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2/27/2003

State Farm denies nuclear coverage

Los Angeles Times

With the United States on the brink of war in Iraq and North Korea test-firing missiles, State Farm Insurance Cos. is issuing a timely, if chilling, notice to customers: It won’t cover auto damage caused by nuclear blasts or radioactive fallout.

“No insurance company could withstand the financial impact of insuring a nuclear accident,” Bill Sirola, a spokesman for nation’s largest automobile insurer, said Wednesday.

Never mind that filing an auto insurance claim may be the least of people’s worries should a nuclear strike occur.

Since Sept. 11, most insurance companies have been reassessing their exposure to potential losses from terrorism, including the possibility of an attack using a nuclear device or radioactive materials.

Nuclear exclusions have been an insurance industry standard since the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union and the United States found themselves locked in a nuclear standoff, said Pete Moraga, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California.

But State Farm officials said they noticed during their post-Sept. 11 review that although the company’s homeowner policies clearly excluded damage from nuclear blasts, accidents and fallout, its auto policies appeared ambiguous.

The company has 40 million auto policyholders nationwide. Notices are going out with renewals in states where the change has been approved by regulators.

All policyholders are expected to receive the notices by mid-2004.

Most state insurance regulators have barred companies from dropping coverage for terrorist acts from personal policies, said Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, although terrorism losses can be excluded from commercial policies.