Skyrocketing professional liability premiums have begun to cause some serious financial problems for many associations and their members.
In one case, an association was forced to collect contributions from its board members to make up for its premium increases, while others have had to deal with pressure from members who have been asked to pay more than 500 percent increases in their own insurance costs.
The Small Business Legislative Council, a group of more than 86 trade associations across the country, is urging President Reagan to form a commission to review what its treasurer, Wayne Smith, called the "impending insurance crisis."
Smith said that not one association has been spared from the drastic premium increases, which he said will not be slowed until the insurance industry works out its own problems. "We have to go to the core of the problem; then everyone involved will get relief," Smith said.
According to an insurance industry spokesman, insurance companies are having their worst year since 1921. In 1984, the industry got hit with an onslaught of large claims from incidents such as the gas leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, and the Agent Orange settlement with Vietnam veterans. Many association leaders see the claim hike as a way to bring the industry's problems to the attention of the government.
The Small Business Legislative Council plans to meet with insurance industry and government officials in a conference next month to discuss possible solutions, Smith said. He added that "all trade association executives are looking for answers. . . . "
Smith is also executive director of the United Bus Owners Association, representing an industry that has been hit particularly hard recently; some bus companies have reported an almost 700 percent increase in insurance rates, while others have had their policies canceled altogether.
A local association that has felt the crunch from all sides is the Association for Commuter Transportation. The Washington-based group's liability insurance coverage, which protects its board of directors, jumped from $600 to $1,225 last year, at the same time that its insurance company canceled its members' group insurance policy.
ACT attributes the loss of more than 150 members in the last year to the cancellation of its group insurance policy. Sandra Spence, the association's executive director, predicts membership will continue to decline for the next three years.
Spence has asked board members for contributions to cover the increased cost of the liability premium, and ACT also has merged with a similar association in an effort to consolidate activities and add membership.
"The problem is just beginning to spiral," said Steve Carey, executive director of the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives. "Those associations with budgets under $5,000 are especially going to be affected."
GWSAE has sent out two executive alerts to warn its membership of the increase. Until now, associations have been learning of the steep increases only when it came time to renew their policies, Carey said. TRADE
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