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Buyers Beware: General Liability Outlook May be Shifting

Buyers should focus on building a robust GI program and risk management infrastructure to lessen the impact of emerging GI trends.
By: | July 5, 2016 • 6 min read

The soothing drumbeat of “excess capital” and “soft market” to describe the general liability (GL) market is a familiar sound for brokers and buyers. Emerging GL trends, however, suggest the calm may not last.

Increasing severity of GL claims may hit some sectors like a light rain at first, if they have not already, but they could quickly feel like a pelting thunderstorm in others. A number of factors could contribute to the potential jump in GL prices for certain industry segments or exposures, possibly creating “micro” or niche hard markets in the short-term, and maybe even turning the broader market over the longer-term.

“There are trends we’re seeing that will play out slowly. Industries that carry more general liability exposure will and have been hit first and hardest, but it won’t apply across the board initially,” said David Perez, Senior Vice President and Chief Underwriting Officer, for Liberty Mutual Insurance’s National Insurance Specialty operation. “There is ample capital in the market today, which allows a poor performing account to move its policy frequently from carrier to carrier. Poorer performing classes, however, will likely face increased pricing for GL policies and a reduction in capacity.”

The good news for buyers is that they can take action today to lessen the impact these trends and the evolving market may have on their GL programs.

David Perez on the state of the GL market.

Medical and Litigation Trends Drive Severity

One factor increasing claim severity is the rising cost of health care, driven both by greater demand and by medical inflation that is growing faster than the Consumer Price index.

The impact of rising medical costs on commercial auto is well-known. Businesses with heavy transportation exposures are finding it more difficult to obtain coverage, or are paying more for it.

That same trend will impact general liability, just on a slower and more fragmented basis.

LM_SponsoredContent“In light of these trends, brokers and buyers should seek to understand how effectively their current or potential insurers defend GL claims, particular in using evidence-based medicine to assess and value the medical portion of a claim, and how they can provide necessary care to claimants while still helping clients control their total cost of risk.”

— David Perez, Senior Vice President & Chief Underwriting Officer, National Insurance Specialty, Liberty Mutual Insurance

“It takes longer for medical inflation to register through the tort system in general liability than it does in auto liability (AL) because auto claims are generally resolved more quickly,” Perez said. “But the same factors affecting severity in AL also exist in GL and as a result, it’s foreseeable that we will not only see similar severity trends in GL, but they may in fact be worse than we’ve seen in commercial auto.”

Industries with greater exposure to severity in general liability claims should be the first wave of companies to notice the impact of medical inflation.

“Medical inflation will drive up costs across the board, but sectors like construction and product manufacturing have a higher relative exposure for personal injury lawsuits.”

The impact of medical inflation on the GL market.

Beyond medical inflation, two litigation trends are increasing GL damages. First, plaintiffs’ lawyers are seeking to migrate the use of life care plans—traditionally employed only for truly catastrophic injuries—to more routine claims.  Perez recalled one claimant with a broken thumb and torn ligaments who sought as much as $1 million in care for the injury for the rest of his life.

Second, the number of allegations of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in GL claims is growing.  It can be difficult to predict TBI outcomes initially and poor outcomes can be expensive and long tailed.

“In light of these trends, brokers and buyers should seek to understand how effectively their current or potential insurers defend GL claims, particular in using evidence-based medicine to assess and value the medical portion of a claim, and how they can provide necessary care to claimants while still helping clients control their total cost of risk,” notes Perez.

Changing Legal Landscape

Medical inflation and litigation trends are not the only issues impacting general liability.

Unanticipated changes in court interpretations of policy language can throw unexpected pressure on GL pricing and capacity.

Courts sometimes issue rulings interpreting policy language in a manner that expands coverage well beyond the underwriter’s original intent. Such opinions may sometimes have a retroactive effect, resulting in an immediate impact on not only open, but also closed cases in some circumstances.

Shifts in the Marketplace

In addition to facing price increases, GL brokers and buyers will be challenged by slightly shrinking capacity due to consolidation and repositioning among carriers in the marketplace. “Some major carriers have scaled back their GL writing, resulting in a migration of experienced senior management. As these executives leave, they take their GL expertise and relationships with them, resulting in fewer market leaders and less innovation,” Perez said.

“Additionally, there are new carriers coming into the business that may not have the historical GL loss data to proactively identify trends or the financial strength and experience to effectively service their GL customers and brokers. Both trends make it important for brokers and buyers to work with an insurer that is committed to the GL market and has the understanding and resources to help better manage risks impacting customers.”

Last year saw a high level of mergers and acquisitions in the insurance industry. Buyers should take advantage of that disruption to re-evaluate their needs and whether their insurers are meeting them.  Or better yet, anticipating them.

What’s a Buyer to Do?

Buyers—and their brokers— should look to partner with insurers that can spot emerging trends and offer creative solutions to address them proactively.

What should buyers and brokers do, given the trends facing the GL market?

“Brokers and buyers should value insurers that have not only durability and a long history in the general liability business, but also a strong risk management infrastructure,” Perez said. “Your insurer should be able to help you mitigate your specific risks, and complement that with coverage that works for you.”

Beyond robust GL claims and legal management, Liberty Mutual also provides access to one of the insurance industry’s largest risk control departments to help improve safety and mitigate both claim frequency and severity.

In addition, notes Perez, “Even if a company has a less than optimal loss history in general liability, there can be options to provide adequate coverage for that company. The key is to partner with an insurer that has the best-in-class expertise, creativity, and flexibility to make it happen.”

By working closely with their insurers to understand trends and their potential impacts, brokers and buyers can better prepare for the possible GL storm on the horizon.

To learn more about Liberty Mutual’s general liability offering, visit https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/coverages/general-liability-insurance-policy.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.

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Liberty Mutual Insurance offers a wide range of insurance products and services, including general liability, property, commercial automobile, excess casualty and workers compensation.

More from Risk & Insurance

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2018 Power Broker

To the Ends of the Earth

From the frozen Arctic to the inferno of a high net worth divorce, Power Brokers go to extremes to find solutions for their clients.
By: | February 20, 2018 • 2 min read

Looking for the Power Broker Winners? Click Here.

Picture this: A bitter divorce so heated that the principals are only communicating through their attorneys. Then their house burns down. Imagine walking into that situation and trying to find solutions that will please both parties.

But that’s exactly what 2018 Power Broker® Jeff Kaplan, family office practice leader, Risk Management Strategies, did.

Kaplan, who won in the Private Client category, negotiated the sale of the property — forget the rebuild, let the new owner take that on, he counseled his clients — orchestrated a 30-day auction for its sale, and achieved a profitable result for every party in the transaction, each half of the feuding couple and the developer of the sold property.

To the client, Kaplan’s work, including his high degree of emotional intelligence, released him from the “seventh circle of hell.”

From that doused inferno, let us now cast our eyes to the frozen north.

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The owner of a barge learned their property sank off of Nome, Alaska, (average temperature 27 degrees Fahrenheit). With an approaching freeze threatening to seal off the harbor, the owners, Phoenix Marine, risked losing valuable equipment.

Into action sprang George Andersen, a 2018 Power Broker® in the Marine category. With precious little time to lose, Andersen negotiated the claim and communicated proactively with the U.S. Coast Guard and other officials. Then he commissioned salvage divers from New York to travel to Alaska and retrieve the valuable equipment from the sunken barge.

Before we depart the Arctic, let us consider another 2018 Power Broker® from Aon, Christian Wise. To arrange cover for a defense contractor’s radio installations in a remote Arctic location, Wise dispatched a loss control engineer, complete with instructions on the use of a shotgun should polar bears interlope in temperatures that registered negative 29 degrees Fahrenheit.

One of the radio installations had already burned to the ground due to scant local fire protection, culminating in a $20 million loss. Despite that, working with London underwriters, Wise and his team were able to shave $1.3 million off an initial property premium cost of $1.8 million.

Power Brokers are judged by a team of Risk & Insurance® editors and writers over a three-month period each year. After interviews with hundreds of sources, winners are picked for their creativity and resourcefulness, their excellent customer service and their industry knowledge.

Not every Power Broker® required one of their associates to tote a shotgun. But many of them went to extremes for their clients; some of them waded into hurricane ravaged neighborhoods to document damage; others put their personal lives on hold, including one Power Broker® who delayed his honeymoon to attend a meeting on behalf of his client.

This year, 158 Power Broker® winners were chosen, as well as 55 finalists, spanning 25 industry categories. Congratulations to every one of these exceptional individuals. Click here to begin reading the profiles of this year’s winners. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]