Environmental Liability

The Zika Battle’s Unintended Consequences

Worry about Zika’s devastating effects is leading to redoubled remediation efforts, but also potential liability claims.
By: | September 28, 2016 • 7 min read

More than 3,100 cases of Zika infection have been recorded in the U.S., most of those contracted due to international travel. South Carolina has 31 recorded cases and infection in every case appears to have happened overseas.

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But after four local residents were diagnosed with Zika, officials in one South Carolina county sought to contain its spread and arranged for an aerial spraying of the pesticide Naled, which kills the Aedes mosquito known to carry the Zika virus.

In their haste to halt the advance of the virus, Dorchester County officials gave inadequate public notice for an early Sunday morning spraying on August 28.

A local farmer didn’t get the alert and therefore didn’t shield her 43 beehives. Only when she discovered that nearly all her bees — as many as 3 million — were dead, did she figure out what happened.

Joe Peiser, EVP, head of casualty broking, Willis Towers Watson

Joe Peiser, EVP, head of casualty broking, Willis Towers Watson

The county immediately apologized for the lack of proper notice and said it will try to reimburse beekeepers after insurance adjusters determine the value of the loss.

The bee farmer suggested the figure will be vast as there is no easy replacement for lost bee colonies, honey and hives.

“There wouldn’t need to be, nor does a separate product exist to cover the municipality’s liability in this situation,” Joseph C. Peiser, executive vice president, head of casualty broking at Willis Towers Watson.

The county’s coverage should come under either a general liability program, or a pollution or environmental liability program, as the spraying and the unintended consequence of killing the bees is a form of negligence and property damage, he said.

“That is exactly what a general liability policy is designed to cover,” Peiser said.

Unintended Consequences

Ever since Zika enter the U.S. earlier this year, government officials tasked with protecting public health are in uncharted territory. Worry about Zika’s devastating effects on a developing baby in utero and the virus’s unique ability to transmit from human to human is leading to remediation efforts that have not been tried in years, if at all.

The above case was Dorchester County’s first such aerial spraying in 14 years, administrator Jason Ward told CNN a few days later. The hard-hit Florida district of Wynwood also initiated new aerial sprays late this summer. It looks like the approach worked.

“After mosquitoes persisted and infections continued despite ground-based spraying, aerial spraying knocked down mosquitoes rapidly and was associated with interrupting transmission of Zika in Wynwood,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement.

“When faced with the potentially devastating outcomes of microcephaly or other serious brain defects that Zika can cause during pregnancy, we must use the best available tools to prevent infection.

According to EPA assessments, when used properly, aerial spraying with Naled for mosquito control doesn’t pose a risk to people or the environment,” he added.

The honeybee case highlights the need for insurance brokers to work with clients to weigh all options and anticipate the unintended consequences. Start with the environmental liability program, sometimes called a pollution legal liability program, Peiser said.

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“Because they are spraying from the air, and that’s not from a specific site, it would be better if they have an environmental program that it is amended to include this type of operation,” he said.

Communities could add a carve-back on the pollution exclusion called ‘named perils and time element coverage.’ It can be in an umbrella policy, or the primary general liability policy, or both, Peiser said.

The ‘named perils’ portion offers coverage if the pollution is caused by one of the itemized events in the carve back, such as hostile fire, lightning or an overturned vehicle. It’s unlikely to provide coverage for this event, Peiser said.

“Because they are spraying from the air, and that’s not from a specific site, it would be better if they have an environmental program that it is amended to include this type of operation.” — Joseph Peiser, EVP and head of casualty broking, Willis Towers Watson

But the ‘time element’ portion should. This allows the general liability policy to cover an event when it’s known within a set time period (say 20 days) and reported to the insurer within a certain time (say 30 to 40 days), he said.

“I think the most important amendment is to the pollution exclusion to provide ‘time element’ pollution exclusion,” Peiser said. “If they do that, all scenarios should be covered.”

But as an added measure and in order to lessen the chance of argument with the insurer, one can also amend the ‘intentional acts exclusion’ so it does not apply to property damage as the result of reasonable force or activity, Peiser said.

To date, Peiser has yet to field questions or concerns about Zika but expects that he will.

Other Unexpected Zika Claims

Other brokers agree that the Zika virus is just gaining traction as a risk management concern. When the Aedes mosquito population begins to surge again next spring, more claims and questions may pop up. Brazil’s infection rate this winter is a likely litmus test of what the U.S. will experience next summer.

As cases of Zika increase, so too will related insurance claims.

“You’ve got to anticipate the negative and then prepare for it,” said Rick Vohden, SVP and education and public entity practice leader at Marsh Risk Consulting.

Industries that could potentially be impacted by the Zika virus include health care providers and first responders, who could be exposed to blood and bodily fluids, and outdoor workers, who could be exposed to mosquito bites.

International business travelers and university staff and students studying abroad are also presenting new areas of concern, since Zika thrives in regions along the Equator.

Ample communications with employees and students may be the most important approach any business or government organization can take. Let people know what the dangers are in the area where they work and offer solutions to avoid contracting the virus, said David Marcus, managing director, public sector at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“You’ve got to anticipate the negative and then prepare for it.” — Rick Vohden, SVP and education and public entity practice leader, Marsh Risk Consulting

Employees may sue if the employer does not provide adequate controls and they catch the disease, Peiser said.

“Whenever there is a pandemic you start to hear about infectious disease exclusions,” he said.

“Hotels, hospitals or universities want to make sure they don’t have an Infectious disease exclusion that is sometimes in a general liability policy,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s also in the excess workers’ comp policy if a business is self-insured.”

“We continually provide alerts to our clients that they need to be cognizant of the issue early because there is a realm of risk that you are probably going to be impacted by, if not this year, more significantly next year and I think 2018 will be worse than next year,” Vohden said

It is not too early for organizations and brokers to think through each solution and anticipate where it may cause another problem. For example, asking summertime workers to wear pants and long sleeved shirts for protection may expose them to heat exposure and heat exhaustion, Vohden said.

“So we are saying ‘here’s what you can do but if you do this, here’s your next group of consequences that we need to be wary of,” he said.

It is possible that workers’ compensation could come into play at some point.  A worker could make third party over claim and sue the municipality, as well as collect workers’ comp, Peiser said.

VIDEO: South Carolina’s aerial spray for mosquito control accidentally killed millions of honeybees. WCBD’s Sofia Arazoza reports.

Since there’s potential for employees to have occupational exposure to Zika and then transmit it to their spouse, that’s another liability to consider.

“That’s stringing the potential liability out pretty far, but the potential exists if you look at similar cases that occurred with asbestos litigation in the past,” Vohden said.

Marcus, at Gallagher, is a broker for public schools districts in Florida’s Miami-Dade and Broward counties, which are the frontlines for U.S. Zika transmissions this summer.

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There, students and staff were required to wear long sleeves and pants under uniforms and health officials passed out DEET products to students’ families and gave lessons on the best ways to apply it.

“It’s going to get larger before it gets smaller, just like any other disease,” Marcus said.

“There’s a full-out effort to communicate in south Florida right now to everybody on a daily basis and they are doing a phenomenal job.”

The Zika virus was first identified in monkeys in the Zika forests of Uganda in 1947 and later found in humans in 1952, according to the World Health Organization. The first large outbreak of disease caused by Zika infection was in 2007.

Zika virus is related to the dengue, yellow fever and West Nile viruses, but it is the only virus in this group so far to be capable of human-to-human transmission through sexual contact and to cause significant birth defects to babies in utero.

Visit the CDC’s website for the agency’s latest count on Zika cases in the U.S.

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]