Low Self-Insured Retention vs. High Policy Limits

What’s More Important? A Low SIR or High Policy Limits?

In today’s volatile public entity insurance marketplace I find myself regularly answering this question. Everyone jumps to “stability”, and public entities believe stability means grabbing hold of your SIR and not letting go.

As insurance markets start to raise the self-insured retentions of large public entities, due to loss activity or the economy, many entities fight to keep their current SIR by sacrificing higher policy limits. At the same time, lawsuits are increasing in size and number in all coverage areas (View Settlements PDF). Many public entities are maintaining lower policy limits when the threat of high dollar lawsuits is actually increasing! Now here’s the kicker… Private equity firms are now financing these high dollar lawsuits in the hopes of receiving better investment returns. (Source Article) This information, recent inflation fears, and a possible turn in the insurance market make me wonder whether we should be fighting for the low SIR or a higher limit.

So What Can You Do?

First, determine the correct SIR for your account; it’s usually above the working (or frequency) layer. Positioning the SIR allows for the most cost effective transfer of risk, enabling you to keep premiums at a minimum while still achieving your goal of protection from market swings. SIR’s should be set to handle one large claim every 5 to 6 years. If your current SIR is above or below that level, it may need to be reset. If you don’t know if your SIR is correctly positioned, call us, we analyze SIRs and loss histories for a living.

Second, determine what policy limits you might need. Many public entities in states with strong tort law buy lower limits as they feel comfortable with the tort protection. However, even in tort protected states, these entities are NOT protected from the Federal Claims found in Section 1983 and the claims associated with violating those laws. These claims are mostly EPLI and law enforcement related, so be sure to weigh your exposure in those areas. Keep in mind that tort statutes have been broken across the country. If your local tort statute is broken you’ll be vulnerable to all negligence based claims and that tort protection will no longer exist.

Odds are that your public entity can likely absorb an additional $500k to $1 million due to an increase in the SIR, but if your limits are too low can you handle another $10 million from a lawsuit gone bad? Imagine having to pay $5-$10 million in this economy because you didn’t take the time to consider the changing marketplace and the possibility of a large claim. Ultimately, the decision is up to you, but if you’re sacrificing limits for a lower SIR, then you may need to reconsider your choice!