The insurance industry's response to the Boston Marathon bombings exemplified the industry at its best while highlighting the need for greater clarity surrounding the terms of terrorism insurance, Massachusetts Insurance Commissioner Joseph G. Murphy said Monday.
Addressing attendees at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America's annual meeting in Boston, Mr. Murphy said the tragic events of April 15 happened mere blocks from where he stood at the Marriott Copley Place. “The hotel we are meeting in now was evacuated during the bombings,” he said.
Mr. Murphy said the industry's response to the bombings underscored its role as a vital social safety net. “Insurers stepped up to the plate and made their clients whole,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of claims were handled fairly and expeditiously.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Murphy said the industry and his office did face challenges in the immediate wake of the bombings.
“Some of the early issues we experienced were that city officials had no experience with significant catastrophes and had little understanding of how the insurance industry responded to such events,” he said. “There was no inventory of affected businesses, and individuals' and law enforcement closure of the bombing area for nine days after the event made it difficult to determine exposure or file claims.”
Another challenging aspect of the bombings for insurers was that that most of the damages happened to people.
“Our recent data calls on the marathon attacks reflect incurred property/casualty losses of about $2.5 million and health insurance claims of about $23 million,” he said. “Health insurance claims, which are rarely significant in most catastrophe events, were paramount here.”
A further complication was not knowing whether the attacks would be certified under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, Mr. Murphy said, noting that press inquiries about the subject began minutes after the event, long before reliable insurance information was available.
“There was rampant press speculation around TRIA,” he said. “We also had to contend with the urge of some government officials to do something in the wake of the tragedy that was not necessarily compatible with realities of claims processing.”
Accordingly, Mr. Murphy said his office initiated biweekly data calls from top 25 property/casualty insurers, as well as health insurers. The data also went to the Federal Insurance Office, which was advising the Treasury secretary about whether to certify the event under TRIA, he said. The government did not certify the event because it failed to pierce TRIA thresholds for damages.
“I know that the industry groans when regulators send out data calls, but they are the best way for the industry to present its side of the story and make clear the extent and timeliness of the industry's response,” Mr. Murphy said.