Hurricane Aftermath

Post-Disaster Impact on Workers’ Comp a Mixed Bag

Employers are urged to proceed with caution when returning to hurricane damaged properties.
By: | September 25, 2017 • 3 min read

In Houston, a region pummeled by Hurricane Harvey in late August, a massive cleanup is underway. The work will take time, and it presents significant risks for the workers tasked with setting things right.


Ben Gonzalez, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Insurance, will not speculate on the frequency of workers’ comp claims or rates following the disaster. But he said the hurricane has presented serious health and safety hazards for those working on recovery and cleanup.

Those dangers, he said, range from fall and lifting hazards to cuts and lacerations to bites from snakes and insects. He also said that standing flood water poses risks such as exposure to infectious disease, chemicals and accidental electrocutions — all of which have been widely reported by the media.

“Even if extensive damage did not occur at a particular location, worksite conditions may have changed and employees may be doing work outside their regular duties as the try to get businesses ready to open,” he said. This creates potential hazards if businesses fail to take sufficient time to assess the environment and make sure employees have proper training and safety equipment, Gonzalez said.

Travis Vance, counsel in the Charlotte, N.C., office of Fisher Phillips, said it’s not unusual to have a spike in workers’ comp claims and costs after a disaster because employers use their own workers for cleanup instead of hiring a remediation company — a mistake that he has seen lead to insurance payouts in the millions of dollars.

He predicts the scale of the disaster left by Harvey and Irma will cause workers’ comp claims in Texas and Florida to jump by 15 to 20 percent in the next year.

But while many assume rates will spike following a natural disaster, records from past events suggest results can be difficult to predict.

It’s not unusual to have a spike in workers’ comp claims and costs after a disaster because employers use their own workers for cleanup instead of hiring a remediation company.

Workers’ comp rates in Louisiana spiked following the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, while other states have reported flat rates and even declines in workers’ comp claims following natural disasters like hurricanes and flooding.

In Louisiana in 2006, a year after Katrina, the state reported a 38 percent increase in the number of workers’ comp claims processed.

But the most recent workers’ comp figures in the state so far do not show a spike in claims as a result of the August 2016 floods that decimated approximately more than 150,000 homes and businesses in the Baton Rouge area.

The state’s year-end 2016 figures actually showed a dip in claims, as well as workers’ comp insurance rates, which have dropped consistently from 2013 to 2016.

At Baton Rouge-based LUBA workers’ comp, a casualty insurance company, the company saw firsthand how post-disaster cleanup could affect workers’ comp since its own offices were under water.

But rather than seeing a jump, the company saw a slight decrease in claims in the year following the floods. Mike DePaul, LUBA’s chief operating officer, said that, in his company’s experience, people were so “focused and mission-driven” during cleanup efforts that the type of careless accidents that can happen to distracted workers just didn’t occur.

Another theory is with so much clean-up work available and people working together to rebuild, there’s less likelihood of employees filing fraudulent claims.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy’s hit on New Jersey caused an estimated $30 billion in damage. However, according to Karla Bardinas, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, total workers’ comp filings after Sandy — in 2012, 2013 and 2014 — actually declined compared to 2011.


The Cambridge, Mass.-based Workers’ Compensation Research Institute found in its post-Katrina research that immediately after the hurricane, there was a dip in medical costs per claim in the New Orleans area, most likely due to a disruption in medical care. The state also saw a decline in the duration of temporary disability after the disasters mainly concentrated in hurricane-affected areas.

Regardless of whether Texas and Florida see rates jump like Katrina or remain flat and drop like they did in post-Sandy New Jersey, Vance said employers and insurers alike should not be complacent, and precautions should be taken to protect workers returning to workplaces that may be in less-than-optimal condition.

Angela Childers is a Chicago-based writer specializing in health care and business management. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Focus: Cyber

Expanding Cyber BI

Cyber business interruption insurance is a thriving market, but growth carries the threat of a mega-loss. 
By: | March 5, 2018 • 7 min read

Lingering hopes that large-scale cyber attack might be a once-in-a-lifetime event were dashed last year. The four-day WannaCry ransomware strike in May across 150 countries targeted more than 300,000 computers running Microsoft Windows. A month later, NotPetya hit multinationals ranging from Danish shipping firm Maersk to pharmaceutical giant Merck.


Maersk’s chairman, Jim Hagemann Snabe, revealed at this year’s Davos summit that NotPetya shut down most of the group’s network. While it was replacing 45,000 PCs and 4,000 servers, freight transactions had to be completed manually. The combined cost of business interruption and rebuilding the system was up to $300 million.

Merck’s CFO Robert Davis told investors that its NotPetya bill included $135 million in lost sales plus $175 million in additional costs. Fellow victims FedEx and French construction group Saint Gobain reported similar financial hits from lost business and clean-up costs.

The fast-expanding world of cryptocurrencies is also increasingly targeted. Echoes of the 2014 hack that triggered the collapse of Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox emerged this January when Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck pledged to repay customers $500 million stolen by hackers in a cyber heist.

The size and scope of last summer’s attacks accelerated discussions on both sides of the Atlantic, between risk managers and brokers seeking more comprehensive cyber business interruption insurance products.

It also recently persuaded Pool Re, the UK’s terrorism reinsurance pool set up 25 years ago after bomb attacks in London’s financial quarter, to announce that from April its cover will extend to include material damage and direct BI resulting from acts of terrorism using a cyber trigger.

“The threat from a cyber attack is evident, and businesses have become increasingly concerned about the extensive repercussions these types of attacks could have on them,” said Pool Re’s chief, Julian Enoizi. “This was a clear gap in our coverage which left businesses potentially exposed.”

Shifting Focus

Development of cyber BI insurance to date reveals something of a transatlantic divide, said Hans Allnutt, head of cyber and data risk at international law firm DAC Beachcroft. The first U.S. mainstream cyber insurance products were a response to California’s data security and breach notification legislation in 2003.

Jimaan Sané, technology underwriter, Beazley

Of more recent vintage, Europe’s first cyber policies’ wordings initially reflected U.S. wordings, with the focus on data breaches. “So underwriters had to innovate and push hard on other areas of cyber cover, particularly BI and cyber crimes such as ransomware demands and distributed denial of service attacks,” said Allnut.

“Europe now has regulation coming up this May in the form of the General Data Protection Regulation across the EU, so the focus has essentially come full circle.”

Cyber insurance policies also provide a degree of cover for BI resulting from one of three main triggers, said Jimaan Sané, technology underwriter for specialist insurer Beazley. “First is the malicious-type trigger, where the system goes down or an outage results directly from a hack.

“Second is any incident involving negligence — the so-called ‘fat finger’ — where human or operational error causes a loss or there has been failure to upgrade or maintain the system. Third is any broader unplanned outage that hits either the company or anyone on which it relies, such as a service provider.”

The importance of cyber BI covering negligent acts in addition to phishing and social engineering attacks was underlined by last May’s IT meltdown suffered by airline BA.

This was triggered by a technician who switched off and then reconnected the power supply to BA’s data center, physically damaging servers and distribution panels.

Compensating delayed passengers cost the company around $80 million, although the bill fell short of the $461 million operational error loss suffered by Knight Capital in 2012, which pushed it close to bankruptcy and decimated its share price.

Mistaken Assumption

Awareness of potentially huge BI losses resulting from cyber attack was heightened by well-publicized hacks suffered by retailers such as Target and Home Depot in late 2013 and 2014, said Matt Kletzli, SVP and head of management liability at Victor O. Schinnerer & Company.


However, the incidents didn’t initially alarm smaller, less high-profile businesses, which assumed they wouldn’t be similarly targeted.

“But perpetrators employing bots and ransomware set out to expose any firms with weaknesses in their system,” he added.

“Suddenly, smaller firms found that even when they weren’t themselves targeted, many of those around them had fallen victim to attacks. Awareness started to lift, as the focus moved from large, headline-grabbing attacks to more everyday incidents.”

Publications such as the Director’s Handbook of Cyber-Risk Oversight, issued by the National Association of Corporate Directors and the Internet Security Alliance fixed the issue firmly on boardroom agendas.

“What’s possibly of greater concern is the sheer number of different businesses that can be affected by a single cyber attack and the cost of getting them up and running again quickly.” — Jimaan Sané, technology underwriter, Beazley

Reformed ex-hackers were recruited to offer board members their insights into the most vulnerable points across the company’s systems — in much the same way as forger-turned-security-expert Frank Abagnale Jr., subject of the Spielberg biopic “Catch Me If You Can.”

There also has been an increasing focus on systemic risk related to cyber attacks. Allnutt cites “Business Blackout,” a July 2015 study by Lloyd’s of London and the Cambridge University’s Centre for Risk Studies.

This detailed analysis of what could result from a major cyber attack on America’s power grid predicted a cost to the U.S. economy of hundreds of billions and claims to the insurance industry totalling upwards of $21.4 billion.

Lloyd’s described the scenario as both “technologically possible” and “improbable.” Three years on, however, it appears less fanciful.

In January, the head of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, Ciaran Martin, said the UK had been fortunate in so far averting a ‘category one’ attack. A C1 would shut down the financial services sector on which the country relies heavily and other vital infrastructure. It was a case of “when, not if” such an assault would be launched, he warned.

AI: Friend or Foe?

Despite daunting potential financial losses, pioneers of cyber BI insurance such as Beazley, Zurich, AIG and Chubb now see new competitors in the market. Capacity is growing steadily, said Allnutt.

“Not only is cyber insurance a new product, it also offers a new source of premium revenue so there is considerable appetite for taking it on,” he added. “However, whilst most insurers are comfortable with the liability aspects of cyber risk; not all insurers are covering loss of income.”

Matt Kletzli, SVP and head of management liability, Victor O. Schinnerer & Company

Kletzli added that available products include several well-written, broad cyber coverages that take into account all types of potential cyber attack and don’t attempt to limit cover by applying a narrow definition of BI loss.

“It’s a rapidly-evolving coverage — and needs to be — in order to keep up with changing circumstances,” he said.

The good news, according to a Fitch report, is that the cyber loss ratio has been reduced to 45 percent as more companies buy cover and the market continues to expand, bringing down the size of the average loss.

“The bad news is that at cyber events, talk is regularly turning to ‘what will be the Hurricane Katrina-type event’ for the cyber market?” said Kletzli.

“What’s worse is that with hurricane losses, underwriters know which regions are most at risk, whereas cyber is a global risk and insurers potentially face huge aggregation.”


Nor is the advent of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) necessarily cause for optimism. As Allnutt noted, while AI can potentially be used to decode malware, by the same token sophisticated criminals can employ it to develop new malware and escalate the ‘computer versus computer’ battle.

“The trend towards greater automation of business means that we can expect more incidents involving loss of income,” said Sané. “What’s possibly of greater concern is the sheer number of different businesses that can be affected by a single cyber attack and the cost of getting them up and running again quickly.

“We’re likely to see a growing number of attacks where the aim is to cause disruption, rather than demand a ransom.

“The paradox of cyber BI is that the more sophisticated your organization and the more it embraces automation, the bigger the potential impact when an outage does occur. Those old-fashioned businesses still reliant on traditional processes generally aren’t affected as much and incur smaller losses.” &

Graham Buck is editor of He can be reached at