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No significant insurance losses expected from George Floyd demonstrations

Insured losses from the ongoing demonstrations over the death of an African American man in police custody are not expected to be significant, two industry analysts have said.

The civil disturbances that started in Minneapolis on May 26 have led to destruction and looting in most major U.S. cities. The protests were sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd. He died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest.

PCS, a division of Verisk, has declared the riots to be a catastrophe event, the first time it has applied that designation to riots in multiple states.

Keefe Bruyette and Woods analyst Meyer Shields said the damage has been "horrific," but he noted that there is a difference between how things look from media coverage and the actual percentage of property that has been affected.

"From an insurance industry perspective, my guess is it's a relatively small insured loss," Shields said in an interview. "In the low billions of dollars, perhaps, but that's not enough to make a difference in this industry."

Wells Fargo analyst Elyse Greenspan said in a note that losses from the riots will be manageable despite multiple cities and states being affected. She noted that in the 12 events declared "riots" by PCS since 1965, the losses from each fell below $100 million, with the exception of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Greenspan said comparing the current events to the 2019 Chile protests, which caused over $2 billion in losses, could provide "some additional context to the potential insurance industry loss."

The most expensive riots in U.S. history were the Los Angeles riots in 1992, which cost $775 million, or $1.4 billion in 2020 dollars, and the 1965 Watts riots, valued at $357 million in 2020 dollars. Insurers paid $12.4 million in claims relating to the unrest in Baltimore in 2015 after Freddie Gray, an African American man, died in police custody.

The potential cost of the riots adds yet another concern for insurers already coping with COVID-19 pandemic-related losses and the threat of an active hurricane season. Greenspan noted that any losses from the riots would add to the record bill for COVID-19, but that in isolation these "should not be that meaningful for the industry."