Archive for the ‘What happened?!’ Category

Ten Tips for Preventing a Disaster   Leave a comment

Insurance Dog

The Insurance Dogger has been keeping an eye on things in my absence!

Good afternoon!  Long time no write!

Sorry I’ve been so busy – working on quotes and assisting clients with claims has eaten up vast amounts of time in my calendar!

Just a quick list of things you can easily do to prevent a disaster from occurring in your home.

If you think there’s something I missed, feel free to email your idea to me:  scott@poleskyagency.com

1 – Turn off your water supply at the main valve into the house before leaving for vacation.

2 – Always use metal water supply lines for all fixtures, especially heavy water users like your dishwasher or wash machine – plastic lines corrode far too quickly and can be pinched or severed accidentally.  You can either use actual copper lines, or the metal-coated flex lines.

3 – Have your sump pump tested annually, preferably before the spring rainy season arrives.  If you don’t know how to do it, contact a local plumber to assist you.

4 – Check your foundation walls for cracks every six months, especially looking for cracks that run across the face of the blocks.  Cracks that follow the mortar/joints between blocks could be a sign of ordinary settling, whereas cracks across the blocks themselves could be an indication of pressure or other damage that should be closely monitored.  If you do see a crack developing, cover it with a small amount of caulk, joint compound or spackle, and check every few weeks to see how quickly the crack is spreading.  If it’s spreading quickly, or if it’s more than 1/4″ wide, contact a licensed foundation repair contractor immediately.

5 – Trim trees annually, especially those near the house.  Make sure to remove all dead branches, and to “balance” the tree as much as possible so it’s not producing branches primarily on one side of the tree.  Similarly, trim back all shrubs and other landscaping so it is at least a foot from the exterior walls of the house to prevent infestation by ants, termites, and other insects.

6 – Place splash pans or catch basins under your washer and hot water heater to catch leaks.  Make sure the pan drains to a nearby floor drain.

7 – Inspect your foundation walls annually for termite tunnels (which often look like small mud tunnels on the block).

8 – Add long down spout extensions to the end of your gutters to direct rain water away from the foundation of the house – a one inch rain fall drops approximately 650 gallons of water on an average roof!

9 – Install surge protectors on all of your electronics and, when possible, appliances.

10 – Test the batteries in all smoke detectors at least once per year, and keep at least one ABC rated fire extinguisher on each floor of the house and an additional ABC fire extinguisher in the kitchen.  Replace them as indicated, or after any use.

Bonus tip – be sure to have your furnace/boiler cleaned and inspected on an annual basis before cold weather hits – preferably in the summer so if something comes up, you are not paying “emergency” or “rush” fees to your repairman!

Oh, and Happy Flag Day!

american-flag-2a

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Pokémon GO Is a No Go While Driving   Leave a comment

Pokémon GO is a fun new app that is taking people’s phones by storm. The app has not been out very long, but the number of average daily users is close to that of Twitter. This app has even caused some big changes in the stock market, causing Nintendo’s overall worth to grow almost 8 billion in just a week’s time.  All of this excitement about the game has helped to give people even more of a reason to go “catch em all.”

Go logo

Many people have already started their journey to become a Pokémon master. This adventure begins with users wandering the real world with their phone in hand to hunt down all the Pokémon they can find. As a result, many users have been paying more attention to their phone than their surroundings. This of course has resulted in some Pokémon masters getting injured with scrapes, cuts, and even sprained ankles. Some players are even falling into creeks and holes. It may make you wonder, “How long until someone really gets hurt?”  The answer to that question is soon.

Recent reports and tweets suggest that a number of users have been playing Pokémon GO on the go. Driving and playing Pokémon GO is very dangerous. The Tennessee Highway Safety Office (along with many others) has already made a Public Service Announcement:

PSA

Along with this there are already reports of accidents occurring due to one or more drivers being on the hunt for Pokémon while they should be looking at the road. Texas A&M Police recently reported an incident where a driver got into an accident, because another driver illegally parked and left the car to catch a Pokémon.

Police tweet 2

Even though Pokémon GO may be a childhood dream come true for many, we all need to put down our phones and pay attention to the road while driving. Save a life and your Poké Balls until you are safely stopped and out of your car.

Some Wintery Insurance Tips   Leave a comment

Sammy Bo

Sammy Bo loves the snow!

Long time no post!  This El Nino winter has been a strange one here in Pittsburgh.  The on-again off-again wintery weather has kept us busy.    The Insurance Dogger loves the snow, so this winter has been an emotional roller coaster to be sure!

A month into winter and we’ve received an unusual array of claims for this time of year – of course we are seeing the normal frozen pipes, chipped windshields (salt wreaks havoc on your glass!), and sliding on ice.  But we are also seeing some unusual-for-winter claims as well – in particular, sewage backing up in basements, which is far more common in spring & early summer.  The heavy snowfall, followed by rapidly rising temps and even occasional rain showers has simply been too much for many sewage systems to handle.

All of this has gotten us to thinking, in light of some of the conversations we’ve had to have with clients, it’s time to do a brief update & post on choosing your insurance coverage – both home and auto. 

I can’t tell you how many times a client has told us they want to insure their cars or home “as cheaply as possible.”  Though this is a thought process we work very hard to counter, it’s not always feasible to adjust this mindset.  When you’ve had a claim is NOT when you want to find out that if you spent a couple extra dollars per month, you would have saved yourself a lot of heartache.

Once you’ve had a claim, you cannot backdate a change to your policy to provide you with the coverage you need – even if you offer to pay for the additional premium.

Here are a few coverage options to consider having on your policy to avoid stress & financial difficulty:

Auto Insurance

Comprehensive physical damage – do not confusion this with collision coverage, or “full” coverage.  As explained previously here on the Dog Blog, comprehensive coverage (in Pennsylvania) protects against things like glass damage, hail damage, fire, theft, flooding, or hitting a deer.  Even if you remove Collision coverage from your vehicle, we always recommend retaining Comprehensive on your policy, as it is a cheap way to provide protection against a number of different claims.

Rental Reimbursement & Towing and Labor – Again, previously explained on the Dog Blog, these two extremely inexpensive coverages will save you A LOT of stress in the event of a covered claim.  Towing & Labor, which provides similar benefits as AAA membership for a fraction of the cost, is a particularly useful during the winter months. It provides everything from jumping a dead battery to pulling your car out of a ditch after sliding on black ice.  Rental reimbursement pays you back for the use of a rental car (with policy-specific limits – ask your agent) in the event that a covered claim puts your car in the shop for an extended period of time.

Increased Property Damage liability limit – Did you slide on slushy roads and rear-end that brand new Mercedes driving in front of you?  We recommend all clients carry AT LEAST $50,000 of Property Damage liability coverage, if not $100,000 or more.  Sleep peacefully knowing that you have the protection you need if you damage an expensive car (or cars!) or home.

Homeowners/Renters Insurance

Sewer & Drain back up – Put simply, S&D B/U (as I call it) protects you in the event that sewage backs up through your floor drains or water overflows from your sump pump.  The coverage is available on both owners and renters policies.  Though this is more common in spring & summer – add it now to ensure A) you don’t get any nasty surprises during this unusual weather season and B) you don’t forget to add it before the spring rains start.

Preventing pipes from freezing – though not a specific coverage, preventing your pipes from freezing in winter is crucial to preventing an unforeseen catastrophe – especially if your power goes out!  Some useful links with more in depth information were provided last winter, but there are several easy things you can do to prevent your pipes from freezing during cold snaps.  If you know you are not going to be home for 24 hours or more, ALWAYS shut your water off at the main.  This prevents water from flowing continuously from a burst pipe.  If you have pipes closed up within a cabinet (like your kitchen sink), open the cabinet from time to time to warm things up – and leave the doors open during especially cold times (when temps drop below zero Fahrenheit).  If your power goes out during a storm or a cold snap, turn all faucets on exterior walls on to a slight drip to ensure the pipes don’t freeze.

Identity Theft – OK OK, identity theft has nothing to do with winter weather, but especially during the Christmas shopping season, it bears repeating that the $20-30 per year that you spend on identity theft is money extremely well spent.  In 2014 alone, nearly 10% of all Americans were a victim of identity theft.  If that’s not enough to motivate you, consider that nearly 15% of identity theft victims suffered a direct financial loss of at least $1,000.  At $20 per year, it would take 50 years to make up the difference with premium savings to cover a $1,000 loss!

To summarize – a few simple and inexpensive steps now can prevent a great deal of stress down the road!  Contact your agent to discuss any questions or concerns you might have.

Slow down and drive carefully!

Always drive slowly and carefully when the snow is flying!

Winter weather tips – damage & injury prevention   1 comment

Good afternoon!  Seeing as how the Pittsburgh area is forecast to experience record low temperatures tomorrow & Friday, I thought I would put together a short blog with links for useful tips to prevent damage to your home and to keep yourself & your pets from getting injured.

Winter

Cold temperatures coming soon!

Hope you find the information useful!

Prevent freezing pipes

Pre-storm preparations

Things to do during a storm

Post-storm damage prevention & maintenance

All-around maintenance and preparation ideas

Tips to protect yourself when outside in cold weather

Good resource with multiple links & other info

Pittsburgh Winter

The Insurance Dogger doesn’t seem to mind the cold!

Driverless cars – insurance for the future?   Leave a comment

Sammy driving

The Insurance Dogger isn’t sure if she’s ready to jump out of the driver’s seat just yet!

As you may have noticed, there is a lot of news coming out lately about driverless cars – Google is one of the main players in the field,  but Carnegie Mellon University made a big splash locally and nationally when it unveiled a very successful test-drive in the Cranberry area nearly two years ago.  A lot has been written in the last couple years about the various pros & cons of driverless cars, so I won’t rehash them here – a simple Google search will reveal just about anything you’ve ever wanted to know about the future of driverless vehicles.

However, as an insurance agent, one of the first things that comes to mind whenever the topic comes up is, how will the insurance policy, and the liability coverage in particular, function when it comes to insuring driverless vehicles?  This is not an easy question to answer, as there are many facets to consider, and much of it is based on speculation because the technology has not put forth a viable “ready for the public” option yet.

There are several legal considerations that, for the most part, I will set aside for now – primarily for the sake of expediency.  One of the big issues at hand is that, generally, each state has autonomy over how insurance laws & coverages are mandated.   I will address issues as broadly as possible, but the situation is still largely theoretical and developing as the technology progresses.

From an insurance standpoint, one of the largest liability concerns is the question of who is at fault (“liable”) when a driverless car is involved in an accident – is it the “driver” of the vehicle?  The engineering firm that put together the software operating the vehicle?  The manufacturer of the vehicle?  All of the above?  This is not an easy question to address, and seems to generate more questions than answers.  Was there an error in the software?  Was the driver able to manually override the vehicle and didn’t?  Did the steering system or brakes fail to receive or comprehend the instructions the software passed along?  Some of these questions will sort themselves out as the technology becomes more “concrete” and less speculative.  But the truth is, I fear, legal liability concerns will not actually be resolved until after the rubber hits the road and accidents occur.

Another concern along those lines is who is responsible for damages to the driverless car itself if it is responsible for an accident in which it gets damaged?  As above, should the software design firm pay for your damages?  The car company?  Are you responsible, as the owner of the vehicle?

A bit more disconcerting – what if your vehicle’s software is hacked?  If the vehicle is dependent upon mobile maps & directions to get from point A to point B, what if mobile/cellular service is lost?  How will the vehicles navigate, and in particular, how will it respond to the ever-changing conditions of roads and construction, closures, traffic, etc?

Lloyd’s of London published a market-watch article (along with its far more lengthy corporate report) about some of these very issues.  While the article isn’t conclusive, it does provide some key insights into considerations and factors at hand: “liability will be a key issue because autonomous and unmanned vehicles involve the transfer of control from direct human input to automated or remote control.  ‘In many cases the technology is there to create fully autonomous vehicles, but the legal and regulatory environment needs to be developed further, and public trust will also need to be fostered,’ says Maran.”

One thought I see being repeated consistently is that, ultimately, the increased safety offered by autonomous vehicles will rapidly outweigh the legal and insurance liability concerns: “Many of the routine claims that currently drive the cost of motor insurance will reduce or almost disappear entirely, explains Powell. The resulting decreased exposure for insurers would probably require underwriters to change the design and pricing of motor insurance products, he says.”

At the end of the day, because the technology is a relatively long way off, the “problems” of insuring driverless cars still bring up more questions than answers.  Regardless of the characteristics of the final product, the technology is coming, and the insurance companies that are able to quickly analyze and adapt to the new risks will be a huge step ahead of their competitors.

Some additional resources, reading, and even some videos to watch:

Insurance Information Institute study, Feb 2015

Wall Street Journal article, August 2014

Auto Insurance Center (undated)

CNBC / AllState CEO, Jan 2015

CNET / YouTube – great review of pros & cons of self-driving cars

Google self-driving car – A First Drive

Wall Street Journal YouTube article

CMU driverless car driven around Pittsburgh

Bill Shuster rides in driverless car

 

Identity Theft, Flood Insurance, and antique coverage – Part Two   Leave a comment

Hello everyone, we’re back again! This time we are going to briefly review the debacle that is flood insurance.  Operated by the National Flood Insurance Program (under the auspices of FEMA) or NFIP for short, flood insurance has gone through quite the upheaval lately.  This is due, in large part, to the fact that the program is about $20 BILLION in debt.

As a result, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Act in 2012 in an attempt to bring the NFIP’s budget deficit back in line.  This was to be accomplished primarily by removing subsidies from policies in heavily flood-prone areas so the premium reflected the real risk of insuring a homeowner in such an area.  As you can imagine, this created quite a bit of backlash from property owners along the coast, particularly those in Louisiana.

The resultant premium increases imposed by Biggert-Waters were shocking and dramatic, far higher than what was originally predicted.  Instead of removing subsidies over time, as was initially proposed, they were yanked all at once for thousands of property owners nationwide.  For example, one of our clients saw her premium jump from a little less than $500 to nearly $3,000 in one year.

Thus Congress & the Senate recently passed the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act.  Boiled down, the HFIAA basically sets annual limitations on premium increases to attempt to raise rates in (very small) steps.  However, even a glance at FEMA’s overview page outlining the changes reveals confusing and challenging definitions and procedures.  When I called the company about getting our client’s premium scaled back due to the change, I was told, almost word for word, “We don’t know whether the new act is going to affect her premium, so we are going to wait until FEMA tells us to do something.”

Very simply, I would summarize all the changes to flood insurance this way:  Our government took a program that was quite literally drowning in debt, put together a knee-jerk and poorly executed solution, and reversed it in a similarly ineffective fashion in response to public outrage.  This article puts it all together perfectly.

The government had a chance to fix a broken program that had previously served constituents relatively well.  It had its problems, as most government programs do, but it was completely blindsided by the severity of storms like Katrina and Sandy.  Instead of scaling up property owner premiums over 5 or 10 years to more accurately reflect the risk that they carry, a “NOW NOW NOW” followed by a “LATER LATER LATER” mentality prevailed.  As usual, it will ultimately be the property owners and tax payers who foot the bill.

Sammy is this covered

Sammy thinks these flood changes are all wet….

Identity Theft, Flood Insurance, and antique coverage – Part One   1 comment

It’s hard to believe how quickly time is going by!  It seems like just yesterday that it was -30*F and now we’re nearly halfway through May already!  In  other words, I really hope you’ll forgive my lengthy absence from blogging.

Today I’m going to start a series addressing a couple different things to consider when insuring your home.  As you are certainly aware, things are moving at a pretty rapid pace these days – even for our government!  So that means there are a lot of things for you to keep up with as a home owner or renter, not the least of which are threats to the fidelity of your personal & financial identity and protecting your home against flood waters.

We’ll start with the one that affects virtually everyone – data breach and identity theft.  It’s hard to imagine that anyone hasn’t yet heard about the thieves that struck Target right before Christmas, accessing the credit information of millions of customers and having a major & long-term impact on Target, both financially and from a human resources perspective.  And, of course, there has also been the recent Heartbleed attack and the vulnerabilities of Internet Explorer.

Coupled with the dramatic increase in usage of social media , especially on smart phones, and the amount of business being done online means the chance of having your identity stolen has become dangerously high.  All you need to do is take a look at a couple statistics – here or here or here – to know that the risk now is greater than ever before.  Yet many customers do not have any form of identity theft coverage on their homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy.  For a relatively minimal amount of premium – $25-50 a year on average – you can add typically $25,000 of identity recovery insurance.

Bear in mind, Identity Theft insurance is intended to assist you in restoring your good name by assigning you a coach or assistant to work you through the process, as well as paying for credit reports and monitoring, but not to restore what’s been stolen.  Your insurance company will, via your coach, work with the credit card companies to remove fraudulent charges and with your bank to restore what was stolen.  The final decision, though, rests with each of your financial institutions, not with your insurance company.

To summarize, for a minimal amount of premium each year, you can gain a lot of assistance in protecting your identity!  (PS – if you’re renting, and you don’t have a renter’s policy – that’s a cheap and easy problem to solve – much cheaper than you think!)

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