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Rates charged by Louisiana’s largest auto insurers have been on a double-digit run, mirroring a national trend the industry says is fueled by more accidents and a spike in claims costs.
“We’re seeing it play out all across the nation. It is universally attributed to a combination of distracted driving, cellphone use while driving, and more miles, cheap gas,” Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said.
Auto rates were virtually flat over a five-year period, increasing about 1 percent annually, Donelon said — until about five years ago. Louisiana’s auto insurance rates since then have been rising at a faster clip, with the largest jump, an 8 percent average, taking place in 2016.
More recently, State Farm, Louisiana’s largest insurer with more than 1.1 million policyholders, raised rates an average of 13.5 percent on Jan. 30. A year earlier, the company raised rates an average of 8 percent.
Progressive Security increased rates 4.1 percent in early 2016 and 9.4 percent late in the year. Allstate increased rates an average of 9.5 percent in 2016. Geico Casualty plans to increase rates by 16 percent this year. Louisiana Farm Bureau is raising rates by 14.2 percent, but the company’s filing with the state Insurance Department says a 19.4 percent increase is justified.
Those companies write the bulk of the state’s auto insurance, and their recent filings did not include the impact of the August flood that destroyed tens of thousands of cars. Future rate filings may.
“Auto insurers look at past catastrophic events to determine what their expected future comprehensive losses may be,” Deputy Insurance Commissioner Ileana Ledet said. “So down the road we may see insurers raising the comprehensive portion of their rates a bit to anticipate a future catastrophic flood of the extreme magnitude we saw in August.”
Insurance industry members and consumer advocates say a number of factors lie behind the recent rate increases.
The Great Recession that wiped out tens of thousands of jobs nationwide meant fewer people driving. As the economy recovered and gasoline prices fell, more drivers hit the road, mainly for work. They got into more wrecks — crashes that cost more to repair in part because of the expensive technology built into vehicles.
In 2015, the number of miles driven in the United States rose 3.5 percent, the biggest increase in more than 20 years. The number of accidents rose nearly 4 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. From 2011 to 2015, the latest year available, the number of accidents jumped nearly 18 percent.
In Louisiana, while the number of miles driven dipped slightly from 2014 to 2015, the number of accidents jumped more than 7 percent, according to a report from LSU’s Highway Safety Research Group. From 2011 to 2015, the number of crashes rose by 12.4 percent.
Over that same period, Louisiana’s auto insurers have seen claims costs increase from 67.4 percent of the $2.0 billion in premiums collected in 2011 to 76.7 percent of $2.3 billion collected in 2015, according to Insurance Department records. State Farm lost $84 million on its auto business in 2015.
Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, said lower gasoline prices, coupled with more optimism about the economy, led to more driving. The increase in driving explains most of the increase in losses.
Meanwhile, claims costs, which include medical care and auto repair costs, jumped 13 percent over the two years ending in March 2016, according to the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded group. That’s 10 times the rate of inflation.
Increases in income have given consumers the means to buy newer cars, said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the institute. While many of these cars have all types of safety features that might help prevent accidents, those cameras and sensors are also much more expensive to fix or replace when damaged.
“The problem is all these cars nowadays, they have so many bells and whistles on them. I’ve seen side view mirrors get knocked off and cost a thousand dollars,” said Jerome Wiley, general manager of Gordon & Sandifer Auto Service Inc. in Baton Rouge.
Take into account: Cameras in each mirror to eliminate blind spots. Touchscreen displays with warning indicators for each angle. Front collision warning systems, basically a radar mounted at the front of the vehicle. Multi-airbag systems. Seatbelts that automatically tighten and lock in accidents. All of it costs money, Wiley said.
Even simpler repair components, like paint, cost more as manufacturers comply with federal regulations designed to limit potentially harmful emissions, he said.
Add in the impact of distracted driving, and it’s not hard to see why auto rates are rising. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said distractions account each year for 18 percent of crashes with injuries, 15 percent of property damage-only accidents and about 10 percent of traffic fatalities.
Distracted driving accounts for about 20 percent of Louisiana’s fatal crashes, although the NHTSA says state numbers “are not necessarily representative of actual occurrences, but may be more indicative of reporting issues.” Fatal crashes account for less than 0.5 percent of Louisiana’s traffic accidents.
Distracted driving includes smartphone activities such as texting and talking, watching videos, reading, eating, drinking and adjusting the sound system.
Wiley said smartphone usage has overwhelmed the accident-prevention technology on new cars and trucks.
“I’d say over half of the wrecks we see people bringing in — they won’t admit to it — is from distracted driving. And distracted is usually their phone,” Wiley said.
State Farm spokesman Kip Diggs said distracted driving, whatever the cause, has always been worrisome.
“However, our concern has grown, as it has likely become a greater loss exposure. Increased phone usage, enhanced technology and various other distractions now accessible or available in vehicles are all contributing factors,” Diggs said.
Like a lot of other motorists, Donelon said he has been forced to sit through red lights twice because the driver in front of him is too busy with a smartphone to notice the signal changed.
As if all that weren’t enough, insurers also have seen the return on their investments — companies invest premiums while waiting to pay claims and expenses — drop along with interest rates. The return on insurers’ portfolios was 4.5 percent in 2007, according to an October 2016 report from the Insurance Information Institute. It was 3.2 percent in 2015.
However, Donelon said there’s reason to think the big increases may be over.
During a Jan. 29 conference call, Allstate President Matthew Winter told stock analysts and investors that “the spike is over” and rates have stabilized at a new norm. However, the new norm includes more accidents due to an improving economy and more cars on the road, and the greater use of smartphones and distracted driving.
Original story by Ted Griggs of the Advocate, posted on March 12, 2017.
HENDERSON, Louisiana (Reuters) – When Hope Rosinski’s father gave her a six-acre plot in Louisiana more than a decade ago, she was surprised to find oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing the property.
Pipeline companies later secured her permission for two more lines, one of which has since caused flooding and consistently leaves her land saturated.
Now she’s had enough. Rosinski is fighting the latest request for a right-of-way, this time from Energy Transfer Partners – the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. She said ETP declined to make contract changes she wanted or to properly compensate her for lost property value.
Opposition to the company’s planned extension of the Bayou Bridge pipeline has made Louisiana bayous the latest battleground in a nationwide war against new pipeline construction.
The pushback here is one example of the increasingly broad and diverse base of opposition nationally, which now extends beyond traditional environmental activists. In Louisiana, opponents include flood protection advocates, commercial fishermen and property owners such as Rosinski.
Their fight follows high-profile protests in North Dakota that were led by Native Americans and joined by military veterans, who together succeeded in convincing the Obama administration to delay construction.
Although the new administration of President Donald Trump has since cleared that project’s completion, pipeline companies are nonetheless taking the rising political opposition seriously. Alan Armstrong, chief executive at pipeline firm Williams Companies (NYSE:WMB), told a conference in Pittsburgh that Trump’s action would not hamper the protest movement.
“It may even enhance it,” he said the day after Trump cleared the Dakota pipeline in January.
Pipeline supporters argue that more infrastructure is essential for the oil and gas industry to provide affordable energy and reduce dependence on foreign imports and dirtier energy sources such as coal.
Opponents counter that pipeline companies can’t be trusted to prevent leaks. Technology designed to detect spills only accomplished that goal in 20 percent of known pipeline leaks between 2010 and 2016, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Energy Transfer and its affiliates had among the most spills of any pipeline company, with nearly 260 leaks from lines carrying hazardous liquids since 2010, according to the Reuters analysis. An ETP spokesperson said most of those spills were small and occurred on company property.
The company said in a statement that it seeks to work with landowners and communities to “build the pipeline in the safest, most environmentally friendly manner possible.”
ETP’s relations with Rosinski, however, have apparently broken down. She told Reuters that the firm has threatened to take her to court for the right of way, citing legal rights of pipeline companies to build infrastructure for broader public benefit.
Rosinski wants to resist, but knows a court battle could be costly and lengthy.
“I’m a single mom,” she said. “I don’t have the finances.”
ETP declined to comment specifically on Rosinski’s case but said it typically gets voluntary agreements on easements from owners in about 9 out of 10 cases, without legal action.
NOT IN MY BACKYARD
Some pipeline protesters are driven by opposition to any expansion of fossil fuel development, but many have more local and specific concerns.
Many protests so far – including the encampment in North Dakota, led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe – have focused largely on fear of water contamination.
Similar objections have cropped up in West Texas from protesters of Energy Transfer’s Trans-Pecos gas line, and in Arkansas and Tennessee over the Diamond Pipeline operated by Plains All American Pipeline.
Activists in Pennsylvania have been fighting a Williams Companies pipeline plan for three years. The company is looking to add 185 miles of new pipeline to its Atlantic Sunrise line, connecting the northeastern Marcellus natural gas shale region with the southeast part of the state. Opponents have argued the expansion could cause an explosion or taint the local water that supplies farms.
They’re borrowing tactics from Standing Rock tribe’s standoff. Malinda Clatterbuck, 46, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who leads the group Lancaster Against Pipelines, said residents are setting up a camp in Conestoga, where a right-of-way has been granted, and plans to live on and off at the camp with her family.
“I’m exhausted and angry about this,” she said. “Why do we have to upend our lives just to try to get justice for our community?”
Williams said it has operated 60 miles of pipeline safely in Lancaster County and that the company plans to exceed federal safety standards for the extension.
“We’ve also heard from thousands of people who support the project – individuals, chambers and business groups – who recognize the economic benefit,” the company said in a statement.
DEAD CRAWFISH IN THE BAYOUS
In Louisiana – home to massive oil refineries and about 50,000 miles of pipelines – ETP’s planned Bayou Bridge extension would run across southern Louisiana for about 160 miles, between Lake Charles and St. James.
The state has a mutually beneficial but testy relationship with the oil industry, which is widely blamed for cutting through wetlands and contributing to coastal erosion that has left Louisiana more vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding.
Some opponents of the Bayou Bridge are concerned that its construction will pollute drinking water and constrict drainage systems during heavy rains. Others want to see pipeline companies take better care of the environment during and after construction.
Jody Meche, 47, of Henderson, fears economic damage. He has fished in the Atchafalaya Basin for a quarter century. For years, he has been pushing companies to remove spoil banks caused by pipeline construction and oil exploration because they hurt the commercial fishing industry.
The spoil banks act as dams inside the basin, damaging the local ecosystem by stopping water flow.
Meche can sees the impact in the crawfish traps he pulls up from the bayou daily during the season, from February to early summer. The critters resemble tiny lobsters and are in high demand at bars and backyard boils from New Orleans to Houston.
“The stagnant water is not good for them at all,” Meche said. “They don’t grow as well, they don’t eat as much, they are very lethargic.”
Meche can sell large, healthy crawfish for about $1.50 a pound. But the smaller ones he often catches these days fetch half that, and many in his traps these days are dead and worthless.
Rosinski, meanwhile, is still fighting with Enterprise Products Partners, the pipeline company she said damaged her property during construction of an ethane line a few years ago. She said she has spent the last year trying to get Enterprise to restore her land and stop the flooding.
The cost to fix it could be as little as $1,200, she said.
Enterprise told Reuters it hopes to resolve the issue amicably, but that it has not gotten clear guidance from an attorney hired by Rosinski.
Rosinski received the right-of-way request from Energy Transfer Partners as she was squabbling with Enterprise. She suggested 30 changes to the contract and requested more compensation. ETP refused, she said, and told her it may take up the dispute in court.
“I’ve done my part,” she said of her previous agreements to allow pipelines through her property. “They’re consuming my land.”
Story by Liz Hampton at Reuters.
A coalition of 21 states, including Louisiana, sued the U.S. Department of Labor Tuesday over a new rule that would make about 4 million higher-earning workers eligible for overtime pay, slamming the measure as inappropriate federal overreach from the Obama administration.
“Once again, the president has circumvented Congress and attempted to legislate through executive mandate. Like Obamacare before it, this latest overreach will force employers to hire less people and cut hours of their existing workers,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said in a statement the Republican posted on his website. “This red-taped bureaucratic edict will especially hurt the Louisiana workforce in the education, retail, government, health, hospitality and professional service industries. For their sake and the sake of federalism, I have joined attorneys general from across the country to stop this job-killer.”
Republican Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Eastern Texas, urging it to block implementation before the regulation takes effect on Dec. 1. Laxalt, a frequent critic of President Barack Obama’s policies, said the rule would burden private and public sectors by straining budgets and forcing layoffs or cuts in working hours.
The measure would shrink the so-called “white collar exemption” that exempts workers who perform “executive, administrative or professional” duties from overtime and minimum wage requirements.
It would more than double the salary threshold under which employers must pay overtime to their white collar workers. Overtime protections would apply to workers who make up to $913 a week, or $47,476 a year, and the threshold would readjust every three years to reflect changes in average wages.
“This long-awaited update will result in a meaningful boost to many workers’ wallets, and will go a long way toward realizing President Obama’s commitment to ensuring every worker is compensated fairly for their hard work,” the Labor Department said in May when it announced the new rule.
Business groups say the changes are too much and too fast, especially as states continue to recover from the recession.
Other plaintiffs include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.
ADVOCATE STAFF AND WIRE REPORT, originally appearing SEP 20, 2016.
ALLIANCE, La. (AP) – The oil industry has left a big footprint along the Gulf Coast, where a Delaware-sized stretch of Louisiana has disappeared.
But few politicians would blame Big Oil for ecosystem abuse in a state where the industry employs up to 300,000 people and injects $73 billion into the economy.
Following the lead of Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana political orthodoxy is being turned upside-down as prominent leaders of both parties join lawsuits seeking billions of dollars for environmental improvement projects.
Down in the pancake-flat bayou, it’s not easy to see what made so much of the coast sink into the Gulf of Mexico.
Even when you climb onto the levee, buzzing with dragonflies, that keeps the old delta farming community of Alliance from being swallowed, all that’s visible is marshland, stretching toward a green horizon.
But land’s end is much closer now, and what remains has been disrupted. Access canals carved by the oil industry run straight as arrows, rusting signs warn of underwater pipelines and abandoned drilling platforms sink into the muck. As the Alliance refinery billows with fumes, the surrounding pastures are slowly sinking.
Louisiana remains the nation’s second-largest crude oil producer and oil refiner after Texas, but the industry has been on the defensive since Edwards, a 49-year-old lawyer and Democrat, ended eight years of Republican leadership last November.
Publicly, he joined a campaign by local governments suing to hold the industry at least partly responsible for Louisiana’s loss of 1,900 square miles of coast since the 1930s. Privately, he pushed for a pre-trial settlement to resolve all their claims.
“Our coast is in crisis,” Edwards wrote in a letter to oil executives after their initial meeting in May, calling for an “amicable solution” to avoid years of litigation.
He was soon seconded by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose family of Louisiana Democrats long supported Big Oil. Landrieu accused former state leaders of allowing the industry to cripple “in a generation or two what Mother Nature built in 7,000 years,” and said the damage has spread “through the marsh like an infection.
In July, Vermilion Parish, deep in Louisiana’s “Oil Patch,” became the fourth local government to file claims against Exxon, Shell, Chevron and dozens of other corporations. The agency overseeing flood protection for New Orleans also is suing. Republicans have joined in, from GOP-led parishes to Attorney General Jeff Landry.
“It’s absolutely new,” pollster Bernie Pinsonat said. “The oil companies are taking it seriously because you’re talking about billions and billions of dollars.”
This political shift can be traced to Hurricane Katrina, which shocked the nation and exposed the dire state of ecology in the Mississippi River’s delta. Katrina alone tore up about 60 square miles of marsh around New Orleans in 2005.
At issue are oilfields like the one in Alliance, in Plaquemines Parish, where oil companies are accused of routinely abandoning open waste pits, carelessly dumping toxic brine and oilfield waste onto the marsh and interrupting the delta’s ebbs and flows by dredging thousands of miles of canals that weren’t filled back in.
The oil industry blames the Army Corps of Engineers, whose levees deny the delta its natural deposits of silt and sand while channeling the Mississippi River out to sea. It also blames the clear-cutting of coastal forests more than a century ago, shipping channels that have sliced up the delta and even the invasive nutria, an oversized marsh grass-eating rodent.
“It’s just such a vague attempt by the plaintiffs to throw a blanket over an entire industry and hold it singularly responsible for a problem that’s got multiple causes,” said Robert Meadows, a Chevron lawyer.
The legal case requires analyzing thousands of coastal drilling permits and oil leases, putting prices on the unmitigated damage caused by each company, and then dueling over demands for compensation.
Scientists generally agree that between 30 percent and 40 percent of wetlands loss is attributable to drilling and its associated activities, said John Day, a Louisiana State University scientist and expert on the delta’s problems.
“The factual basis is terribly strong: If I were a plaintiffs’ counsel, I’d put on a five-day slide show narrated by geologists and hydrologists and wetlands scientists, and it would be devastating,” said Oliver Houck, an environmental law professor at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Geologist Sherwood Gagliano, who has studied the coastal crisis since the 1960s, contends that extracting millions of barrels of oil and gas from below the surface has caused vast swaths of the coast to sink.
“It’s like an Atlantis oilfield,” Gagliano said. “There are well-heads sticking out of the water. Abandoned production platforms now completely submerged. Oilfields developed on land are now under 5 or 10 feet of water. And that is happening all the way across the coast.”
But F. Rivers LeLong Jr. calls the lawsuits a hypocritical “shakedown cruise” by the same governments that have long profited from drilling.
“They aren’t the good guys any more than the oil companies were,” said LeLong, whose father started the Kenmore Oil Co., which is named as a defendant because it worked the Alliance field before going out of business in 1973. “To act as though they were victims in the process is a fairly laughable characterization.”
What’s gone is gone, but the politicians hope to keep hundreds of other square miles from disappearing. They’re envisioning huge projects to divert sediment flows from the Mississippi River and build up marsh flats, barrier islands, ridges and swamp forests.
It would cost between $50 billion and $100 billion, and Louisiana doesn’t expect to have more than $25 billion to spend.
Suing oil companies “is probably the only new potential source of revenue,” said Mark Davis, who directs Tulane University’s Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy. “Before you tax anybody, you’re going to be required, I think, to show that you’ve tried every other alternative. Is there anybody who owes dollars that have not been collected for this purpose?”
Originally reported by Cain Burdeau of the Associated Press on August 5, 2016.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it will require a new “black box warning” label for Essure, an implantable permanent contraceptive device. A black box warning in the labeling of products is “designed to call attention to serious or life-threatening risks,” according to the FDA website.
Monday’s announcement comes after more than 5,000 women filed grievances with the FDA between November 2002 and May 2015, complaining of unintended pregnancies, miscarriages, stillbirths and severe pain and bleeding after an Essure implantation.
Approved by the FDA in 2002, Essure is a permanent form of birth control in which a coil is non-surgically placed into a woman’s fallopian tubes. Scar tissue is supposed to form around the device to prevent sperm from reaching eggs and fertilizing them, thus preventing pregnancy.
The FDA also called upon Bayer, which makes and markets Essure, to conduct surveillance that will assess “risks of the device in a real-world environment,” and said the agency will use the results of that study to “determine what, if any, further actions related to Essure are needed to protect public health.” The company is required to follow more than 2,000 women for at least three years. The study will not be limited to women being implanted with Essure but will be comparing women with Essure to women who select other methods of sterilization, such as surgery.
The FDA expects Bayer to submit a study protocol within 30 days and the company is required by law to begin the study within 15 months, according to Dr. William Maisel, FDA deputy director for science and chief scientist at the agency’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. If Bayer does not, the FDA can declare the device misbranded.
The company will also be required to submit interim reports on the study including data and analysis. The FDA expects the first such report will be available within a few months of when the trial begins.
When reached for comment, Bayer provided the following response: “Essure is an important permanent birth control option with a positive benefit-risk profile. Bayer will continue to work closely with the FDA to support the continued safe, effective and appropriate use of Essure.”
‘The FDA truly failed these women’
Reaction to the FDA announcement was swift and uncomplimentary.
“We are outraged that it appears as if the FDA is going to leave Essure on the market,” said Essure Problems, a support group for women who say they have been damaged by the device. “Take the device OFF the market and revoke PMA [premarket approval]. Do not continue to allow more women to be harmed.”
“It’s unbelievable that it took the FDA since September to make just two recommendations with no enforcement measures and ask the manufacturer to perform another study while leaving Essure on the market,” said Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania who has called for the FDA to revoke its approval of Essure. “It’s been done. The evidence is all there: Tens of thousands of injured women and hundreds of fetal deaths.”
“I feel as if the FDA truly failed these women,” said Madris Tomes, a former FDA contractor whose business, Device Events, analyzes FDA public data. “My hope was that they would recommend a recall. How can we trust the FDA to make good decisions regarding safe and effective devices?”
Last week, Fitzpatrick and Tomes provided the FDA with raw data showing a total of 303 fetal deaths among women who used the device. The FDA said Monday that it put the number at 294. Previously the agency said that number was only five.
Tomes said she found the additional cases by using a different method of analysis than the FDA.
“Most of the story of what happened and all the side effects, those are going to be in the narrative,” Tomes said. “So we searched for keywords in that narrative that women and their doctors would use, such as fetal death, miscarriage, still birth, stillborn and ectopic pregnancies.”
“I actually think the 303 number is conservative,” Tomes added, “because some of these women have had multiple miscarriages, they’ve had multiple pregnancies, after confirmation, but I only counted them once.”
Fitzpatrick said, “I believe Congress must.”
He vowed to present a number of legislative actions to the House and Senate, including working to block government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, from purchasing the device; introducing new legislation that would remove “blanket civil liability protections” that keep women from suing Bayer; and seeking passage of an act that would revoke Essure’s FDA approval.
In its press release, the group Essure Problems also called for Congress to act. “While we continue to encourage women to file their adverse event reports with the FDA, our focus will be on Congress and the E-Free Act. We are disappointed but not surprised the FDA has once again chosen to side with industry rather than protect patients of a failed medical device.”
“The FDA continues to believe that this should remain available,” Maisel of the FDA said Monday.
FDA requires new checklist
In addition to the black box warning, the FDA is requiring a patient decision checklist be signed by patients and doctors before the device is implanted. This will include agreeing to a test three months after implantation to make sure the device is properly in place and functioning as intended. A checkup at that time is already recommended by the device maker, Bayer.
In the past, Bayer has said the device is 99% effective at permanently preventing pregnancy. It blames the unintended pregnancies on patient error, suggesting patients may have been lax in following up with their doctors for three-month checkups to make sure the device was working, or lax at using backup birth control during the first three months.
In September, the agency held a hearing in which some of those who filed complaints described what they went through. The FDA also heard from Bayer and health care providers about the existing body of safety data for Essure.
On a call with reporters Monday, Maisel said the agency review of all available information on the the device, which was conducted to support Monday’s announcement, also assessed possible clinical trial misconduct in the original clinical trial data. However, he said no misconduct was found and any allegations of that are unfounded.
The FDA said its actions will increase understanding of the risks associated with the device for patients and doctors.
“They also reflect our recognition that more rigorous research is needed to better understand if certain women are at heightened risk of complications,” Maisel said.
The new warning label requirement announced Monday has a 60-day comment period to incorporate feedback from patients and the industry before finalizing it and adding it to the packaging.
Original story by CNN.