Bulletin No. 2000-3


TO:                  All Companies Underwriting Automobile Insurance in Kansas

FROM:             Kathleen Sebelius, Commissioner of Insurance

RE:                   Surcharges for Accidents Caused by Defective Tires

DATE:             September 8, 2000

            Most of the country is aware that tire manufacturer Bridgestone/Firestone has issued a national and international recall of certain sizes of tires.  The recall is prompted by consumer complaints and auto collision data that demonstrate that tread separation has caused serious and fatal automobile accidents in the United States and abroad.  The insurance industry has been credited with stepping forward and alerting federal authorities to the correlation between insurance claims and defective tires.  For these efforts, the insurance industry should be applauded.

            In Kansas, insurers of private passenger-type automobiles are allowed to assess surcharges to insurance premiums following payment of certain claims.  However, most insurance companies do not surcharge a policy if the driver is reimbursed by the person responsible for the accident.  Companies also do not typically charge for collisions with animals, "hit and run" accidents, accidents where the insured automobile was lawfully parked and other circumstances in which the driver is not "at fault."

            We have learned that some insurers are surcharging policies for accidents caused by defective tires.  In light of the national recall and federal investigation, we believe such rating to be unfairly discriminatory, in violation of K.S.A. 40-953.  Defective tires and the accidents they cause pose an insurance risk to United States insurers.  However, those insurers have full right of subrogation of those losses and are encouraged to pursue the responsible parties.  Policyholders should not be required to bear the burden of surcharges while waiting for the insurance industry to pursue their subrogation claims.  Litigation surrounding this recall and investigation will take years.

            We require that insurers authorized to do business in Kansas cease surcharging policies for accidents caused by defective tires, regardless of the brand, effective immediately.  Insurers are further directed to remove such current surcharges and refund or credit the amount of the surcharge to the policyholders beginning from the inception of the surcharge.  This directive applies to surcharges on current in-force policies and policies purchased after the date of this bulletin.

            Questions on this matter can be directed to the Fire & Casualty Division, Kansas Insurance Department, 785-296-7844.