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Insurance companies, customers grappling with Sept. 11 fallout

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In the summer before Sept.11, David Udow and his partners quietly shopped around for insurance rates for their new outdoor adventure company ZipTrek Ecotours.

Time and again they were assured that insurance coverage would be "no problem" and early indications pointed to rates that would fall in line with their preliminary budget.

But on Sept. 11 the insurance world suffered a catastrophic event, shouldering an estimated cost somewhere between $40 to $70 billion US – all the bills have yet to come in.

And while zipping through trees between Whistler and Blackcomb has nothing to do with terrorists, the repercussions of Sept. 11 reverberated back to Udow and his partners.

When the time came to get insurance for their fledgling company, the rates were five times higher than they had been in August 2001.

"You’d fall off your chair if I told you how much it was," he said but he would not disclose the actual sum.

In fact it was so high that Udow said the company almost didn’t make it off the ground.

"It was borderline," he sighed.

In fact, they had a hard time even getting the coverage at all.

"We had a very difficult time getting insurance as an activity that is fairly unknown.... The (insurance) companies didn’t know how to rate us," he said.

But Udow’s story is just a sign of the times as insurance companies try to recoup some of their losses from the terrorist attacks.

"What we’ve gone to is a hard market," said Donald Cochrane, insurance broker at Sea to Sky Insurance Services.

"That means the insurance companies are increasing rates and are very selective about the business they’re taking on."

Whistler Bungee co-owner Michael Krieger said there were a few factors working in their favour that allowed them to retain third party liability this year despite the tough insurance market.

He says a good 15-year reputation and an accident-free history, as well as a few connections, were very helpful in getting the coverage.

He did not have a quote prior to Sept. 11 but estimates his rates are double what they would have been one year ago.

"Sure, it’s upsetting.... It’s disappointing," he said.

"(But) if you want to play you gotta pay."

In reality it’s the customers that are paying for the high insurance rates that companies are currently paying out.

"Fundamentally it gets passed on to the customer as part of the price of the activity," said Udow.

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