Even the most vigilant insurers and reinsurers scanning the risk landscape for potential future liability problems are likely to fall into landmines.

What insurance risks or the immediate or near future are being overlooked now?

Carrier Management offers a continuing look at some partially hidden risks with a regular feature–CM Risk Alerts. Our aim is to offer short takes, flagging and summarizing items that many not yet have surfaced in P/C C-suites or boardrooms, on insurance conference agendas, or in the mainstream press but may well have insurance implications

1. Redefining “average.” The “average” Atlantic hurricane season will be a little more active going forward.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has updated its definition of an “average” Atlantic hurricane season, adding two more named tropical storms and one more hurricane than before.

Starting with forecasts for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) will use 1991-2020 as the new 30-year period of record for climatological history. Going forward, the average Atlantic hurricane season will see 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

Previously, NOAA used records from 1981-2010, giving the average season 12 named tropical storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or greater.

NOAA said that this once-a-decade update moves the set of statistics used to determine when hurricane seasons are above-, near-, or below-average relative to the climate record.

Sources: “Average’ Atlantic hurricane season to reflect more storms,” NOAA media release, April 9, 2021; hat tip to Artemis: “‘Average’ season now has 2 more named storms, 1 more hurricane: NOAA,” Artemis, April 12, 2021

2. Catalytic converter thefts on the rise. Increased climate regulations have given car thieves a new focus: catalytic converters. These devices contain precious metals like palladium and rhodium, which have soared to record high prices thanks to stricter car emissions rules, according to a New York Times report.

According to a recent Times article, the price of palladium went from about $500 an ounce five years ago to hit a record of $2,875 an ounce last year and was hovering between $2,000 and $2,500 an ounce in February this year, above the price of gold. Meanwhile, rhodium prices have skyrocketed more than 3,000 percent from about $640 an ounce five years ago to a record $21,900 an ounce in early February this year, roughly 12 times the price of gold. (Editor’s Note: In May, after the Times analysis was first published, various online sources put rhodium prices closer to $30,000.)

Those prices are fueling a black market in stolen catalytic converters, with police nationwide reporting a surge in such cases.

Source: “Thieves Nationwide Are Slithering Under Cars, Swiping Catalytic Converters,” The New York Times, Feb. 9, 2021

3. Rising temps could shrink global economy. If no mitigating action is taken, global temperatures could rise by more than 3°C in the next 30 years and the world economy could shrink by 18 percent.

But the impact can be lessened if decisive action is taken to meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement, Swiss Re Institute’s new Climate Economics Index shows.

Swiss Re assessed four different climate scenarios and forecasted their impact on the GDP of the world’s 48 largest economies (which make up 90 percent of global GDP). The expected impact:

  • An 18 percent decrease if no mitigating actions are taken (with a 3.2°C increase in temperature).
  • A 14 percent drop if some mitigating actions are taken (2.6°C increase).
  • An 11 percent decline if further mitigating actions are taken (2°C increase).
  • A 4 percent decrease if Paris Agreement targets are met (below 2°C increase).

In a severe scenario of a 3.2°C temperature increase, China stands to lose 24 percent of its GDP by 2050. The U.S., Canada and the UK would all see around a 10 percent loss, while economies such as Finland or Switzerland are less exposed, with a 6 percent loss.

Swiss Re Institute also ranked each country on its vulnerability to extreme dry and wet weather conditions, as well as its capacity to cope with the effects of climate change. It found that the countries most negatively impacted are those with the fewest resources to adapt to and mitigate the effects of rising global temperatures: Malaysia, Thailand, India, the Philippines and Indonesia. Meanwhile, advanced economies in the northern hemisphere are the least vulnerable, including the U.S., Canada, Switzerland and Germany.

Source: Swiss Re report, “The economics of climate change: no action is not an option,” April 22, 2021

4. Mystery chemicals found in humans. Scientists have detected 109 chemicals in a study of pregnant women, including 55 chemicals never before reported in people and 42 “mystery chemicals,” whose sources and uses are unknown. The chemicals were found in the blood of both the pregnant women and their newborn children, suggesting they are traveling through the mother’s placenta.

“It is alarming that we keep seeing certain chemicals travel from pregnant women to their children, which means these chemicals can be with us for generations,” said one of the researchers.

The 109 chemicals are found in many different types of products. For example, 40 are used as plasticizers, 28 in cosmetics, 25 in consumer products, 29 as pharmaceuticals, 23 as pesticides, three as flame retardants, and seven are PFAS compounds, which are used in carpeting, upholstery and other applications. The researchers say it’s possible there are also other uses for all of these chemicals.

Source: “Evidence of 55 new chemicals in people,” Science Daily, March 17, 2021; study: “Suspect Screening, Prioritization, and Confirmation of Environmental Chemicals in Maternal-Newborn Pairs from San Francisco,” Environmental Science & Technology, March 16, 2021

5. Get ready for a seasonal shakeup. Climate change could cause summer weather to last half a year by the end of the century. While some may welcome the warmer weather, this extended season could significantly impact our health, the environment and agriculture.

A shorter winter and earlier spring could mean disastrous losses for crops, as they could face drastic cold snaps after budding. It could also limit the types of crops grown and increase demand for irrigation.

The changing of the seasons will likely also increase the occurrence of wildfires, storms and heatwaves, researchers warn.

Source: “By the end of the century, summer weather could last half a year (and that’s not a good thing),” CNN, March 23, 2021; study, “Changing Lengths of the Four Seasons by Global Warming,” Geophysical Research Letters

6. Automated electric vehicles exposed to cyber threats. Researchers from the University of Georgia have identified cybersecurity weaknesses that could threaten the safety of connected and automated electric vehicles (CAEVs).

While technology such as adaptive cruise control and other auto-assist functions enhance driving safety, comfort and energy efficiency, the networked infrastructure of these vehicles opens the door to cybersecurity concerns. The researchers said in-vehicle infotainment systems—used to deliver entertainment and useful information through audio/video interfaces, touch-screen displays, button panels and voice commands—are a prime target for attackers.

Electric vehicles are also vulnerable when they plug into charging stations. Hackers could use this recharge time to circumvent the vehicle control systems, which would allow them to disable brakes, turn off headlights or take over steering.

Highly skilled attackers can also reduce the efficiency of electric vehicles, decreasing battery capacity and energy by up to 50 percent.

Source: “How to keep automated electric vehicles safe,” University of Georgia, April 27, 2021; study, “Cyber-Physical Security of Powertrain Systems in Modern Electric Vehicles: Vulnerabilities, Challenges and Future Visions,” IEEE Journal of Emerging and Selected Topics in Power Electronics, Dec. 17, 2020

7. Recreational pot and workplace safety. The legalization of recreational marijuana in New York State could make it more difficult for contractors to ensure jobsite safety and may open them up for more liability, thanks to the state’s “Scaffold Law,” which imposes absolute liability on contractors for gravity-related injuries—even if the worker is impaired, Construction Dive reports.

The concerns don’t just end at safety and liability. Because marijuana can stay in a user’s system for weeks, there’s no readily available test to determine when the drug was ingested—on the job or at home during a worker’s off hours.

“While it may be legal to use cannabis products recreationally once the law takes effect, it’s not OK to come to work impaired,” Mike Elmendorf, CEO of Associated General Contractors of New York State, told the construction publication. “The real challenge is that the science of cannabis impairment testing is not really there yet. It’s not like if you think somebody is drunk, and you can administer a breathalyzer.”

Instead, the site superintendent will need to determine whether workers are high on the job and take action to send them home.

The legalization could also make it more difficult for New York contractors to obtain workers compensation insurance.

Source: “NY pot law creates safety, liability issues for contractors,” Construction Dive, April 12, 2021