By Christopher Walker. Liability insurance is becoming increasingly expensive and is often completely unavailable to builders and remodelers in California, Mike Pattison, head of the California Building Industry Association, told state lawmakers at a legislative hearing in December.

Pattison requested "urgent government action" to alleviate the problem that he said was created by a combination of increasing claims and decreasing insurance company income from stock investments, which has forced insurers to decrease offerings and raise premiums by 100% or more.

The problem is not limited to California. Jim Sasko of Teakwood Builders in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., says his liability insurance went from $3,570 last year to $7,689 this year, and he considers himself lucky to have gotten any coverage at all. "Our carrier pulled out of the New York market last year. Luckily we were in good standing," Sasko says. But that standing still left him with only one choice of carrier. His new insurer has warned him to expect another 25% to 30% increase next year because of the September 11 attacks.

Last winter, Sasko began a letter writing campaign to state legislators on behalf of his local builder's association to amend New York's Safe Place to Work law, which he blames for much of the problem, but he's gotten little positive response. Roxanne Speck, account executive for Daytona Beach, Fla.-based Brown and Brown Insurance, one of the few remaining liability insurers in the New York market, says the problem is a provision in the law that makes general contractors automatically liable for injuries occurring on the jobsite, whether negligence is evident or not. "The carriers have pulled out of the market because there's no defense for them," Speck states. "If a limit to the labor law was passed, there'd be competition back in the market."

According to Speck, Sakso's situation is far from the worst she's seen. "I had a guy recently who ... went from a $15,000 premium to a $90,000 premium. That's not an isolated case."