto insurance reforms of 2003, 17 insurers have returned nearly $334 million to the drivers of more than 2.2 million vehicles.

Since the reforms, 29 rate decreases or special dividends by 17 auto insurers have brought more than $333.9 million in savings to policyholders. So far this year, 10 auto insurance companies have made 11 rate reduction filings to save policyholders more than $33 million. Recently, the following auto insurers received approval for rate reductions: Selective Insurance Company, AIG subsidiary American International Insurance Company of New Jersey, Chubb, Parkway Insurance Company; Amica Mutual Insurance Company and New Jersey Citizens United Reciprocal Exchange.


Agency Sued Over Flood Advice: An insurance agency that allegedly failed to tell a beverage company that its warehouse sat in a 100-year flood plain is being sued by the beverage company, which later suffered an $8.4 million in flood damages.

Latrobe-based LeNature’s Inc. recently filed suit against Pittsburgh-based Seubert & Associates Inc., claiming the agency didn’t recommend that the beverage maker buy coverage from the federal National Flood Insurance Program. LeNature’s needed that coverage because its Youngwood facility sat in a flood plain, according to the Westmoreland County Court lawsuit.

During the September floods caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan, floodwaters destroyed tea leaves and supplies stored at the warehouse, the lawsuit said. It said the company lost several million dollars because of business interruptions caused by the flood.

Because of the flood plain issue, the company’s insurance carrier, Continental Casualty Co., of Chicago, refused to pay a claim on the company’s business interruption policy, LeNature’s said.

LeNature’s is seeking punitive damages and the return of a substantial portion of $1.6 million in premiums it paid to Seubert and Continental Casualty.


Governor Vetoes Surety Bonds Bill: Insurance companies praised Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) for vetoing legislation that would have elevated the trigger point for when surety bonds are required on municipal projects.

According to the American Insurance Association, the measure (SB 324) would have exposed the state to a greater likelihood of loss on public works projects by raising the state’s threshold for when surety bonds are required from $100,000 to $200,000, making it the second highest level in the country.

AIA lobbyists said that signing the bill into law would have hurt small and emerging contractors and suppliers, and exposed the state to a greater chance of loss with no recourse.

“Members of AIA write most of the surety bonds for public and private projects in the state of Maryland,” stated Taylor Cosby, AIA vice president, Mid-Atlantic region. “It is important for small and emerging contractors to have the opportunity to compete for these types of projects, and doubling the threshold on when a payment and performance bond is required on a public construction project will not accomplish that goal. In fact, SB 324 ran counter to this objective by encouraging small contractors to potentially overextend their resources.”

Doctors’ Med-Mal Checks Mailed: Doctors in high-risk specialties whose malpractice premiums increased as much as 33 percent this year are getting some financial relief from malpractice legislation passed by the General Assembly last December.

Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society, which insures most Maryland doctors, said that third-quarter invoices will reflect the subsidy provided by the General Assembly to hold the premium increase to a maximum of 5 percent. Physicians who paid the full premium at the beginning of the year will have the option of getting a rebate or applying the subsidy to next year’s medical malpractice premiums.

“The doctors of Maryland desperately needed the premium relief created by the Maryland General Assembly, and we are very pleased that everyone was able to work together to make sure that they received the full amount of the subsidy at this time,” Dr. D. Ted Lewers, chairman of the Medical Mutual board, said.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich freed up the money after Democratic leaders had complained repeatedly that the administration was dragging its feet on making the $27 million for the subsidy available. But administration officials said they had moved as quickly as they could to make the money available.


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