2023 O’Connor Insurance Scholarship Awarded
Congratulations to our Commercial Lines Manager, Elizabeth Schurwan & her Champion English Setter, Huntwood Bennett’s Magical Journey (aka Bennett) !
Employee Spotlight: Mary Perkins
A valued employee since 1994, Mary Perkins, Senior Personal Account Manager, steps into the Employee Spotlight!
How did you get into the insurance industry?
I was looking for a different job and a family member who was in the insurance industry gave me a lead for a job at a major insurance company. I applied and got the job. Now many years later, here I am – still in the business!
(Special Note: Mary has been the only Personal Account Manager for many of our clients for years. She has become a trusted friend as well and some check in with her on a regular basis to just say ‘hello’ as good friends do.)
What is some advice you give your clients?
I realize the premium clients pay is very important to them. However, I recommend to clients to plan carefully by purchasing the proper coverage to meet their needs even if the premium is a little higher. In the event of a claim, they will appreciate having the proper coverage to cover the loss instead of the regret of not having the right coverage.
What’s something you do outside of work that would surprise your co-workers or clients?
I enjoy going out and traveling with friends. Also, I really enjoy spending time with my grandchildren and try to attend all of their sporting events.
Social Inflation Inflames Our Nation
Calling all the 2020 Karens, Zoombombers, superspreaders, Trumpers, social unrest protestors, cancel culture conspirators, herd immunity participants and essential workers to move out of the way. We are flattening the curve and shifting to the next catchphrase, social inflation. This means insurance claim costs are rising over the rate of economic inflation due to societal attitudes.
This phenomenon is drastically affecting the umbrella liability capacity, resulting in reduced policy limits and premium increases. The term, social inflation, describes the following trends within the general public:
1. Increased litigation;
2. Holding defendants to a broader duty of care;
3. Supporting legal decisions in favor of the plaintiff whether or not within the law (jurors are
biased to social justice and want to hold businesses responsible);
4. Much larger awards to plaintiffs (nuclear awards).
Let’s explore some of the outcomes that provide evidence of social inflation.
INCREASED LITIGATION: During the pandemic, there are not as many vehicles on the roads and fewer business operations, which should result in fewer lawsuits in these areas. However, the 1,500 COVID-19 cases filed from March 2020 to December 2020 are nearly eight times the number of cases that follow the typical natural disaster.
DEFENDANTS HELD TO BROADER DUTY OF CARE: Negligent security cases are on the rise. In the past, when a crime was committed the property owners did not have a duty to protect a person from another person according to common law. However, times are changing, and so are the standards of care. In the fall of 2020, the new duty to protect was evident in the case of a professionally managed and gated townhome community in Florida where a 30-year-old father of three was fatally shot on the common parking lot, allegedly by a stray bullet. Three young boys dressed in black had been roaming the property, and when asked what they were doing, one of them pulled a gun and fired three shots. Following an investigation revealing prior crimes on the property and in the neighborhood, the townhome community’s and the management company’s insurers each paid policy limits. The community’s security was ineffective: no security guard, the gate video camera and a parking lot light were inoperable, and the perimeter chain-link fences were notorious as sources of entry for suspected trespassers to climb over easily.
Community associations are not the only casualties of negligent security. A lack of video surveillance outside a convenience store resulted in a $52 million payout when a shooting occurred on-premises. Thirty-eight million was paid for an attempted carjacking resulting in gunshot wounds to the victim. An apartment complex and shooter on-premises were both held 50% responsible; $20 million was paid. Other honorable mentions are $5 million for an injury on a nightclub’s premises and a $2 million settlement for a crime in an apartment building hallway.
BIASED JURORS AND NUCLEAR AWARDS: A $90 million Texas jury award in 2018 proves this point. A mother of three was driving in the freezing rain and black ice when she lost control of her pickup and crossed over the grass median into the oncoming traffic, where her pickup was struck by a Werner Enterprise truck. The accident resulted in a seven-year-old boy’s death, and a twelve-year-old girl was rendered a quadriplegic, while the mother and another son suffered extensive brain injuries. The jury found Werner 70% responsible, Werner’s driver 14%, and the mother bore 16% responsibility. Why was the jury anti-Werner? Every state’s Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) manual instructs 18-wheelers to slow to a crawl and get off the road during icy conditions; Werner’s student driver was traveling 50 mph. Werner did not provide the driver with basic safety equipment such as an outside temperature gauge or CB radio, which could have made the driver aware of the icy road conditions. Also, it seems the jury did not approve of Werner’s executives’ testimonies that the company did absolutely nothing wrong and would not make changes in the future. Voila, the verdict!
Where this ends is yet to be seen. In the meantime, we can expect more of the same. We now face the 2020 backlog of courtroom cases with yet-to-be-seen jury awards. Our litigious population of the Karens, Zoombombers, superspreaders, Trumpers, social unrest protestors and cancel culture conspirators will file new lawsuits, and societal bias against business will continue, thus continuing to fuel social inflation.
Strategies for Tragedy: How to Help Community Associations Recover from Nuclear Jury Awards
There is no magic formula to determine how high we should go when offering our clients umbrella limits. If you follow the verdicts, it appears the sky’s the limit. We will explore some jury awards, umbrella involvement, and what can be done if the umbrella is insufficient to meet the “sky’s the limit” award.
It is challenging to imagine why a condominium’s umbrella paid for an 80-year old driver who hit father and son bicyclists, killing the son. Twelve million was awarded after a woman pulled out of a condo’s underground garage and hit the boy. Apparently, her vision was impaired by a hedge and a stop sign was not properly placed, which was in violation of state and local regulations. The jury found the management company 60% at fault, the condominium 30% and the driver only 10%. Equally difficult to understand is why a condo’s umbrella protected a management company who misplaced a stop sign and did not trim the hedges in accordance with regulation. This is because the underlying general liability includes the real estate manager under “who is an insured,” and the umbrella follows.
Is $12 million the going rate for a life? A New Mexico jury thought so when a 31-year old man was killed inside a condominium unit by a stray bullet that pierced his heart right in front of his two children. The perpetrator was never found, but a drug deal gone bad was suspected. The man’s family sued and pled to the jury that the condominium and property manager must keep the property safe. The attorneys stated, “First and foremost, they should have been tenant screening. They allowed a person with a fake name and fake ID to be on the property.” Who would have thought of this when contemplating umbrella limits?
A $6 million umbrella did not go far when a northwestern Indiana circuit court awarded $30.7 million for three boys who fell through the ice at Lakes of Four Seasons Property Owners Association. One Sunday morning in March, ten- and eleven-year-olds Christopher, Andrew and James threw rocks to make sure the ice was solid. They ventured onto the lake only to witness Christopher fall through as he headed back to shore. The brothers rushed to save him when Andrew and James fell through. Andrew drowned, James was left with traumatic brain injury and Christopher survived with the memories. The lake contained an overflow crib that circulates water beneath the surface. The plaintiff’s attorney argued there was no warning sign, no fence to restrict access, and no safety equipment.
The attorneys had to get past the bias of what the boys were doing on the dangerous ice and where their parents were. This proved easy when the boys’ father testified that he went to work at 7 a.m., leaving his wife and kids in bed, only to return three hours later to find one of his boys dead and another in a coma. Then, when the director of operations was questioned about the cost to add signage and a pulley line which could have been used by the boys, his answer was $70; hence the $30.7 million award.
During intense winds, one community’s 40-foot eucalyptus tree fell on a young woman’s car while she was pulling out of the carport. She was trapped inside and died. This was the second tree to topple on the same carport in three years, which perhaps led to the $10 million settlement. Yet, the 2020 winter yielded two deaths from “slip and falls” on ice at two different condominium parking lots, and there are no claims for damages … yet. The point is that we just don’t know what is going to trigger the next nuclear award.
The insured should examine the exposures to determine the umbrella limit needed. Consider the community’s children, seniors, lakes, pools, other water features, walking paths, trip hazards, playgrounds, sport courts, tree covering, vegetation, and security to name a few. If the umbrella limit is not adequate to cover a judgement, the community association is not absolved of paying off the award balance. Imagine a board of directors collecting the balance of the award with a special assessment to each owner. In the case of the three boys, the board would be asking for $24.7 million from the owners. Owners can typically purchase liability loss assessment with their homeowner’s policy for a minimal cost, but the limit typically caps at $25,000-$50,000. Is that enough? The strategies for tragedy include limits commensurate to the exposures and increased loss assessment coverage for the owners.
Grilling Safely in Your Backyard
Just like swimming pools and sunburns, a sizzling grill is a symbol of summer, but grilling isn’t just about great food. Backyard barbecues often create treasured memories with friends and family.
Keep in mind, however, that when you grill, you’re literally playing with fire. Thousands of residents each year learn this the hard way, suffering damage to their homes or even serious injuries in grilling accidents.
There’s good news, though: You can prevent grilling accidents by taking some simple precautions. The tips below can help ensure you cook only your burgers – and not your house – the next time you fire up the grill.
TIPS FOR ALL GRILLS
* Your grill, whether gas or charcoal, should be on a level surface outdoors, away from anything that could be ignited by flames.
* NEVER use a grill indoors. Odorless carbon monoxide fumes could kill you. If rain ruins your cookout, invest in a cast iron grill pan that can be used on the stove.
* Keep your grill clean and well-maintained. Check parts regularly to determine if replacements are needed.
* Never leave a hot grill unattended or let children play near it.
CHARCOAL GRILL TIPS
* Do not add lighter fluid directly to hot coals. The flame could travel up the stream of fluid and burn you.
* Never use gasoline or kerosene to light a charcoal fire.
* Use flame-retardant mitts and long-handled barbecue tongs, as coals can reach up to 1,000 degrees.
* To dispose of coals, allow the ashes to cool for at least 48 hours before disposal in a non-combustible container. If you cannot wait 48 hours, carefully place coals individually in a can of sand or bucket of water.
GAS GRILL TIPS
From the National Fire Protection Association
* Check your grill’s hoses for leaks before using it for the first time each year. Apply a light soap and water solution to the hose. A propane leak will release bubbles. If you have a leak, and it will not stop after the grill and gas is turned off, call the fire department. If the leak stops when the grill and gas are turned off, have your grill serviced by a professional.
* If you smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not move the grill.
* Do not keep a filled propane tank in a hot car or trunk. When getting containers refilled, make that your last stop before going home.
* Store propane tanks in an upright position, and never indoors.
From all of us at O’Connor Insurance happy grilling, and stay safe this summer!
Karen O’Connor Corrigan Named MAIA 2020 Insurance Person of the Year
O’Connor Insurance is proud to announce that Karen O’Connor Corrigan, President and Owner, has been named 2020 Insurance Person of the Year by the Missouri Association of Insurance Agents (MAIA). This award is presented to an individual who has significantly contributed to the American Agency System of independent insurance agents within the state of Missouri. Karen, a Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) and Community Insurance and Risk Management Specialist (CIRMS), has more than 35 years of insurance industry experience. She is currently the national chairperson of the Technical Affairs Committee for the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA) and serves on the MAIA’s Coverage Advisory Committee. Karen is also Past President of the local Community Associations Institute (CAI), a non-profit organization of leaders and service professionals who are involved in community associations, and she’s an active member of several current CAI committees.
Karen stated, “This award means so much to me. I am grateful to my team who make it possible for me to contribute the time and resources necessary to teach others. I also want to recognize my friendly competitors who graciously share their knowledge and technical skills. They have enabled me to pay it forward and help the insurance community, and I appreciate their support.”
Matt Barton, Executive Vice-President of the MAIA made the prestigious award with many O’Connor staff members and immediate family members present.
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Employee Spotlight: Liz Smith
How did you get into the insurance industry?
I answered an ad for a policy typist with an insurance company in 1984, and then eventually moved up to handling auto, homeowner, and first-party liability claims. After the company reorganized and downsized fourteen years later, I began my career on the insurance agency side of the business with O’Connor Insurance Agency (just celebrated 20 years with them!) handling claims and working with Cheryl O’Connor on our condominium business. As the condominium book of business grew, my focus and responsibility was solely within that niche.
What is one piece (or a couple pieces) of advice you give your clients?
Read your policies. Always call your agent with any questions or concerns about your coverage – that’s what they are there for. You don’t want any surprises at the time of a loss.
What’s something you do outside of work that would surprise your co-workers or clients?
My coworkers know everything about me. Maybe they do not know that I enjoy volunteering on the weekends at races, walks, or other events (just to get a free t-shirt). It gets me involved in the community, plus the opportunity to meet new and exciting people.
Also, I know they know this, but I am the best mother and grandmother in the world. If they don’t know it, I tell them.
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