Severity trends in Auto Claims

Source:, April 1, 2019
By: Angela Guitar, Head of Global Excess Casualty Claims, AXA XL

Every day, at least nine Americans die and hundreds are injured in distracted driving crashes. That’s why April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, an effort to raise awareness about distracted driving risks and encourage individuals to adopt safer driving. #JustDrive
Auto accidents can be life-altering and there are situations where traumatic injuries warrant a large settlement. But multimillion-dollar demands have become routine even for auto claims that do not involve long-term injuries. Cases that previously settled for relatively small amounts are now in some instances resolving for two to three times those sums.
Further, outsized verdicts have become commonplace and have helped increase settlement values. The following are examples of some recent auto verdicts from around the nation:

  • A Harris County, Texas, jury earlier this year awarded nearly $90 million to plaintiffs who sued trucking company Werner Enterprises Inc. for a fatal 2014 crash, despite facts favorable to Werner.
  • In New York City, a jury awarded $71 million in 2017 to a woman who was seriously injured when the driver of her car fell asleep and struck another vehicle.

Our experts point to distracted driving as a growing cause for both increased frequency and severity of claims. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each day in the United States, approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver. The CDC describes distracted driving as driving while trying to do anything that takes your attention away from driving such as sending a text message, talking on a cell phone, using a navigation system, and eating. Any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others.
These claim trends are putting significant pressure on excess casualty underwriters. Current insurance rates for auto liability cannot be sustained if the increase in claim severity along with frequency continues. Claim cost inflation is important to monitor in all lines of business so that insurers can properly price the risks.
Important to note is that auto claims have not discriminated based on the types of excess business an insurer writes. Regardless of the sophistication of the insureds or the types of vehicles that are required for an insured’s business (PPVs, Large Fleets), auto is a concern for all. In the past, double-digit million-dollar verdicts tended to involve heavy trucks. In fact, about a year and a half ago our AXA XL colleagues began noticing a sharp rise in severity amounts on claims involving private passenger vehicles (PPVs). This development was concerning not only for our insureds but for our underwriters as well.
It is easy for businesses to focus more on employee injuries than third-party automobile liability when accidents occur. But the claim trends suggest that increase in frequency as well as severity for third-party auto liability is quickly becoming a problem that sooner or later will increase an insured’s cost of doing business.
At AXA XL, our claims group works with our underwriters, broker and insured partners, to help make better-informed decisions. Sustainability is an important part of our company’s commitment to our customers. By keeping our eye on what’s happening, we can ensure that rates and policy attachment points remain aligned with the conditions our policyholders are likely to experience. We think about what keeps us up at night, so that our customers can rest assured.

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