When Insurance Disappears (and New Policies are Denied)

by | Mar 24, 2023 | Industry Info, Legal

In late 2022 I heard from long-time ASMP member Barbara Alper, who told me of a series of insurance coverage problems that have now sent me down a months-long trail of discovery and warning. This article is intended to bring some of these concerns to the membership at large, and offer a few ways you can prepare yourself for similar eventualities, and some other options for recourse.

This insurance matter is a work in progress for me and ASMP. We continue to find out details, and we continue to help develop solutions for all of our members.

The First Domino: Disappearing Coverage

Barbara lives in New York City where she has had photo business and equipment coverage for many years with Allstate. Her coverage was set to renew in January of 2023, but in November of 2022 she received a letter from Allstate that her policy was being cancelled not due to her actions, but rather because, “Your property is close to the Atlantic Coast, where anticipated hurricane damages are highest.” This begs the first question: can an insurance company simply decide not to cover an individual because of a reason like this?

The notice of non-renewal.

The answer is no… and yes. If you live in the NYC area and had coverage with Allstate, it is likely that you received a similar letter to Barbara. In fact, my investigation revealed that indeed most or all of the inland marine policies of the same type that many ASMP members have were sent a notice of non-renewal due to the increased risk. I spoke with two Allstate insurance brokers who told me that this is more widespread than just NYC, it also includes much of the East Coast. So with just a few months left in 2022, Barbara was left without insurance, and in the market for a new provider.

The bottom line: insurance companies are required to send advance notice, but they are not required to offer any insurance to any particular geographic area. Be sure to keep up to date on your communications from your insurer so that you don’t happen to miss such a notice of non-renewal.

A Photographer’s Website and Denied Coverage

At this point, Barbara reached out to her insurance broker who referenced three other insurance companies who could provide coverage, but at a much higher rate than she was paying before. Even still, Barbara was willing to pay for the increase if it made sense. But after the broker sent in her information, Barbara was then informed that, “Due to nudity on your website, we don’t have an insurance carrier that will insure you.”

Email Alper received from her insurance broker.

When I was made aware of this, my antenna went up instantly. It is not acceptable for an insurance company to deny coverage to an applicant who is a fine art photographer because of nudity on her website, especially if there are few of the many images on the site that even have any nudity whatsoever.

After investigating this matter, I began to reach out to the three insurance companies, and for the past two months have been met with form letter responses, phone agents who don’t have answers, and generally have gotten the run-around.

For purposes of transparency, the companies that Alper was told would not offer her insurance include The Hartford, CNA, and Liberty Mutual. All three offered quotes through the broker, and all three would not issue coverage. I continue to seek answers on this matter from these companies, and will update this article as warranted in the future. But this raises the broader question: can an insurance company deny coverage because of the images on a website? It was certainly something I had not heard about before from members.

The Absolute Power of the Insurance Company

Once a quote is given, the final application goes to the company for approval. And Barbara has been told it was here that her application was denied. After speaking with multiple insurance industry experts and doing research, it seems clear that the companies have nearly unlimited discretion to evaluate the risk of any individual policy and choose to deny issuing a policy.

Here, it is known that companies will not issue business coverage to certain industries, such as gambling, cannabis, or pornographic-based businesses. And it also appears that the mere existence of fine-art images which include nudity were enough to trigger denial. Equating a fine-art nude photograph to a pornographic-based business is not reasonable, however, and we continue to seek clarification from these companies.

So what is there to do?

What to Do and Ways to Register Your Complaints

First, understand that insurance is regulated at a state level. Each state has an insurance regulation department that accepts consumer complaints. You can and should file complaints if you are ever in the situation Alper found herself. You can see a list of all state-level departments here.

Next, ensure that you and your broker are on the same page about how to describe and categorize your business. Much of the process is automated, and having the right person in your corner can make a difference. We are regularly evaluating the brokers that we work with to ensure that they are fighting for our members. If it’s determined that they were not, we would address that with them directly.

Third, realize that there are many companies out there who would love to have your business. In this case, Barbara was able to connect directly with another company who provided coverage for her without question.

What Comes Next?

I am continuing to try to get actual answers on this matter from the companies involved. And when I do I will update this article. Until then, know that you can always reach out to us at legal@asmp.org with your questions or concerns, and know also that we are here to work for members like Barbara, and all of you, as you survive and thrive in the creative world.

Stay tuned…