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5 Predictions for the Casualty Insurance Market in 2023: A Mid-Year Update

September 1, 2023

/Property & Casualty

Before the calendar turned to 2023, we published a blog with five predictions for the casualty insurance market, with advice on how insureds could mitigate risk and best prepare for upcoming renewals. Now that we are more than halfway through the year, let’s check in on those predictions and see how we fared.

In the 2022 casualty insurance market, we saw a continued increase in general, auto, and umbrella/excess liability rates, driven by a consistent rise in average claims costs. This was coupled with a mostly flat and highly competitive workers’ compensation market. What should buyers expect for 2023? Here are our top crystal ball predictions and tips for how insureds can prepare and respond.

man looking at graphs laptop pencil

1. Rates for General Liability, Commercial Auto, and Umbrella Liability Will Continue to Increase at a Reduced Pace Throughout 2023

Liability rates have increased for the last 20 consecutive quarters through Q3 2022, according to the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers (CIAB), and this trend will continue through year-end and into 2023. General and auto liability rates remain strained by the steady rise of claims costs, coupled with poor underwriting results and weak return on investment. Inflation in many forms (economic, social, wage, and medical) will continue to impact claim growth and, in turn, carrier profitability, program pricing, and the insurance market. The backlogged court system coming out of the pandemic continues to concern insurers, as potential nuclear verdicts are awaiting trial. However, the pace of rate increases has moderated in 2022, and this consistency is more predictable than the dramatic pricing corrections seen in the last few years.

How to Mitigate Program Increases

Risk managers can focus on leveraging stable and attractive lines of coverage, like workers’ compensation, into a package program to improve pricing, terms, and conditions for more difficult lines like general and auto liability. Risk managers can also work with their brokers to rethink insurance program structure and consider alternative risk financing solutions. Use a strategic and analytical approach—like an actuarial analysis—to quantify expected loss cost and evaluate the optimal balance of risk retention versus risk transfer. This can help buyers reduce overall premium and the impact of insurer rate demands.

Update: Through the second quarter of 2023, liability rates have now increased 23 consecutive quarters, per the CIAB’s Property & Casualty Market Survey. For general liability and umbrella/excess, our prediction remains accurate as rates continue to increase, but at a slower pace with each passing quarter thanks to competition and increased capacity driven by rate adequacy. The outlier, however, is auto liability, which has seen the pace of rate increases grow in each of the last two quarters. New vehicles loaded with technology are expensive to repair, and supply chain issues have caused longer repair times, which increases the claims cost of supplemental coverages like rental car reimbursement. Coupled with the increasing frequency of severe claims on litigated liability cases and capacity restrictions in difficult jurisdictions, the market continues to seek additional rates in an effort to improve profitability.

2. Workers’ Compensation Premiums and Rates Will Remain Stable or Even Decrease Throughout 2023, but Work-From-Home Will Continue to be a Loss Control Challenge

Financial results reported to the rating organizations (NCCI, WCIRB of California, or other independent state rating bureaus) continue to show underwriting profits over the past five to seven years. The projected ultimate combined ratio (losses plus carrier expenses) for 2019–2021 was 85–87%, which translates into an underwriting profit of 13–15%.

Results for 2022 look promising as the frequency of claims continues to decline. With the Federal Reserve raising interest rates in 2022 to offset inflation pressures, carriers can earn higher portfolio yields or investment income, often leading to rate reductions.

Many employers have offered and have adapted to permanent work-from-home schedules. While it is still too early to observe the effect on workers’ compensation of this shift in work environment, early data indicates a reduction in the frequency of injury. That said, employee exposure to injuries is still present, especially in the areas of ergonomics, cumulative trauma from repetitive motion, and slip/trip and falls. In fact, work-related losses have become a 24/7 exposure.

How to Combat the Challenges of the Remote Work Movement

Ensure employees have proper ergonomic workstations and equipment as a best practice to prevent injuries. Provide information like office and desk set-up tutorials, videos, and testing materials. Work with human resources and your benefits broker to offer additional and creative employee benefits plans. For example, focus efforts on mental health resources and activities like yoga, exercise classes, and other physical and mental activities.

Update: Workers’ compensation remains the most stable and healthy line of casualty insurance, and this is reflected in continued rate decreases each quarter, per the CIAB. Anchoring a difficult auto placement to a profitable workers’ compensation program remains a viable strategy to leverage improved results. While exposure to claims has increased given the potential 24/7 nature of the work-from-home, an increase in remote-work claims has not come to fruition. However, it remains a concern of insurers and employers alike. A strong ergonomic program is the key to addressing home office exposures the employer cannot control.

3. Social Inflation and Other Related Factors Affecting the Frequency of Severity of Claims Will Remain a Top Concern for Liability Insurers

One of the top industry talking points over the past several years has been the phenomenon of increasing claims costs driven by changing societal factors such as social inflation, third-party litigation financing, the appeal of class action lawsuits, plaintiff tactics like reptile theory, and the growing public distrust of corporations. The number of nuclear verdicts, or claims of more than $10 million, has consistently increased year over year, and this has a trickle-down effect on settlements as defense attorneys look to avoid unpredictable jury awards. The average verdict in the National Law Journal’s Top 100 Verdicts more than tripled from 2015 to 2019 and hit new highs in 2020 and 2021.

As claims worked their way through reopened court systems in 2021, we saw record-breaking litigation outcomes, including a $1 billion auto liability verdict. With 11 nuclear verdicts, including three of more than $100 million in December 2021 alone, this trend continued into 2022. The time from file to trial continues to elongate with the backlog of cases waiting to be tried, and this trend can expect to carry into 2023 and beyond.

Organizations exposed to these types of shock losses include:

  • Those with a fleet of any size, including a large hired fleet or non-owned fleet exposure
  • Organizations with difficult product liability risk, like children’s goods, auto parts, medical devices, chemicals, and habitational real estate owners
  • Sharing economy firms
Update: Social inflation is still a hot topic in the insurance industry and beyond. One driving factor of social inflation, third-party litigation financing, has grown to a $39 billion dollar industry and was recently featured on 60 Minutes. The US Chamber of Commerce remains focused on legislation to regulate the litigation funding industry. In the event of a catastrophic and litigated liability case, it is imperative to work closely with your broker and insurance carrier on a proactive defense strategy. Many carriers are willing to work with insureds pre-loss and have thorough presentations on social inflation and how to prepare for litigation both before and after a loss.

How to Proceed in an Operating Environment with an Increased Potential for a Nuclear Verdict

Here are a few ways to mitigate your risk of loss and a large verdict:

  • Demonstrate control over exposures by refocusing on basic risk management best practices that may have been deprioritized over the difficult preceding years.
  • Conduct a thorough gap analysis of risk controls intended to minimize the potential of big casualty losses like severe auto accidents or class action product liability claims.
  • Understand and proactively address the potential attachment of negligence to a complaint.
  • Revisit the fleet safety program for updated best practices and explore new telematic technology.

4. The Average Cost of a Liability Claim Will Continue to Rise, Driven by Inflation, the Rising Cost of Healthcare/Medical Treatment, and the Cost of Vehicle Repairs

Claims are simply costing more money to adjudicate. Medical inflation and rising healthcare costs mean the average bodily injury claim from an auto accident or a general liability claim will be more costly than in prior years. With more enhanced technology in our vehicles and the current supply chain issues, the physical damage portion of claims is rapidly rising, as it costs more and takes longer to repair vehicles. This also affects supplemental claim costs like rental car reimbursement.

How to Address the Rising Cost of Claims

With the average claim costing more, improve diligence on the overall claims process—from intake through closure—by monitoring efficiency, reducing waste, and focusing on expenses. Some steps are outlined below:

  • Focus on early resolution of claims.
  • Stay engaged in the claims process, maintaining open and frequent communication with the claims adjuster.
  • Monitor and benchmark adjusting and litigation expenses.
  • Use key performance indicators and benchmarking to evaluate claims process efficiency (e.g., closure rates, litigation rates, and reporting lag).
  • Look to eliminate wasteful spending where possible, making sure high dollar expenses are necessary (e.g., case management, sub rosa [surveillance], and medical cost containment charges).
  • Read our recently published blog on tips for a seamless claims process.

Update: Inflation continues to be a massive factor in the increasing average cost of claims across all casualty coverages. It is more important than ever to be proactive pre-loss by expanding loss prevention techniques and post-loss by improving the claims handling process. Refer to the following Woodruff Sawyer blogs for some ideas on loss prevention tactics and driving better claims results:

5. Underwriters Will Continue to Refine Coverage Terms and Conditions

The current hard market has brought on not only steadily increasing rates, but for some industries, it has also led to bumps in retentions and deductibles, reduction in capacity/limits, removal or reduction of sublimits, refined coverage wording to clarify the intent of coverage, and additional exclusions.

Popular coverage restrictions we expect to continue to see in 2023 include:

  • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) forever chemicals
  • Assault and battery
  • Abuse and molestation
  • Territory restrictions for Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus

Certain industries with difficult exposures and accounts with extensive loss history have and will continue to face challenging renewals or adverse program marketing results.

How to Mitigate Facing a Restriction of Insurance Coverage Within your Program

Primary casualty insurers continue to maintain rigorous risk selection discipline. Buyers should start early, conduct thorough marketing, and leverage strong relationships with carriers that place attractive lines of business, like workers’ compensation and higher layers of the excess tower. High-quality program specifications and underwriting submissions featuring detailed narratives that demonstrate understanding, control, and risk management processes on these hot button coverage issues are imperative and can improve coverage terms and conditions.

Update: PFAS, or forever chemicals, exclusions have become much more common, as expected. Like social inflation, PFAS has also hit the mainstream media with billion-dollar settlements in 2023 against 3M and DuPont. Manufacturers of all types should be prepared to answer questions on the potential presence of PFAS in their products in the renewal negotiation process with their insurers.

In addition to the exclusions mentioned above, it is becoming more common to see biometric data claim exclusions on general liability policies. Review our blogs on BIPA litigation for more detail on this evolving exposure and how carriers are reacting to expanded privacy-related exposures

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