Tag Archives: actual cash value

Rental Car Waiver: To Buy or Not to Buy?

When I Googled “should I buy the rental car damage waiver, I got 40.6 million hits. Needless to say, much has been written about this issue. But much of what has been written is BAD (aka horrible and dangerous) advice.

If you have auto insurance, is that good enough? What about credit card coverage? This article explores the issues and suggests some answers, at least one of which you might not like. (Note: This article builds on an article I first published in 1998, titled “Top 10 Reasons to Purchase the Rental Car Damage Waiver.”]

The vast majority of consumer articles suggest that the purchase of the loss damage waiver (LDW) is not necessary if you have auto insurance or credit card coverage. For example, in a 2014 article in U.S. News & World Reports titled “7 Costly Car Rental Mistakes to Avoid,” the very first “mistake” involves buying insurance you don’t need. The article says your auto insurance policy “may” cover collision and quotes someone who says, “The credit card coverage will kick in for anything your personal policy doesn’t cover.” Needless to say, “may” and “will” are two different things.

While many auto policies and some credit cards may provide coverage for damage to a rental car, it is almost certainly not complete, and four- to five-figure uncovered losses are not at all uncommon. The purchase of the LDW (with caveats), along with auto insurance, provides a belt and suspenders approach to risk managing the rental car exposure.

Let’s explore the value and deficiencies of auto insurance, credit card coverage and loss damage waivers.

Personal Auto Policies

In the article I wrote in 1998 and have since updated, I enumerate many reasons why buying the loss damage waiver is a good idea. I won’t repeat those reasons in their entirety, but I’ll highlight the more important issues that have resulted in uncovered claims that I’m personally aware of, based on more than 20 years of managing such issues. We’ll start with the current 2005 ISO Personal Auto Policy (PAP) as the basis of our discussion, with some references to non-ISO auto policies.

The ISO PAP extends physical damage coverage to private passenger autos, pickups, vans and trailers you don’t own if at least one declared auto on your policy has such physical damage coverage. But physical damage coverage does not extend to a motor home, moving truck, motorcycle, etc. that you are renting.

Damage valuation is on an actual cash value (ACV) basis, while most rental agreements require coverage for “full value” (translation: whatever the rental car company says is the value), and most PAPs exclude any “betterment” in value.

Many non-ISO PAPs have an exclusion or dollar limitation on non-owned autos or specific types of rental vehicles such that rental, for example, of an upscale SUV or sports car may have limited or even no coverage.

Many PAPs limit or do not cover the rental company’s loss of rental income on a damaged auto. There is often an option to provide increased limits for this coverage, but many price-focused consumers may decline such coverage. Even where this coverage is provided, many insurers may only be willing to pay for the usage indicated by fleet logs while the rental agency wants the full daily rental value. In one claim, the renter was charged $2,000 more than his insurer was willing to pay. In another claim involving a luxury car that was stolen from his hotel parking lot, the renter was hit with the maximum daily rental rate of $300, for a total loss of use charge of $9,000 (that he negotiated down to $4,500). In still another claim, following the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan, replacement parts for a rental car were unavailable for several months, and the renter incurred a $6,000 loss-of-use charge by the rental car company.

Probably the most significant deficiency in the PAP is the lack of coverage for diminished value claims. That’s the #1 reason I always buy the LDW. I’m personally aware of uncovered diminished value charges of $3,000, $5,000, $7,000 and $8,000 and read about one from a reliable source that totaled $15,000 on an upscale SUV rental.

In one case, a Florida insured traveled to Colorado for a rock-climbing vacation. He passed on purchasing the LDW for his four-day rental because “I’m an excellent driver, and I’ve got car insurance and credit card coverage.” Apparently, the driver of the vehicle that sideswiped his rental car while it was parked was not an excellent driver. The damage totaled $4,400 for repairs, $370 for administrative fees, $620 for loss of use and $3,100 in diminished value. Of the $8,490 total, $3,990 was uninsured and not covered by his credit card, the biggest component being the $3,100 diminished value charge. In addition, the driver ended up having to hire a Colorado attorney to assist in resolving the claim. The cost of the LDW for the entire trip would have been less than $100, a small fraction of the total cost of his vacation trip.

When insureds travel on business or vacation, a rental car is often valet-parked at a hotel or restaurant. The ISO PAP extends physical damage coverage for non-owned autos “while in the custody of or being operated by you or any ‘family member’.” So, the question is whether the vehicle is still in the custody of the insured while it’s being valet-parked or otherwise in the custody of the valet service. If you don’t know and you’re relying on your PAP for coverage, the best advice is probably to not valet-park a rental car.

There are many other deficiencies in the ISO PAP that apply, and you can read about them in the previously mentioned “Top 10” article on our website. The last point I’ll make is a reminder that the majority of auto policies in the marketplace are not “ISO-standard” forms. (To learn more about that, Google “independent agent magazine price check.”) Despite what you may be led to believe by auto insurance advertisements or articles that imply that all auto policies and insurers are the same, there are potentially catastrophic differences, including coverage deficiencies with regard to rental cars. There are unendorsed non-ISO policies that don’t cover non-owned autos, period; others that exclude business use of such autos or non-private passenger vehicles (this one shows up in policies of major national carriers, not just “nonstandard” auto insurers); others that exclude vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds; and so on.

Conclusion? An auto policy simply is not adequate to cover the rental car physical damage exposure.

Credit Card Coverages

Read a few of the many articles on the Internet about using credit card programs to fund damage to rental cars, and you would think that little more is needed to adequately address the exposure. Unfortunately, credit card programs have as many, or more, deficiencies as does the PAP alone. Anyone relying on auto insurance and credit cards would be well-advised to study the credit card programs. In his article, “Rental Car Agreements, LDWs, PAPs, and Credit Cards,” David Thompson, CPCU writes:

“Many major credit cards provide some limited, free coverage for rental cars. Most post the provisions related to rental cars on the card issuer’s web site. While these can run several pages, three specific conditions [that] limit, restrict or invalidate the free coverage are show-stoppers. For example:

“The following conditions limit, restrict, void or invalidate the auto rental damage waiver (DW) coverage provided by your credit card:

“(1) This auto rental DW supplements, and applies as excess of, any valid and collectible insurance. For coverage to apply, you must decline the DW offered by the rental company.

“(2) The following losses are not covered by this auto rental DW coverage: (a) Any loss [that] violated the rental agreement of the rental company; (b) Any claim for diminished value of the rental car.

“(3) Any loss or damage to certain types of vehicles—see list.”

In other words, (1) credit card coverage is excess over ANY collectible insurance, (2) you must decline the rental company’s LDW, (3) violation of the rental agreement precludes coverage, (4) like the PAP, there is no coverage for diminished value, which we’ve seen can total thousands of dollars and (5) certain types of vehicles are excluded. Excluded vehicles may include pick-up trucks, full- sized vans and certain luxury cars.

And these are only part of the full list of limitations often found in these programs. Another common limitation is that loss of use is only paid to the extent that the assessment is based on fleet utilization logs. One major credit card only covers collision and theft even though the rental agreement typically makes the user almost absolutely liable for all damage, including fire, flood and vandalism. Some credit cards offer broader optional protection plans, but typically they also exclude coverage if there is a violation of the rental agreement and don’t cover diminished value.

Another issue with reliance on credit cards is that the rental company may charge uncovered fees that max out the credit limit on the card. If you’re 1,000 miles from home on vacation with a maxed-out credit card, that can present problems.

Loss Damage Waivers

Many people don’t buy the rental car company’s LDW because they think they have “full coverage” between their auto policy and credit cards. Many see what can be a significant charge and choose not to buy the LDW on the premise, “This’ll never happen to me.”

I rarely rent cars on business trips or vacation, but I experienced a major claim with a hit-and-run in a restaurant parking lot the night before a 6 a.m. flight. I had bought the $12.95 LDW for my four-day trip, so I simply turned in the vehicle at the airport with little more than a shrug.

Thompson, who rents cars fairly often, says he has walked away from damaged cars three times. Returning a rental at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, Thompson asked the attendant how many cars a month are returned with damage. She responded that, in her typical 12-hour shift, 15 cars are returned with damage and, in most cases, the damage was allegedly caused by someone else, not the renter. She estimated that only about 15% of renters buy the LDW.

The cost of the LDW admittedly can be significant, especially if you extrapolate what the effective physical damage insurance cost would be at that daily rate. But that’s only one way to view the investment in peace of mind, not to mention the avoidance of what can be significant claims.

On an eight-day vacation last year, the LDW cost me more than the actual rental and, in fact, more than my airline ticket. But I considered the LDW part of the cost of the vacation.

Is the LDW all you need? Is it foolproof? Well, kind of, as long as you follow the rental agreement. If you violate the rental agreement, you are likely to void the LDW. Many rental agreements consider the following to be violations:

  • Driving on an unpaved road or off-road (often the case in state or national parks or states like Alaska and Hawaii).
  • Operation while impaired by alcohol or drugs.
  • Any illegal use (parking violations?), reckless driving, racing or pushing or towing another vehicle.
  • Use outside a designated territorial limit.
  • Operation by an unauthorized driver.

This illustrates the advantage of using the belt and suspenders approach of the PAP plus the LDW. The ISO PAP does not exclude the first three rental agreement violations, and the territorial limit is usually broader than any restrictive rental agreement territory outside of Mexico.

As for unauthorized drivers, some rental companies may automatically include a spouse or fellow employee or authorize them to drive for a fee. More often, the renter never reads the rental agreement and presumes anyone on the trip can drive. In one claim, a father and son were on vacation, and the father rented a car. The son had a driver’s license but was too young under the rental agreement to drive the car. The rental clerk made this clear at the time of rental. Despite knowing this, the father allowed the son to drive, and he wrecked the vehicle. Not only was the LDW voided, the father’s non-ISO PAP excluded the claim because the son was not permitted to drive the car.

A special case of unauthorized drivers could be-valet parking at a hotel or restaurant. Some agreements might except valet parking, so it’s important to determine at the time of rental whether valet parking is covered.

A note on third-party LDWs: In 2011, a fellow CPCU rented a car through Orbitz or Expedia, which offered an LDW at the time of the reservation. He mistakenly assumed this was the same LDW offered by the rental car company, but it was underwritten by a separate entity. During his trip, the rental car was damaged by a deer on a rural Montana road. To make a long story short, the third-party LDW was not a true “no liability” LDW warranty of the type offered by the rental car agency, and the result was, after negotiations on the uncovered portion of the charges (including diminished value), he had to pay in excess of $1,000 out of pocket.

Conclusions

When I rent a car on a business trip or vacation, I price the rental to include the LDW and make my decision, in part, on that basis. The peace of mind alone is invaluable, and, again, I consider the cost to be comparable to my decision to stay in a decent, secure hotel.

If you rent cars frequently, consider negotiating a price including LDW with one or more rental car agencies. Otherwise, caveat emptor. If you are an insurance professional giving advice to consumers about whether to purchase the LDW, it would likely be in your and your customer’s best interest to recommend consideration of the LDW. Your E&O insurer will appreciate it.

Flood Insurance at the Crossroads

News outlets around the country are broadcasting the horrible scenes from Northern Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma of devastating floods that have killed many. Once tallies are completed, property damage will likely be in the billions of dollars. Once again, a disaster raises interest not only in the insidious nature of catastrophic flooding, but in how the insurance industry, in concert with the federal government, more specifically the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), tackles – or sidesteps – the vexing problems associated with this peril.

Stories abound of the heart-breaking losses as a result of flooding; homes are whisked away downstream, people’s prized possessions are destroyed and, most importantly, lives are lost. Amid the recent rampant devastation brought on by the Texas floods, what struck us was one simple statement by a local news correspondent on the scene, who described the victims’ plight: “Some residents are lucky; they have flood insurance.” “Lucky” hardly describes the harsh reality these flood victims are experiencing.

Having flood insurance with the NFIP is akin to having jumbo shrimp, in the infamous description of the oxymoron by comedian George Carlin. To understand why, consider that property damage to a house comes in three varieties: (1) damage to the actual structure, (2) damage to the contents within the structure or (3) expenses associated with not being able to live in the structure as a direct result of a flood claim and having to live elsewhere. The standard HO3 policy form has all three of those potential loss sources adequately covered. That raises the question: What does the NFIP flood policy cover?

Your Building

The maximum the NFIP will pay for the dwelling structure, referred to as Coverage A, is $250,000, even if the dwelling is worth more. There is no amount of additional premium one can pay to get more coverage for this policy. If the dwelling is worth more, the homeowner is forced to purchase another flood insurance policy to cover an amount over and above $250,000.

Your Contents

The maximum the NFIP will pay for losses to contents, referred to as Coverage C, is $100,000, again, even if the homeowner owns more than that amount. The homeowner is still out of luck even if he acquires a second flood policy to cover excess losses to the dwelling, as those types of policies do not generally cover contents. To make matters even worse, if the homeowner is “lucky” enough to have a flood insurance policy through the NFIP and should suffer a flood loss to contents, the content valuation reimbursement will be depreciated. The homeowner will NOT be reimbursed for a new carpet when forced to rip up that damaged 20-year-old carpet and will receive just enough funds from the claim to buy another 20-year-old carpet. In other words, the claim’s valuation basis via the NFIP is the actual cash value (ACV) of the damaged item, not the current replacement cost value (RCV) after applying the policy deductible.

Worse, the homeowner is forced to fill out mountains of paperwork to detail what was damaged and account for when the item was purchased and the cost. Then there are the contents in basements, which can represent a whole separate problem. Try filling out the paperwork a few hundred times over for all a household’s valuables, knowing that, regardless of whether those items are meticulously itemized, the homeowner STILL will not be paid the cost to replace them.

Loss of Use

Should a homeowner have a flood loss and need to live elsewhere while the damage is being repaired, expenses for the Loss of Use, Coverage D, is entirely borne by the homeowner. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small amount of damage requiring a one-day stay at a hotel or extensive damage requiring a new home; the homeowner is responsible to pay for all living expenses out of pocket.

If the NFIP policyholder doesn’t already feel lucky enough, then there are the lingering questions surrounding the NFIP’s solvency.  Both Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy left the NFIP with few funds to pay claims, and if the homeowner is lucky enough to have flood insurance through the NFIP she will have to wait – oftentimes months!

By now, you get the point. Flood insurance through the NFIP really is not insurance; it’s something else altogether. For starters:

  1. The NFIP is not risk-based. Two homes with very dissimilar flood exposure could pay the exact same rate.
  2. The NFIP has done little to discourage risk-taking, by subsidizing low rates for homes that have had multiple claims payments.
  3. The policies do not meet homeowners’ needs. The coverage gaps are large and the headaches dealing with getting paid are quasi-medieval – certainly not consumer-friendly.

The industry can and must do better. All the tools and resources needed to adequately price and manage risk are present. New models and maps stand ready to evaluate risk, estimate loss costs and aggregate exposure. Abundant excess capital is available, and in many cases is standing on the sidelines looking to jump in the game. What better source of risk-based premium is there than the inland flood exposures now monopolized by the NFIP and, ultimately, the taxpayers? This is the opportunity for growth, innovation and applying commonsense risk management thinking that the industry not only is starving for, but has been praying for the past 30-plus years.

The industry must now ask itself: Does it want to sustain its legacy groupthink by maintaining the status quo, or does it want to remain relevant, now and in the future, and be a part of the solution?

7 Common Issues on Property Claims

When a property claim occurs, with or without business interruption, it is very common to assume that it will be straightforward. Just submit your invoices, and your insurer sends you a check. You may think, “We can do it ourselves,” or, “We have it under control.” If this has been your approach, you need to read on.

There are many potential issues when preparing a property claim that are commonly overlooked or misunderstood. The challenge is even greater if there is a business interruption component to your claim.

From experience, my partners and I have identified the most common property claim issues that can slow down the claim process and have an adverse affect on recovery.

  1. Repair vs. Replacement

Repair vs. replacement comes up in almost every significant property claim. The issue arises when it becomes a battle of opinions and assumptions. We all know the humor on opinions and assumptions — but your property damage claim is no laughing matter, so let’s explore what can happen.

If you have a replacement policy, you have the option to repair or replace. If it makes more sense to replace with a new and improved item, then you should do what’s best for your business. However, if repairs are possible and at a lower cost, the adjuster will undoubtedly dispute the claim, and you’ll be debating a matter of opinion. When the adjuster’s experts recommend repairs that you know are not guaranteed to work, especially long-term, you face a challenge. As a business, you cannot afford to risk a failed repair, so you elect to go with new equipment with a warranty. The repair option will now be a theoretical scenario that your insurer can leverage to adjust your claim payment. Regardless of the adjuster’s position, you did what was best for your business, but there’s a way to neutralize this potential adjustment.

  • First, the worst thing you can do is proceed on a plan without sharing your logic with the adjuster. Include the adjuster in the initial assessment and decision-making process. While you have the right to do what is best for your business, the adjuster’s involvement and buy-in early on will make her part of the decision and can help to avoid an issue down the road.
  • Next, get several (at least three) independent quotes to repair or replace the equipment — these quotes should include the time, expense and predicted reliability of the repair. If you only get a quote from the original manufacturer, there could be a perception that it has an ulterior motive. Armed with data, you will have an easier time justifying your decision. For example, the repair option may be cheaper, but if it takes longer to complete, it will add to your business interruption claim and ultimately cost more.
  • Finally, perform a realistic analysis of various failed repairs scenarios and the potential impact on timing and costs. Discuss your findings with the adjuster to ensure any subsequent repairs and resulting business interruption would be covered as part of this claim and not a separate occurrence. After all, everything is technically repairable — it is just a matter of determining the most practical solution given all the circumstances.
  1. Betterments

Losses often present opportunities to make useful changes and improvements to operations. Adjusters anticipate this and will be prepared with reasons to limit recovery by labeling certain repairs, reconfigurations, and replacements as betterments. Most of the time, newer is better, and that is why you pay for a replacement policy. However, just because something is better does not mean you should not get full replacement value.

Let’s say you are replacing a piece of production equipment that was damaged as part of your loss. In searching for a replacement, you find that the as-was capacity replacement for your equipment is no longer available and that the alternative equipment has a 10% greater production capacity than the damaged property. In this case, the adjuster may argue for a credit for the increased capacity. Though the new equipment is clearly a benefit to your business, because the exact model that is being replaced is no longer available, you don’t have an equivalent alternative. If required to justify and validate your decision, simply compare the cost/time differential between your decision and a custom order built to spec. In cases like this, you should not be penalized for the betterment.

There are valid adjustments for betterments, but it’s important to understand the difference between a betterment and your rights to a replacement of like kind and quality.

  1. Property Damage vs. Extra Expense

From a policyholder perspective, the types of expenses related to the claim do not really matter because they are necessary to get back in business. The insurance company, however, needs to see expenses segregated into their proper insurance claim buckets. To ensure a smooth claim process, knowing how best to account for expenses is critical to the outcome of your claim. Let’s say you have payroll expenses for cleanup and remediation. If you consider that property and extra expense are subject to different limits and deductibles, it makes good sense to claim them according to your coverage limits. As a rule of thumb, look at the property bucket first for expenses related to cleanup and repair of the property because the extra-expense bucket will offset business interruption, thus allowing you to operate as normally as possible during the indemnity period.

As an example, assume you have production labor working overtime to keep production going and to clean up and repair damage from the loss. This time should be separated as normal labor, property damage cleanup and repair and extra expense. To complicate things further, both normal rates and overtime rates need to be factored into each calculation. Finally, you have to keep detailed records that document the who, what, when and where that is involved in the work being done.

Remember, when appropriate, it’s best to claim expenses as property damage, provided the costs can be documented. It is a more tangible approach and will avoid conflicting with the business interruption calculations for extra expense and inefficiencies, which are based on assumptions and subject to debate.

  1. Actual Cash Value

Immediately after a loss, you are entitled to recover the documented actual cash value (ACV) of your damaged property. You may claim ACV as the amount you are due before exploring replacement options. This is a good tactic if you want to get the cash flowing early in the process while the replacement values are being determined and decisions on replacement are made. However, accurately determining ACV can be challenging.

Typically, the starting point is the asset ledger that shows a depreciated value of the asset. However, this number is usually used for tax purposes and may not represent the actual value of the asset. Other options to value the asset include pricing based on what a willing buyer would pay or replacement less physical depreciation based on the actual life of the asset. These methods vary state by state. Do your research to value the asset appropriately under the circumstances and know that there is not one right answer.

Additionally, some policies allow you to recover full replacement value for assets even if you do not replace them. The policies usually require that you spend the money on a capital project that was not approved at the time of the loss. The capital improvement does not necessarily have to replace capability of the lost assets. If this is of interest, check with your broker about adding this option to your program.

  1. Period of Indemnity Impact

In general, the period of indemnity is the length of time it takes (or should take) to make property repairs. Once repairs are complete or should have been complete, the period of indemnity terminates. While you can, and should, attempt to settle portions of the property claim as you go, any agreements related to the property side of your claim can have a costly impact on the indemnity period for the time-element portion of the claim. It is critically important to address property issues in tandem with time element, to avoid unnecessary recovery issues.

This can be a little confusing. As an example, let’s assume you have a total loss to a piece of equipment, and the replacement cost is known. It would be reasonable to settle for the replacement cost of that equipment. However, the adjuster assumes an aggressive timeline to order and install the equipment, not considering how installation might affect continuing production. When this happens, make sure the timeline and assumptions for installation are clear and acceptable before settling on the cost to replace the equipment. Otherwise, you might get what you want on the property settlement and then lose on the time element.

If you have a separate team working on the property and time-element claims, collaboration is essential to avoid assumption-based adjustments, This becomes especially important when repairs are theoretical, as this will be the basis for the time-element recovery. Always remember to consider all assumptions needed for time-element claims as part of any property settlement.

  1. Residual Value Adjustment

If you have a significant property claim, you may need to purchase equipment or supplies on a temporary basis. The validity of these purchases is not in question, but their use once permanent repairs are made is. For items such as this, the adjuster may look to take a residual value credit. Essentially, the adjuster agrees that you needed that item, but when the permanent repairs are made (and paid for), you will no longer need it. This may be true, but this does not always mean you should not get full value for the item.

For example, you have an electrical loss that will keep you out of business for an extended period. You purchase a generator to provide basic power to areas of your business. When repairs are complete and power is restored, you no longer need the generator but still have the unit. Because you still have it, the adjuster takes a residual value credit. Is that fair?

The first question you need to ask is whether you want to keep the generator. If there is some value to you, a fair credit can be negotiated with the insurance company. If you do not want to keep the item or do not feel the credit is reasonable, you can have the insurance company take possession — after all, the insurer paid for it. If the insurance company thinks it can get value from the generator by taking possession and selling it, the company will probably take you up on this. More often than not, this is not cost-effective, and you can minimize or eliminate the residual value credit.

  1. Documentation

If you have never been through a significant property claim, you might not appreciate the level of detail that is required to document your claim. The general perception is that you gather some invoices and quotes on a sample basis, and that should be enough. Unfortunately, the requirements for an insurance claim are more detailed than most capital projects and audits. Quotes and estimates need to be extremely detailed, and proof of payment needs to be documented almost entirely — if you cannot properly document a claim, it will likely not be paid. It may not be acceptable to the insurance company to use a dollar threshold for charges because the company will insist on auditing 100% of the charges.

To demonstrate the level of scrutiny that claims come under, I refer to an experience I had on one of the largest claims I worked on. The property portion of the claim was close to $200 million. Months of work and tons (literally) of paper were presented to support this claim. During a meeting between the accountants and engineers, one of the engineers made copies for everyone of one invoice presented for payment. He adamantly pointed out that the invoice had been duplicated in our claim submission. It was for one $5 roll of duct tape.

The point is that handling and organizing all the documentation required to support your claim can be daunting. To avoid mistakes, it is advisable to assign a dedicated person or team to locate, scan, print and manage all the support documentation. Bringing in an expert forensic accountant is always a good option to consider, especially for larger, complicated claims or just to relieve your team from these tedious and burdensome tasks. Forensic accountants that specialize in claim preparation may be covered in your policy to work on your behalf. Though you will still have some work to do, your claim will go more smoothly, with fewer pitfalls.

Now you know why property claims are not as easy and straightforward as you might expect. After decades of preparing claims for policyholders, we can attest that what you don’t know comes at a cost in both time and money. We hope the information above can help you prepare for at least some of the issues you might encounter should you have a future property damage claim.