California wildfires prompt tougher rules for utilities

SAN FRANCISCO _ Devastating California wildfires this year _ and expectations of more to come under the extremes of climate change _ prompted regulators Thursday to toughen rules for utility companies to keep power lines clear of brush and tree branches that can easily spark into flames.

Public Utilities Commission president Michael Picker called the regulations adopted unanimously by the board “a major rewrite” of the state’s fire-prevention rules for utilities as climate change drives up wildfire risks in much of California.

In a year when the state’s fire season threatens to go year-round, state officials “accept and acknowledge that the scope of the problem is changing,’ Picker said.

The board’s action comes as fire officials look for the causes of wildfires currently burning in Southern California, including a 380-square-mile (980-square-kilometre) fire that has become the fourth-largest in state history. The Los Angeles Times on Thursday quoted a witness as saying she saw arcing power lines throwing sparks at the scene of one of the fires in the San Fernando Valley.

Fire officials also are looking at any role that sparks from wind-whipped power lines played in October’s wildfires in Northern California, which killed 44 people and caused more than $9 billion in property damage, more than any fire recorded in the United States, according to insurance industry figures.

The new state rules for utilities, power lines and vegetation concentrate on areas deemed of higher fire risk. The changes increase the minimum space among power lines and between power lines and vegetation, and speed up timetables for patrols and repairs in areas of higher fire risks.

The agency first began considering the issue after a series of Southern California wildfires in 2007. Those fires were tied to swaying and arcing power lines, some of which fell during heavy winds.

Currently, a redrawing of California’s fire-risk maps is more than doubling the area that officials consider at heightened risk of wildfire, from 31,000 square miles (80,000 square kilometres) to 70,000 square miles (180,000 square kilometres), or 44 per cent of the state’s land.

State officials and climate experts point to increasing extremes of weather in California, which last winter swung from five years of drought to near-record rain.

The U.S. Forest Service this week reported a record 129 million trees have perished, raising fire risks, in the state since the drought began. They were killed by hot, arid weather and forest pests that are thriving in the warmer conditions.

Utility companies co-operated with regulators in developing the tougher rules.

Insurance company will allow up to a year off for parents, six months of which will be on full basic pay, regardless of gender

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21st Century Fox has reached a $90 million settlement of shareholder claims

Reuters

Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. has reached a $90 million settlement of shareholder claims arising from the sexual harassment scandal at its Fox News Channel, which cost the jobs of longtime news chief Roger Ailes and anchor Bill O’Reilly.The settlement, which requires a judge’s approval, resolves what are known as “derivative” claims against Fox officers and directors, including: Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan, who are Fox’s executive chairmen; James Murdoch, another son and its chief executive, and Ailes’ estate.

The defendants did not admit wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement filed with the Delaware Chancery Court.

Monday’s settlement calls for insurers of Fox officers, Fox directors and Ailes’ estate to pay the $90 million to the New York-based company for the benefit of shareholders.

Fox will enhance governance and said it created the Fox News Workplace Professionalism and Inclusion Council to ensure a proper workplace environment, bolster training and further the recruitment and advancement of women and minorities.

The council has four independent members, including former federal judge Barbara Jones.

In a typical derivative case, shareholders sue in the name of a company to remedy wrongs inflicted by an alleged lack of oversight by a company’s officers and directors.

Ailes’ estate disputed many of the allegations in the settlement, which was reached before a complaint was formally filed, court records show.

“The Workplace Council gives our management team access to a braintrust of experts with deep and diverse experiences in workplace issues,” Jack Abernethy, co-president of Fox News Channel, said in a statement. “We look forward to benefiting from their collective guidance.”

Shareholders were led by the City of Monroe Employees’ Retirement System in Michigan. Their lawyer, Max Berger, said in a statement the accord would provide “meaningful benefits” for shareholders and Fox News employees.

The accord is not the first big derivative settlement involving a Murdoch-led company.

In 2013, former Fox parent News Corp reached a $139 million settlement of derivative claims that its board turned a blind eye to phone hacking at its London tabloids.

Two years later, the Delaware court approved a $275 million settlement involving “Call of Duty” videogame maker Activision Blizzard Inc over a stock sale by Vivendi SA.

The scandal at Fox began in July 2016 when former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit accusing Ailes of harassment. O’Reilly lost his job in April after being accused of harassment, and has denied wrongdoing.

Ailes died the next month. Fox faces other private civil litigation tied to the scandal.

The case is City of Monroe Employees’ Retirement System v Murdoch et al, Delaware Chancery Court, No. 2017-0833.

 Source; Thomson/Reuters

Low risk does not mean you can skimp on insurance

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The odds are in your favor that you will not end up using the disability or term life insurance you get through work any time soon. But you need it anyway – and more than you typically get for free.

Despite insurance industry statistics that indicate that one in four 20-year-olds will be disabled before reaching retirement age, the averages are skewed by laborers with physically demanding jobs. Yes, people break arms and have bad backs, but those disabilities do not typically keep them out of a desk job for the three months that often must pass before disability insurance starts paying benefits.

Still, while the risk is low, people need to think about how they would pay their bills if they become unlucky. “You don’t want to lose your home or have to use your 401(k),” said John Ryan, principal of Ryan Insurance Strategy Group, and a certified financial planner who advises other financial planners on insurance.

If you are young and have no children or a spouse counting on your paycheck, you still need to think about what you would need to cover your mortgage or lease payments, your student loan debt and basic expenses.

Even in a two-career family, losing one income could hurt, said Sheryl Garrett, a certified financial planner and founder of Garrett Planning Network. If one spouse is working more to make up the difference, then who cooks, cleans, mows the lawn, and picks up the kids? “You might have to hire someone. And for a disabled person, a spouse might have to provide caregiving too, or hire a caregiver,” added Garrett.

Although the Society for Human Resource Management reports that 85 percent of large companies provide some life insurance for employees, free insurance often covers only a year of income. When an employee leaves a job, coverage likely ends. A rule of thumb for life insurance is to have seven to 10 times a person’s income to cover a family until children have been raised and debts paid off. Online calculators can help you figure out the math (bit.ly/2xnEivz).

Rather than buying extra insurance in the workplace, healthy people should compare prices in the private market because it is more comprehensive and typically less expensive. A parent of young children could lock in a 20-year-term life insurance policy that would provide $1 million and cost as little as $36 a month, according to Ryan’s calculator (bit.ly/2gC7O9Y). Also try LifeQuotes.com or AccuQuote.com.

By securing a term life policy for a lengthy period, a parent avoids having to reapply for insurance, face steep rate increases, and potentially get rejected for weaker health later in life.

On the other hand, disability insurance is best purchased through the workplace. It is much more expensive than life insurance if purchased privately. Ryan suggests buying all you can in the workplace.

Typically, when employers provide long-term disability insurance it covers 60 percent of an employee’s income. That can seem reassuring, but often there are also maximum limits – perhaps $2,500 to $5,000 in coverage a month. An average worker earning $75,000 or less might be fine under such rules, but not someone earning over $125,000, said Ryan. In addition, bonuses and commissions typically are not covered.

 To show the contrast, Ryan offers this example: A recent workplace plan charged a 30-year-old $16.47 a month for each $1,000 of disability coverage per month. Yet, if purchased privately, a 30-year-old woman would pay $30.56 a month and a man $19.50 a month. The costs go up as you age, which can get pricey.

Years ago, Garrett thought a young client was making the mistake spending a ton of money on disability insurance. Although he looked ready to play basketball, the man contracted a debilitating genetic disease and just one year later was using a wheelchair and a walker, with no chance of recovery. In retrospect, his insurance purchase was well worth it, Garrett said.

“We aim to protect the individual Arsenal fan experience when they want to go to a game, whether they’re travelling from Islington or India, Sydney or San Francisco.

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Terrorism Insurance in Demand for Concerts Following Las Vegas Attack

Terrorism Insurance in Demand for Concerts Following Las Vegas Attack

By Ashley Cullins | The Hollywood Reporter

A string of deadly attacks at music events — including the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas at the Route 91 Harvest festival — is pushing artists to invest in something most didn’t think they needed: terrorism insurance.

“Now more than ever they are targets,” says Steves Rodriguez, business manager for Fifth Harmony.

Political violence and terrorism (PVT) insurance policies have been available for decades, but they have been a tough sell unless artists are touring in volatile regions like South America or Eastern Europe. But after the killing of 58 concertgoers in Las Vegas that took place while Jason Aldean was onstage; the bombing outside Ariana Grande’s show in Manchester, England, in May; and the 2015 attack on the Bataclan nightclub in Paris, reps are now advising talent to buy the coverage no matter where they tour.

“Not everybody believes it’s necessary,” says Bill Tannenbaum, a business manager who specializes in representing touring artists. “I’m pretty vocal about taking it with my clients, and luckily we had it with Ariana Grande.” The singer canceled multiple stops on her tour after the attack before returning to Manchester for a benefit concert.

Standard nonperformance insurance costs about 2 percent of the artist’s guarantee and pays a claim (usually about 80 percent of appearance fees) if shows are canceled for reasons like illness, injury or natural disaster. A PVT add-on costs about an extra half-percent.

“It’s usually a battle with the artist to buy it,” says attorney Dina LaPolt, who represents Britney Spears and Steven Tyler. “If you get paid a million dollars, all of your tour costs come out of that million. So every penny counts.”

Even the threat of an attack can trigger a claim. “The way [policies had] been written previously is, the threat had to be related to the venue,” says John Tomlinson, who leads the entertainment group of Lockton Cos., the world’s largest privately held insurance brokerage. “We have expanded that language to include threats made to bandmembers,” he says. Policies might also cover a show that is impacted by an attack within a certain time or distance, say within a week of the event or within 50 miles of the venue.

LaPolt says she also tries to add terrorism into the force majeure provision in appearance contracts. That way, in the event of an attack, both the artist and the tour promoter’s obligations are negated, preventing a breach of contract lawsuit.

While no one could truly prepare for a tragedy like the one in Las Vegas, LaPolt says recent attacks have made terrorism insurance more common. “If it’s a big tour and you’re a high-profile artist and you gather tens of thousands of people per show, you have to have it,” she says.

Nor is the need exclusive to musicians: Other live events, like NCAA tournaments and trade shows, are buying coverage. And Orange Is the New Black showrunner Jenji Kohan told THR recently that she took out terrorism insurance on her office building because she expects a show she’s developing about a teenage Jesus to be controversial.

“You’re always going to do something that someone doesn’t like,” said Kohan. “And you don’t know how crazy that someone is going to be.”

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