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California Paves Way for More Insurance Coverage in Disaster-Prone Areas

California Paves Way for More Insurance Coverage in Disaster-Prone Areas

California will now let insurance companies consider climate change when offering policies, in exchange for a mandate requiring them to offer coverage in wildfire-prone areas, state leaders announced on Thursday.

“We are at a major crossroads on insurance after multiple years of wildfires and storms intensified by the threat of climate change,” California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said in a statement. “The current system is not working for all Californians, and we must change course.”

As a result of several companies choosing to drop coverage in the state recently, consumers without options are flocking to the state-subsidized Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan.

“The FAIR plan has doubled to 3% of the market becoming the insurer of first resort for many Californians and not the last resort as it is intended to be,” Lara said Thursday at a news conference. “A growing FAIR plan is really a big problem for our state because the FAIR plan policyholders are required to pay more for less coverage and concentrating the highest risk properties under the FAIR plan increases the chance that they will be unable to afford a catastrophic disaster.”

An executive order issued by California Gov. Gavin Newsom clears the way for the new regulations.

Insurance companies will give priority to homeowners and businesses who have taken steps to harden their properties to disasters like wildfires, floods and windstorms. Lara said this is first-of-its-kind regulation. Once the new regulations are fully implemented, which is expected by December 2024, insurers will be required to have 85% of new policies they write cover property in areas prone to wildfires. Regulators believe that will help Californians to move off the FAIR plan.

“We’re not going to get to affordability if we don’t tackle the availability issue,” Lara said.

More available options for policies are expected to increase competition for better rates.

“This is yet another example of how climate change is directly threatening our communities and livelihoods. It is critical that California’s insurance market works to protect homes and businesses in every corner of our state,” Newsom said in a statement.

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How New York’s Supplemental Spousal Liability Insurance Law Will Impact Personal Auto Policies

How New York’s Supplemental Spousal Liability Insurance Law Will Impact Personal Auto Policies

Most of us don’t spend time studying the fine print in our auto insurance policies, but if you live in New York State, take a close look: Your premium may have risen — or will soon — because you were automatically enrolled in new coverage you may not even need.

A New York law that went into effect on Aug. 1 requires auto insurers to add a new line of coverage — supplemental spousal liability insurance — for all drivers, even those who are unmarried or are buying coverage for a business.

Policyholders can opt out of the coverage, as long as they do so in writing — something singles should do immediately. Opting out may also make sense for many businesses.

But a question remains: With the cost of auto insurance already on the rise, what do married people stand to gain?

All drivers and passengers, including spouses, already have access to “no-fault” coverage in New York, which pays up to $50,000 for medical care and wage loss, regardless of who was at fault in an accident, insurance experts said.

But if a driver caused an accident and the driver’s spouse was seriously injured — and had expenses above those limits, including pain and suffering — the supplemental spousal liability coverage would allow the injured spouse to seek a bigger payout. He or she would need to file a lawsuit to prove that the driving spouse was culpable.

“The spousal supplemental coverage allows a spouse to sue the other spouse to access this liability coverage, in addition to no-fault benefits,” said Paul Tetrault, senior director, personal lines and counsel, for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, a trade organization for insurers.

The idea of suing your own spouse is unusual, and insurance experts said they hadn’t heard of this situation’s arising often. But proponents of the change, who include personal injury lawyers, say policyholders are often surprised to learn their spouses aren’t covered.

Before the new law took effect, policyholders could request, or opt into, the coverage.

The cost varies, depending on several factors, but will generally run about 5 percent of the bodily injury premium, according to the New York State Department of Financial Services, or roughly $20 to $84 annually. (This reporter noticed that her premium automatically rose more than $100.) It generally covers up to the policy’s existing bodily injury liability limits.

“The passengers can always bring a lawsuit against the driver — if they cause an accident that causes them injury,” said Mike Jaffe, a partner and personal injury lawyer with Pazer, Epstein, Jaffe & Fein. “But in the case of married couples, coverage often doesn’t exist.”

“It is a bizarre quirk,” added Mr. Jaffe, who is also a former president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, a trade group that has lobbied for the law. “This law aims to correct that. It is a low-cost coverage for something that is somewhat rare.”

The New York Trial Association, which spent $1.3 million on lobbying efforts in New York state government last year, has supported the law change for at least a decade.

The insurance industry, however, did not support the law. Ellen Melchionni, president of the New York Insurance Association, a trade group, said the industry believed that “opt-out mechanisms are not consumer friendly and are bound to lead to greater confusion.”

New York is an outlier — most states do not have a statute mandating this coverage, according to the American Property Casualty Insurance Association. But it may be possible to sue one’s spouse and recover damages in other states, a spokesman said.

“The mandate to provide coverage to all policyholders unless they decline the coverage in writing is not common in other states,” he said. “This reinforces the importance of consumers talking with their insurance companies or agents to make sure their policy coverages fit their needs.”

The change took effect on Aug. 1 for new policies, renewals and any sort of modifications to existing policies. The New York Department of Financial Services has a declination form on its website, but your insurer should send you a form that allows you to decline the coverage. A spokesman for State Senator Neil Breslin, a Democrat and the bill’s most recent sponsor, said the Legislature was examining whether it should narrow the law in the coming legislative session. It sunsets on July 31, 2027.

“We certainly don’t want people to pay for coverage that would provide them zero benefit under any circumstances,” the spokesman added.

If consumers are unable to opt out of the coverage even after contacting their insurer, they can file a complaint with the Department of Financial Services.

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FTC Poised to Sue Amazon for Antitrust Violations

FTC Poised to Sue Amazon for Antitrust Violations

The Federal Trade Commission is expected to sue Inc. for antitrust violations, according to people familiar with the matter – marking the agency’s fourth swipe at the online retail giant this year. The lawsuit, expected to be filed in federal court by the agency, marks a groundbreaking moment for FTC Chair Lina Khan, who shot to fame as a law student for a legal article about how to rethink antitrust law to apply to Amazon in the digital age. The antitrust complaint is expected to focus on how Amazon’s pricing policies, already the subject of a suit by California’s attorney general, Prime and allegations the company illegally ties merchant access to its marketplace to use of its logistics service, the people said, speaking anonymously to discuss a pending complaint. Prime membership has been a key differentiator for Amazon, helping it convert occasional shoppers into loyal devotees who make the company their default choice when shopping online. Politico first reported the news on Friday. The antitrust and consumer protection agency has had Amazon in its sights for more than four years. The FTC during the Trump administration opened a probe into potential anticompetitive conduct related to several aspects of Amazon’s business, including its marketplace where both the company and third-party merchants sell goods and the Prime subscription service. Under Khan, the agency refined the probe and opened new investigations into the tech company. In August, company executives met with Khan and the FTC’s two other commissioners to discuss the potential suit, though no settlement was offered. The agency sued Amazon in May in two separate cases for failing to delete data about children collected by its Alexa speakers and illegally spying on users of its Ring doorbells and cameras. Amazon said it disagreed with the FTC’s allegations, but agreed to pay $30.8 million to resolve the suits. A month later, the agency filed another suit against the company, alleging that it duped consumers into signing up for the Prime subscription service and then deliberately made it difficult to cancel. Just this week, the FTC amended its complaint to add three Amazon executives as defendants in the case, arguing the trio ignored pleas by employees to stop using techniques “to mislead or trick users” into “signing up for a recurring bill.” The company is contesting the allegations in that case.    
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Home Values Could Collapse as Rising Climate Dangers Wreak Havoc on Insurance Markets, Study Says

Home Values Could Collapse as Rising Climate Dangers Wreak Havoc on Insurance Markets, Study Says

  • US home values could collapse as climate change boosts insurance costs, a study from First Street Foundation said.
  • More insurers are hiking premiums or leaving at-risk areas, forcing homeowners to rely on costlier state-run programs.
  • First Street estimated that 39 million homes are still insured at prices that don't match the climate risks they face.
Climate change is roiling the US home insurance market, paving the way for a massive correction in property values, a First Street Foundation study said. More insurers are hiking premiums or reducing exposure in risky areas, forcing homeowners to rely on costlier state-run programs. But even then, 39 million US homes are still insured at prices that don't match the climate risks they face, First Street estimated. "This one quarter of all properties represents the current Insurance Bubble of properties likely overvalued due to the underpricing or subsidization of climate risk in their insurance products," the report said, noting that almost no part of the US is left untouched. While the cost of climate-related disasters like floods and wildfires has been soaring, some states continue to limit increases in insurance premiums. In response, top insurers have slashed coverage, forcing governmental "insurer of last resort" programs to step in, often providing less coverage at multiple times the price. Either way, insurance costs are rising, and First Street estimated the impact they will have on a home's value by way of its income potential. For example, a home in California currently valued at $296,000 would see a 39% drop after repricing for estimated insurance risk. A home in West Palm Beach, Florida, could lose 41%. In Louisiana, a home could see a 48% plunge in value, and in Plaquemines Parish, a home could even lose 100% of its value. "The range of property value loss for those 39 million properties is large, ranging from as little as a single dollar to full devaluation with 100% decrease in overall investment value. Those most at risk are property owners that are already stretched to be able to pay for the mortgage and associated costs, even before accounting for the forthcoming increases in insurance," First Street wrote. Prospective home buyers have taken notice of the climate's effect on the housing market. More than four-fifths of house hunters are taking climate-related risks into consideration when looking for a home, according to a recent Zillow survey. Still, despite the climate risks, the housing affordability crisis has boosted migration to areas vulnerable to floods, wildfires, and extreme heat.    
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