Zurik: High insurance costs drive businesses to the brink of closure

For business owners in Louisiana, auto insurance is either too high to afford or not available at all

High insurance costs drive businesses to the brink of closure

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Louisiana’s distinction as most expensive auto insurance in the nation is one that is putting a major strain on transportation businesses.

Shawn Jackson is the owner of a New Orleans-based school bus company. His fleet of buses drive kids to and from school daily.

“I hope not. I pray not,” Jackson said when asked if it could be his last year of operating. “This is how I feed my family and myself."

The rising cost of insurance on his fleet of buses has taken food off his table and money out of his family’s pocket.

“It hurts to be scared," he said. “How am I going to feed my family if I don’t have insurance next year.”

A few years ago, Jackson’s insurance cost $4,400 a bus or $22,000 for his five bus fleet per year. His insurance company stopped writing in Louisiana, so he had to shop around. He was able to get one quote for his five buses, totaling $80,000.

“I can’t pay $80,000 for insurance,” Jackson said.

So he improvised and pooled his buses with a friend who owns school buses and found insurance under the friend’s policy, but now he’s concerned that price will skyrocket too.

“I’m done if his insurance goes up. We won’t be able to function,” he said.

The number of industries affected is a long one -- from bus companies, limousine services and truck drivers -- all are feeling the strain.

CRASHING FOR MONEY?

Attorney Doug Williams represents transportation companies, he says rising rates force companies to move out of the state or go out of business. One factor he blames: fraudulent claims.

“There is no doubt there is a significant amount of fraud,” Williams said.

Crash in New Orleans East

In one example, a truck is driving through New Orleans on Interstate 10 and uses its blinker to switch lanes. When the truck is almost fully in the center lane, a car drives right into the rear of the truck which is already in the center lane.

“It’s clear that car is waiting for that opportunity to occur,” Williams said.

Williams said the four people in the car that was in the crash quickly lawyered up and said “there’s no doubt” they were looking for money. Williams said he took the video from his trucking company and showed it to the lawyers for the people in the car -- they dropped the case.

“You’re looking at that accident alone could have cost between $200,000-$300,000 easily to settle if we didn’t have that video,” Williams said.

Crash on I-310

In another example of a truck driving on I-310, a white car speeds past a truck in the pouring rain and spins out hitting the concrete barrier. The trucker avoids a direct hit by swerving to the right at the last moment.

“The police officer told me -- the individual in that car says that she lost control because your vehicle clipped her vehicle,” Williams said, recalling a conversation with police.

Williams told police he would let his driver talk to them after they reviewed video from on board the truck. Police reviewed the video and Williams said no claim was ever filed.

“It can’t be clearer than that video,” Williams said. “I’m convinced [no claim was filed] because they knew we had video."

One of those trucking companies that is investing in the technology to protect its fleet is Triple G Express, based in Jefferson.

“You can’t stay in business unless cameras are showing you what’s going on,” Randy Guillot, owner of Triple G Express, said.

Guillot’s family has seen the trucking industry evolve over their three generations in business. But he said in the current climate in the state is making business problematic.

“We’re at a competitive disadvantage being based in Louisiana running trucks here, compared to other companies,” Guillot said. “We’re paying this year 240% more than the national average [in insurance]”

Guillot said the difference is about $10,000-$20,000 per truck each year. He said that adds up to nearly $2 million more in insurance costs for his fleet of a hundred trucks.

And the marketplace to insure a large commercial truck in Louisiana is disappearing.

“Only two [companies] would come back and quote our company,” Guillot said. "The rest didn’t even look at our loss ratios, didn’t even look at us -- all they did was look at our company name and look at the zip code we were based in.

“As soon as they found out the zip code we were based in they said you’re Louisiana, we’re not quoting you,”
Randy Guillot, President, Triple G Express

The insurance climate has gotten so bad for Guillot he has formulated a doomsday plan of sorts for the day when two quotes turn to none.

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