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IRC: Insufficient Auto Insurance Coverage Is a National Problem

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

Nearly 16 percent (15.7) of U.S. drivers in 2022 had auto liability insurance limits that were too low to pay for damages or injuries they caused, according to new research from the Insurance Research Council (IRC), a division of The Institutes. 

The IRC report found that the underinsured motorist (UIM) rate increased from 12.6 percent in 2017, to a peak in 2020 at 16 percent, and remained elevated in 2021 and 2022. The 2022 rates, however, varied widely across the country, from 5.6 percent in the District of Columbia to 40.9 percent in Colorado. Other states with high UIM rates in 2022 included Nevada (39.4 percent), Georgia (37.3 percent), Louisiana (35.6 percent), and Kentucky (32.0 percent).

The IRC estimates are based on UIM and bodily injury (BI) liability exposure and claim count data collected from 10 major insurers representing approximately half of the U.S. private passenger auto insurance market. The ratio of UIM-to-BI claim frequencies yields a reasonable estimate of the proportion of injury-producing accidents in which the accident victim’s expenses exceeded the at-fault driver’s liability limits.

Auto insurers offer two types of coverage to protect policyholders: uninsured motorists (UM) coverage, which compensates accident victims for injuries or damage caused by a driver without liability insurance or from a hit-and-run driver; and underinsured motorists (UIM), which compensates the injured party for costs associated with injuries or property damage that exceed the at-fault driver’s liability coverage.

Once it is determined that the at-fault driver’s insurance will not fully cover damages, the accident victim files a claim with their own insurance company under their UM/UIM coverage.

“At the start of the pandemic, UIM frequency dropped as the shutdowns dramatically curtailed driving,” said Dale Porfilio, FCAS, MAAA, president of the IRC. “However, UIM frequency dropped less than BI. But by 2022, UIM claim frequency had returned to its 2019 level while BI claim frequency was still below pre-pandemic levels.”

Porfilio, who is also chief insurance officer for Triple-I, noted that, in today’s litigious society, having state minimum levels on uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist insurance does not provide adequate financial protection.

“Riskier behaviors like speeding and distracted driving, in combination with legal system abuse and economic inflation, all contribute to elevated UIM rates,” Porfilio added.

Learn More:

Background on Compulsory Auto /Uninsured Motorists

Uninsured Driving Dipped in 2022 After Pandemic Spurred a Multi-Year Risk

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Auto Insurers Contend With Rising Costs

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

Auto premiums continue to increase as rising labor and material prices, alongside natural disasters, are forcing insurers to contend with significant losses.

As  Triple-I previously found in its January report, Insurance Economics and Underwriting Projections: A Forward View, “commercial auto underwriting losses continue, with a projected 2023 net combined ratio of 110.2, the highest since 2017,” according to Jason B. Kurtz, FCAS, MAAA, a Principal and Consulting Actuary at Milliman. Combined ratio is a standard measure of underwriting profitability, in which a result below 100 represents a profit and one above 100 represents a loss. 

Insurers are now having to increase rates in response to losses that are expected to keep rising.

“Nobody wants to have that higher-price bill,” said Sean Kevelighan, Triple-I’s CEO. However, he added companies “need to price insurance according to the risk level that’s out there.”

While inflation is partially to blame for these increases, natural disasters are also contributing to rising costs—and not only in traditionally disaster-prone areas like Florida and California.

As the overall P&C industry has struggled with severe convective storms, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, these losses have also been felt in commercial auto. In fact, 2023 witnessed around two dozen U.S. storms,  each with losses of around a billion dollars or more. This included major lightning, hail, and damaging winds around many areas of the of the U.S.

“While a lot of these storms don’t make national headlines, they do tend to be very costly at the local level,” says Tim Zawacki, principal research analyst for insurance at S&P Global Market Intelligence. “And the breadth of where these storms are occurring is something that I think the industry is quite concerned about.”

While disasters and economic inflation continue to roil commercial auto, so too does social inflation. As the Triple-I previously reported, “social inflation,” which is the presence of inflation in excess of economic inflation, has also significantly contributed to increases in commercial auto premiums.

Triple-I found that “from 2013 to 2022, increasing inflation drove losses up by between $35 billion and $44 billion, or between 19 percent and 24 percent. The pandemic brought significant change to commercial auto liability, decreasing claim frequency while increasing claim severity more dramatically.”

This increased claim severity is at least partially due to changing driving patterns since the pandemic, including distracted driving, which involves behaviors like cellphone use while behind the wheel. A Triple-I Issues Brief, Distracted Driving: State of the Risk, enumerated these concerns, which have undoubtedly played a role in rising commercial auto premiums.

Indeed, a confluence of issues are playing into rising auto premiums. While natural disasters are out of the control of insurance providers and their policyholders, other factors must be addressed to steady the cost of this line of insurance. This includes telematics and usage-based insurance, which has gained more acceptance since the pandemic.

Still, it is incumbent on insurers, policyholders, and policymakers to create a more sustainable market for auto insurance, working together to tackle the challenges of both climate risk and dangerous driving behavior.

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Calif. Risk/Regulatory Environment Highlights Role of Risk-Based Pricing

Even as California moves to address regulatory obstacles to fair, actuarially sound insurance underwriting and pricing, the state’s risk profile continues to evolve in ways that underscore the importance of risk-based insurance pricing and investment in mitigation and resilience.

Triple-I’s latest “State of the Risk” Issues Brief discusses this changing risk environment and the impact of Proposition 103 – a three-decades-old measure that has made it hard for insurers to profitably write coverage in the state. In a dynamically evolving risk environment that includes earthquakes, drought, wildfire, landslides, and — in recent years, due to “atmospheric rivers” — damaging floods, Proposition 103 has prevented insurers from using the most current data and advanced modeling technologies. Instead, it has required them to price coverage based on historical data alone.

It also has restricted accurate underwriting and pricing by not allowing insurers to incorporate the cost of reinsurance into their pricing. Insurers use reinsurance to maximize their capacity to write coverage, and reinsurance rates have been rising for many of the same reasons as primary insurance rates. If insurers can’t reflect reinsurance costs in their pricing – particularly in catastrophe-prone areas – they must pay for these costs from policyholder surplus, reduce their market share in the state, or do both.

Proposition 103 also has impeded premium rate changes by allowing consumer advocacy groups to intervene in the rate-approval process. This makes it hard to respond quickly to changing market conditions, resulting in approval delays and rates that don’t accurately reflect current (let alone future) risk. It also drives up legal and administrative costs.

This has led, in some cases, to insurers deciding to limit or reduce their business in the state. With fewer private insurance options available, more Californians are resorting to the state’s FAIR Plan, which offers less coverage for a higher premium.

This isn’t a tenable situation.

In September 2023, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara announced a Sustainable Insurance Strategy for the state that includes allowing insurers to use forward-looking risk models that prioritize wildfire safety and mitigation and include reinsurance costs into their premium pricing. In exchange, insurers must cover homeowners in wildfire-prone parts of the state at 85 percent of their statewide coverage.

Issues around property insurance affordability are not confined to California. They’ve been a long time in the making, and they won’t be resolved overnight.

“Any sustainable solutions will have to rest on actuarially sound underwriting and pricing principles,” the Triple-I brief says. “Unfortunately, too often, the public discourse frames the risk crisis as an `insurance crisis’ – conflating cause with effect. Legislators, spurred by calls from their constituents for lower insurance premiums, often propose measures that would tend to worsen the problem because these proposals generally fail to reflect the importance of accurately valuing risk when pricing coverage.”

California’s Proposition 103 and the federal flood insurance program prior to its Risk Rating 2.0 reforms are just two examples, according to Triple-I.

Learn More:

Triple-I Issues Brief: Wildfire

Triple-I Issues Brief: Flood

Triple-I Issues Brief: Risk-Based Pricing of Insurance

How Proposition 103 Worsens Risk Crisis in California

Is California Serious About Wildfire Risk?

Dear California: As You Prep for Wildfire, Don’t Neglect Quake Risk

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New Illinois BillsWould Harm — Not Help — Auto Policyholders

Two bills proposed in Illinois this year illustrate yet again the need for lawmakers to better understand how insurance works. Illinois HB 4767 and HB 4611 – like their 2023 predecessor, HB 2203 – would harm the very policyholders the measures aim to help by driving up the cost for insurers to write personal auto coverage in the state.

“These bills, while intended to address rising insurance costs, would have the opposite impact and likely harm consumers by reducing competition and increasing costs for Illinois drivers,” said a press release issued by the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, the Illinois Insurance Association, and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. “Insurance rates are first and foremost a function of claims and their costs. Rather than working to help make roadways safer and reduce costs, these bills seek to change the state’s insurance rating law and prohibit the use of factors that are highly predictive of the risk of a future loss.”

The proposed laws would bar insurers from considering nondriving factors that are demonstrably predictive of claims when setting premium rates.

“Prohibiting highly accurate rating factors…disconnects price from the risk of future loss, which necessarily means high-risk drivers will pay less and lower-risk drivers will pay more than they otherwise would pay,” the release says. “Additionally, changing the rating law and factors used will not change the economics or crash statistics that are the primary drivers of the cost of insurance in the state.”

Triple-I agrees with the key concerns raised by the other trade organizations. As we have written previously, such legislation suggests a lack of understanding about risk-based pricing that is not isolated to Illinois legislators – indeed, similar proposals are submitted from time to time at state and federal levels.

What is risk-based pricing?

Simply put, risk-based pricing means offering different prices for the same level of coverage, based on risk factors specific to the insured person or property. If policies were not priced this way – if insurers had to come up with a one-size-fits-all price for auto coverage that didn’t consider vehicle type and use, where and how much the car will be driven, and so forth – lower-risk drivers would subsidize riskier ones. Risk-based pricing allows insurers to offer the lowest possible premiums to policyholders with the most favorable risk factors. Charging higher premiums to insure higher-risk policyholders enables insurers to underwrite a wider range of coverages, thus improving both availability and affordability of insurance.

This simple concept becomes complicated when actuarially sound rating factors intersect with other attributes in ways that can be perceived as unfairly discriminatory. For example, concerns have been raised about the use of credit-based insurance scores, geography, home ownership, and motor vehicle records in setting home and car insurance premium rates. Critics say this can lead to “proxy discrimination,” with people of color in urban neighborhoods sometimes charged more than their suburban neighbors for the same coverage.

The confusion is understandable, given the complex models used to assess and price risk and the socioeconomic dynamics involved. To navigate this complexity, insurers hire teams of actuaries and data scientists to quantify and differentiate among a range of risk variables while avoiding unfair discrimination.

While it may be hard for policyholders to believe factors like age, gender, and credit score have anything to do with their likelihood of filing claims, the charts below demonstrate clear correlations.

Policyholders have reasonable concerns about rising premium rates. It’s important for them and their legislators to understand that the current high-rate environment has nothing to do with the application of actuarially sound rating factors and everything to do with increasing insurer losses associated with higher frequency and severity of claims. Frequency and claims trends are driven by a wide range of causes – such as riskier driving behavior and legal system abuse – that warrant the attention of policymakers. Legislators would do well to explore ways to reduce risks, contain fraud other forms of legal system abuse, and improve resilience, rather than pursuing “solutions” to restrict pricing that will only make these problem worse.

Learn More

New Triple-I Issues Brief Takes a Deep Dive into Legal System Abuse

Illinois Bill Highlights Need for Education on Risk-Based Pricing of Insurance Coverage

How Proposition 103 Worsens Risk Crisis in California

Louisiana Still Least Affordable State for Personal Auto, Homeowners Insurance

IRC Outlines Florida’s Auto Insurance Affordability Problems

Education Can Overcome Doubts on Credit-Based Insurance Scores, IRC Survey Suggests

Colorado’s Life Insurance Data Rules Offer Glimpse of Future for P&C Writers

It’s Not an “Insurance Crisis” – It’s a Risk Crisis

Indiana Joins March Toward Disclosure of Third-Party Litigation Funding Deals

Litigation Funding Law Found Lacking in Transparency Department

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New Triple-I Issue Brief Takes a Deep Dive into Legal System Abuse

The increasing frequency and severity of claims costs beyond insurer expectations continue to threaten insurance coverage and affordability. Triple-I’s latest Issue Brief, Legal System Abuse – State of the Risk describes how trends in claims litigation can drive social inflation, leading to higher insurance premiums for policyholders and losses for insurers.

Key Takeaways

  • Insured losses continue to exceed expectations and surpass inflation, notably impacting coverage affordability and availability in Florida and Louisiana.
  • In promoting the term “legal system abuse”, Triple-I seeks to capture how litigation and related systemic trends amplify social inflation.
  • Progress has been made toward increased awareness about the risks of third-party litigation funding (TPLF), but more work is needed.

What we mean when we talk about legal system abuse

Legal system abuse occurs when policyholders, plaintiff attorneys, or other third parties use fraudulent or unnecessary tactics in pursuing an insurance claim payout, increasing the time and cost of settling insurance claims. These actions can include illegal maneuvers, such as claims inflation and frivolous or outright fraudulent claims. Unscrupulous contractors, for example, seek to profit from Assignment of Benefits (AOBs) by overstating repair costs and then filing lawsuits against the insurer – sometimes even without the homeowner’s knowledge. Filing a lawsuit to reap an outsized payout when it’s evident the claims process will likely provide a fair, reasonable, and timely claim settlement can also be considered legal system abuse.

The latest brief provides a round-up of several studies Triple-I and other organizations conducted on elements of these litigation trends. The report, “Impact of Increasing Inflation on Personal and Commercial Auto Liability Insurance,” describes the $96 billion to $105 billion increase in combined claim payouts for U.S. personal and commercial auto insurer liability. The Insurance Research Council highlighted the dire lack of affordability for personal auto and homeowners insurance coverage in Louisiana, along with the state’s exceptionally high claim litigation rates.

Readers will also find an update on the discussion of legal industry trends associated with increased claims litigation. The lack of transparency around TPLF arrangements and the fear of outside influence on cases are attracting the attention of legislators at the state and federal levels. The brief also describes how some law firms may use TPLF resources to encourage large windfall-seeking lawsuits instead of speedy and fair claims litigation. Research findings suggest that consumers have become aware of how ubiquitous attorney ads can influence the frequency of lawsuits, increasing claims costs.

Florida: a case study in the consequences of excessive litigation

While several states, such as California, Colorado, and Louisiana, are experiencing a drastic rise in the cost of homeowners’ insurance, this brief discusses Florida. Property insurance premiums there rank the highest in the nation. Several insurers facing insurmountable losses have stopped writing new policies or left the state in the last few years. In some areas, residents are leaving, too, because of skyrocketing premiums.

Excessive claims litigation isn’t a new issue for insurers, but it can work with other elements to shift loss ratios and disrupt forecasts, rendering cost management more challenging. In Florida, factors such as the rise in home values and frequency of extreme weather events play a significant role, along with the challenges homeowners face in the aftermath: soaring construction costs, supply chain bottlenecks, and new building codes. However, Florida also leads the nation in litigating property claims. While 15 percent of all homeowners claims in the nation originate in the state, Floridians file 71 percent of homeowners insurance lawsuits.

In Florida and elsewhere, increasing time to settle a claim puts a financial strain on insurers, which is passed on to policyholders in the form of higher premiums. Legal system abuse activities are difficult (if not impossible) to forecast and mitigate, hampering insurers’ ability to remain in the market. Therefore, legal system abuse could be one of the biggest underlying drivers of social inflation. Without preventive measures, such as policy intervention and increased policyholder awareness, coverage affordability and availability is at risk.

Triple-I remains committed to advancing the conversation and exploring actionable strategies with all stakeholders. Learn more about legal system abuse and its components, such as third-party litigation funding by following our blog and checking out our social inflation knowledge hub.

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Cellphones Leading Cause of Distracted Driving; Telematics Can Help

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

Distracted driving—which has significantly increased since the coronavirus pandemic—is most significantly affected by cellphone use, according to a new Issues Brief by Triple-I.

The report, Distracted Driving: State of the Risk, states that cellphone use–which includes dialing, texting, and browsing–was among the most ubiquitous and highest-risk behaviors found in governmental and private sector studies. According to a 2022 national observational survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a total of 2.5 percent of drivers stopped at intersections were talking on hand-held phones at any moment during the day in 2021.

The brief also found that the U.S. personal auto insurance industry’s combined ratio—a measure that represents underwriting profitability—increased dramatically from 2022, to 112.2. A combined ratio below 100 indicates an underwriting profit, while one above 100 indicates an underwriting loss.

“As drivers returned to the roads following the pandemic, distracted driving surged, causing higher rates of accidents, injuries, and deaths. This high-risk behavior has worsened in the years since, having huge implications for the insurance industry and their policyholders,” stated Dale Porfilio, chief insurance officer, Triple-I.

The report notes that telematics and usage-based insurance can potentially help insurers—and their policyholders—better understand a driver’s risk profile and tailor auto insurance rates based on individual driving habits.

Indeed, according to an Insurance Research Council survey in 2022, 45 percent of drivers said they made significant safety-related changes in how they drove after participating in a telematics program. An additional 35 percent stated that they made small changes in their driving behavior. Policyholders became more comfortable with having their insurer monitor their driving behavior when it resulted in potentially lower insurance costs during the onset of the pandemic.

“If telematics can influence drivers to change behaviors and reduce the number of accidents, the nation’s roadways will be safer and auto insurance can be more affordable,” Porfilio concluded.

Learn More:

Facts + Statistics: Distracted driving | III

Louisiana Still Least Affordable State for Personal Auto, Homeowners Insurance

Surge in U.S. Auto Insurer Claim Payouts Due to Economic and Social Inflation

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Chubb Highlights Perils Keeping High-Net-Worth People Awake at Night

According to a recent Chubb survey of 800 high-net-worth individuals in the United States and Canada, 92 percent are concerned about the size of a verdict against them if they were a defendant in a liability case – yet only 36 percent have excess liability insurance.

When it comes to liability, Chubb says respondents are most worried about auto accidents, allegations of assault or harassment, and someone working in their home getting hurt. Damage awards are rising dramatically for a number of reasons, according to Laila Brabander, head of North American personal lines claims for Chubb.

“Economic damages historically were based on factors such as the extent of an injury and resultant medical expenses or past and future loss of income,” she said. “But we are seeing a rise in non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering and post-traumatic stress disorder, that overshadow actual economic losses.”

Brabander described a case in which a client at a yoga studio fell onto the person next to her and was sued by the injured party for pain and suffering.

“The same plaintiffs’ tactics to encourage large verdicts in commercial trucking, auto liability, product liability and medical malpractice suits are now being utilized to push for larger jury awards against our high-net-worth clients,” Brabander said.

Another factor driving up the cost of settlements is the third-party litigation funding, in which firms  provide funding to plaintiffs and their lawyers in exchange for a percentage of the settlement. These private-equity firms began in the commercial space and are now funding lawsuits against individuals and their insurers.

High-net-worth people also are deeply concerned about the threats posed to their homes by extreme weather and climate-related events. Much of this concern may be due to increased development in coastal areas vulnerable to tropical storms and flooding and in the wildland-urban interface – areas in which development places property into proximity with fire-prone wilderness (see links below).

Chubb’s findings are based on a survey of 800 wealthy individuals in the United States (650 respondents) and Canada (150 respondents). Respondents had investable assets of at least $500,000, with the majority reporting assets of $1.5 million to $50 million and 12 percent reporting assets of more than $50 million.

Learn More:

Triple-I Issues Brief – State of the Risk: Wildfire

Triple-I Issues Brief – State of the Risk: Hurricanes

What Is Third-Party Litigation Funding and How Does It Affect Insurance Pricing and Affordability?