Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Earthquakes and Volcanoes

According to recent scientific research, the Earth may be experiencing increased earthquake and volcanic activity. While there is some debate that this may be a statistical anomaly because of better recording, rather than a real increase, there is no debate that earthquakes and volcanoes remain some of the scariest and least predictable of natural catastrophes.

Interestingly, there is now a belief that humans may be responsible for some of the increase in seismic activity. There is data that suggests that fracking and waste water injection into the subsurface of the earth have been responsible for increased seismic activity in the Central United States, and Oklahoma in particular. While there may be no consensus on what is causing this increased activity, the fact remains that Oklahoma can now expect to experience seismic activity on par with California.

While standard homeowners and commercial property policies typically do not cover direct damage from earthquakes, policies may cover some resulting damage from causes of loss such as fire and carriers will often offer earthquake coverage as an additional coverage. For minor earthquakes the exposure for insured losses remains small, but for major earthquakes there is the potential for large insured losses. For example, major earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand in 2011 resulted in insured losses that have been reported as high as $40 billion and $16 billion respectively. More recently, the April 2016 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador had insured losses estimated between $325 million and $850 million.

Surprisingly, in the face of this increased earthquake risk, it appears that many homeowners may be foregoing earthquake insurance. In fact, since the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California, the percentage of homeowners with earthquake coverage has reportedly decreased from 30% to about 12%. More than likely this is driven by the fading memories of the damage caused by the Northridge earthquake and the high cost of earthquake insurance. However, with increased seismic activity in the Central United States and the projections of a major earthquake in California increasing, those numbers may increase. 

While coverage for damage caused by volcanoes is more common in insurance policies, volcanoes tend to be more remote and have less direct impact on inhabited areas. For example, while the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland caused a dramatic shutdown of air travel in and out of much of Europe, the incidence of insured loss was not great due to the limited direct physical damage caused by the ash cloud. Typically, coverage for business interruption requires that the interruption arise from direct physical loss to insured property or to a dependent or contributing property for contingent business interruption coverage. Therefore, the absence of direct physical damage from the eruption meant that insured losses were minimal. However, as the population of the Earth continues to grow and more development encroaches on areas prone to volcanic activity, it can be expected that major eruptions may bring more insured damage.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Man-Made Cats

The industrial world destroys nature not because it doesn’t love it but because it is not afraid of it.” 

- Mary Ruefle, American Poet

Most of the major catastrophes we read about, think about and worry about are natural occurrences:  hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions.  But man-made catastrophes do their own share of damage.  When they strike, they often grab their own share of attention.  The 9/11 terrorist attack stands as one of the largest insurance catastrophes in history – not to mention its far more devastating human impact.  But most man-made catastrophes are smaller in scale compared to what mother nature can deliver.  They can also stay under the radar, without headlines, without clear cause and effect, without a clearly defined impact.  They can be harder to trace and harder to quantify.  When an earthquake strikes, the resulting damage is apparent and the cause and effect are obvious.  Not always so with man-made events.

Case in point:  in 2015, forest fires and resulting haze in Southeast Asia were unusually widespread and extreme, and researchers this week released a study finding an incredible death toll:  “The forest fire and haze disaster in Southeast Asia last year may have led to the deaths of more than 100,000 people,” the New York Times reported.  “The vast majority of the cases were in Indonesia, where fires were deliberately set to clear land for agriculture.”  In 2015, the Indonesian government claimed only 19 of its citizens had perished due to the fires and haze.  The report released this week finds a much higher figure:  91,600 in Indonesia alone.

The study was published in Environmental Research Letters.  The study’s authors explained the root cause of the fires in 2015 and the resulting impact on human life:
Across Indonesia, fires are frequently used to burn agricultural residue, clear forest, or prepare land for plantations and smallholder farms. . . .   Fire emission levels are greatest from degraded peatlands, especially in dry years (Marlier et al 2015a, 2015b). In 2006, burning in industrial concessions to clear land for oil palm and timber plantations accounted for ~40% of total fire emissions in Sumatra and ~25% in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) (Marlier et al 2015c).  
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The degraded peatlands that typically burn during such episodes contain significant combustible organic material and so release large amounts of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the leading cause of global pollution-related mortality (World Health Organization 2009, Lelieveld et al 2015). As in previous episodes, the prevailing winds in 2015 transported the smoke to densely populated areas across Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula, including Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Did most of us hear, in 2015, about the fires, the smoke, and the heavy presence of deadly particulate matter in population centers in Southeast Asia?  Did we hear that deaths were mounting, in the tens of thousands and as many as a hundred thousand?  No.  Nor, apparently, was that reality recognized anywhere before the release of the study in Environmental Research Letters. 
Similarly, the predictions of dire consequences for life and property as a result of Climate Change relate not only to high profile catastrophic events – like stronger and more frequent hurricanes – but to the more insidious long-term effects, including slowly rising seas, widespread droughts, and extremes of temperature, all of which cause death and damage that are not as visibly and obviously connected to the “catastrophe.”  But to the victims, the results are just as final.

Posted by Dan Millea

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Global Hail

The United States experiences a large number of hail events, but hail can occur anywhere in the world – especially in areas near mountainous terrain.  Western China and northern India experience hail quite frequently, as do areas near the Alps in Europe, the Andes in South America and in mountainous east Africa. New South Wales in Australia is also known for its catastrophic hail events. 
Amid the current Texas “hail crisis” – an analysis and evaluation of how other parts of the world address and resolve hail-damage claims may provide some valuable insight to those currently in the trenches of hail claims and litigation. 
Below is a brief summary of the countries experiencing the most hail and the types of hail events these countries experience.  Later in this series, we will provide an analysis of how each of these countries addresses and resolves hail damage claims.
But first – the Hail of Fame
The following are the top places in the world where hail occurs:
1.      Kenya
2.      United States (The Great Plains)
3.      Australia
4.      Southern China
5.      India
When you think of the places in the world experiencing hail events, Kenya probably doesn’t come to mind.  However, Kericho, Kenya holds the world record of 132 days of hail in one year and annually experiences approximately 50 days of hail. Despite the frequency, Kenyan hail is typically small.  Kericho is close to the equator and at an elevation of 7,200 feet, which contributes to it being a hot spot for hail. Kenya's localized hail storms damage tea crops, and in many cases, are one of the largest single natural variables affecting tea production.
United States
Although Bangladesh holds the record for the heaviest recorded hailstone, the United States claims a close second. The largest officially recognized hailstone on record to have been ‘captured’ in the U.S. fell near Vivian, South Dakota on July 23rd, 2010. It measured 8.0” in diameter, 18 ½” in circumference, and weighed in at 1.9375 pounds.
In the United States, hail storms most frequently occur in what has been referred to as “Hail Alley” - more specifically the Great Plains areas of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma.  Hail in this area of the country is most likely to fall late in the afternoon during the months of May and June and is often responsible for extensive crop loss, property damage and livestock deaths.
According to NOAA’s Severe Storms database, there were over 5,000 major hail storms in 2015; with over 1,300 occurring during the month of June. Since 2010, nearly 40 percent of all insured losses resulted from claims related to wind and hail damage, averaging $15 billion annually and growing. In the state of Texas alone, insured losses from two hailstorms that occurred in March 2016 are currently expected to exceed $1.5 billion.
Just this past June 2016, a tornado and extreme hailstorm in China’s eastern Jiangsu Province, just north of Shanghai, destroyed buildings and killed 51 people. A month later, a South China Airlines Airbus A320 made a miraculous landing after it sustained extensive hail damage, forcing the pilots to land the plane blind.
In China's Henan province, twenty-two (some say twenty-five) were killed by a hailstorm in 2002, and nine more were killed in a hailstorm in 2003 in the Dingxi Prefecture. As recently as 2009, fourteen were killed by hail in the Anhui province and buildings collapsed.
Perhaps the single costliest hailstorm in world history struck the Sydney, Australia area on April 14, 1999. Hailstones up to 3½” in diameter fell for almost 60 minutes damaging 20,000 structures and 40,000 vehicles. The total sum of insured losses reached A$1.7bn, and the esti­mated direct economic losses were over A$2.3bn.
In November 2014, a hail­ storm battered the Brisbane area, producing hailstones even larger than those in 1999.  This hailstorm occurred during rush hour, damaging more than 60,000 cars, 22,000 commercial and residential buildings and injuring 30 people. The number of insur­ance claims exceeded 100,000, with a total insured loss of A$1.35bn, and a direct economic loss estimated at A$1.8bn.
The Deccan Plateau of northern India is home to some of the most deadly hailstorms, and perhaps the largest hailstones, in the world. In fact, the heaviest authenticated hailstone ever measured was one of 2.25 pounds that fell in the Gopalganj district of Bangladesh (which was once part of India) on April 14, 1986. The stones were not officially recorded and measured, although anecdotal reports claimed the stones were the size of “pumpkins”.  
In 1888, a hailstorm in Moradabad, India killed more than 250 people. More recently, a 2013 hail storm killed at least 9 people in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, also destroying houses, crops, and livestock. Hail events, so devastating to crops in this area of the world, have prompted novel methods to minimize the catastrophic impact in the agriculture industry.
Posted by Jennifer Gibbs

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Everything is fine, until it isn’t.

Over a period of just 14 months in 2004 and 2005, no less than six hurricanes made landfall in Florida – basically back-to-back years of hurricanes coming at the rate of one per month during the height of hurricane season.  Then for the next 130 months, nothing happened.  For a long, long time, everything was fine, until it wasn’t – Hurricane Hermine broke Florida’s remarkable CAT-less streak, making landfall in the early morning hours of September 1, 2016.
Hermine made landfall as a Category 1 Hurricane, with reported wind speeds reaching 80 miles per hour.  Hermine was not in the same league as Andrew (1992) or Charley (2004), but a hurricane is a hurricane, and Hermine did its share of damage. (See our Guide to Adjusting Storm Related Claims in Florida here.)  But will Hermine prove to be just a brief event in the middle of a historic period of calm and quiet along the Florida coastline.  Or was it a harbinger of another wave of CATS headed for Florida and the rest of the U.S. mainland?  Time will tell, of course, but long range forecasters have identified 2016 as likely to be an active year for U.S. Hurricanes – the most active since 2012.  Might we see circumstances reminiscent of 2005 (15 Atlantic hurricanes, 7 of them major hurricanes, 12 separate landfall events, and massive property damage and loss of life)?  Or will this be more in line with 2013 (only two Atlantic hurricanes and no major hurricanes)? 
One thing we know for certain following Hermine is that this won’t be a repeat of 1914, when there were zero Atlantic hurricanes.  (Of course, a more devastating man-made “CAT” led the bad news that year, and for the next four years thereafter, proving that the only thing more destructive to us humans than mother nature, is us humans.)  Other things we know for certain are that Florida and the American Southeast are going to suffer through more hurricanes, including major hurricanes, and – eventually – more truly devastating events like Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Katrina.  It’s inevitable.  Everything is fine, until it isn’t.  

Posted by Dan Millea

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Welcome to the CAT-Law Navigator

Welcome to the Zelle CAT-Law Navigator Blog, which we hope will become your regular source for news and information related to natural and man-made catastrophic events around the world.  Members of the Zelle CAT-Law team will be posting every Tuesday throughout the year with recent news of note or on a topic of general interest to industry practitioners.  And when catastrophes strike, important legal rulings are issued, or other developments occur, we will post more frequently to keep you in the know.

Catastrophic events drive a significant amount of insurance claim activity, and the CATs and the resulting claims involve complicated and fascinating factual scenarios.  Inevitably, those scenarios lead to legal disputes and court rulings that impact everyone involved in the insurance claim world.  Staying on top of those developments is important in dealing with current CAT claims, preparing for future CAT events, and understanding how all claims and related litigation are being impacted by CAT disputes.

Whether you are handling claims, managing claims teams, monitoring industry trends and risks, or providing consulting services to insurance clients, we hope you will look to us to keep you plugged in to relevant CAT-Law developments.  We also hope you will find the blog posts professionally useful and informative, factually interesting, and maybe even fun.  From time to time we’ll also invite guest bloggers to add a post, so feel free to contact us if you have a trending issue to address and would like to participate.

Tune in to the Zelle CAT-Law Navigator Blog weekly to make sure you stay at the cutting edge of CAT-Law developments.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.  Contact us at CATlawnavigator@zelle.com.