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Insuring your body -- piece by piece

What are you worth? The sum of your body parts might surprise you, say insurers.

Most people recognize that the fingers of a musician, surgeon, magician or craftsman are vital to their fame and fortune, but the hands of an average person can be worth a lot, too.

Just how much each body part is worth depends on what it is and how you're compensated for its injury or loss.

At the low end of the scale is a payout from your state worker's compensation fund, at the high end is a lawsuit where the sky's the limit (imagine what Bruce Springsteen could ask for his guitar-playing fingers) and the middle ground is an accidental death and dismemberment insurance policy.

"The differences can be very substantial," says Rich Claahsen, vice-president of Insure.com, pointing out an example of two men who each lose a finger in an auto accident. One is an assembly-line worker, the other a concert pianist. The worker might receive $18,000 under a worker's comp claim, but the pianist could be awarded millions in a personal injury lawsuit.

Workman's comp based on formulas
So there's no easy way to calculate the rule of (lost) thumb, but workers' comp is the most likely coverage for your on-the-job injury, because employers in every state except Texas are required to carry such coverage.

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Exactly how much you'll receive varies by state. Most state workers' compensation boards decide on a payout based on a percentage of your weekly pay, multiplied by the number of weeks at which they value the lost body part.

In New York State, for example, a worker who loses an arm at work would qualify for 66 per cent of his average pay for 312 weeks with a maximum of $400 a week. His arm, then, would be "worth" $124,800.

"An AD&D policy usually pays out a percentage of the policy's limit, and most insurers specify clearly what is their schedule of values for lost body parts," says Oregon insurance agent Andrew Sunia, of the giant Allstate Financial group.

Losing an eye, for example, is rated at 50 percent of an AD&D policy, because you can effectively see with the other eye. Losing both, of course, is rated at 100 percent.

Loss of a thumb is rated higher than loss of a finger because it prevents you from gripping or grasping -- a vital action that's needed in most occupations.

Supplemental plans
So how do you cover yourself with an insurance policy, if you think workers' comp is not going to be enough?

"Accident insurance can pay you a lump sum benefit for on or off-the-job injuries, plus some medical benefits," said Sunia. "It's insurance we should all have, because one American in four will suffer accidental injury at one time or another."

"Because accident insurance is supplemental, it works in addition to other insurance you may have. You can buy a policy to use on its own, or to fill gaps left by your other insurance coverage."

Most companies sell insurance as units of coverage -- typically $5,000 to $20,000 per unit -- allowing the buyer to choose coverage to fit his or her budget, or to ensure a specific level of benefit if injury is sustained.

Buy one unit of coverage and you get $x if something happens. Buy three units and you'll receive three times the benefits, but you'll pay about three times as much in premiums.

A typical $100,000 accidental death and dismemberment policy for a man age 40 to 44 costs about $20 a month.

Here's a typical sampling of what you can expect your body is worth, in relative terms, remembering that age, physical condition and where you live can all affect the premiums you pay.

For loss of your life, a single unit of insurance cover would pay $20,000 -- the same as you'd get for losing both eyes; both hands or arms; both feet or legs; or one hand or arm and one foot or leg.

Lose one eye, hand, arm, foot or leg: $10,000.

Loss of a toe: $1,000.

Short a finger? $800.

The AD&D policies cover injuries as well as the loss of a body part -- as long as they're caused by accidents. A dislocated hip, for example, would be worth $2,000 per unit purchased.

Dislocating a knee, foot or ankle: $800.

Dislocate your wrist and you'll get $700 per unit of insurance; but your elbow's only worth $600 and your shoulder $400. A dislocated collarbone or a bone in your hand nets $300 per unit and two or more fingers or toes $140 ($60 for just one finger or toe dislocated)

Broken bones have payout value, too. Hip, thigh, pelvis or skull fractures are worth $2,000 per unit of insurance. A broken arm, above the elbow: $1,100. Below the elbow: $800. A shoulder blade or broken leg: $1,100.

You'll get $800 per unit of insurance for a broken ankle, kneecap, collarbone, foot, hand or wrist.

Still counting? A broken jaw is worth $400 a unit, broken nose $300 -- the same as for two or more busted ribs, fingers or toes. Just one rib broken? Expect just $140 per unit of insurance.

Of course, all of this is not to say you should run out and buy an AD&D policy. Yes, they're relatively inexpensive but do you really need one? After all, say experts, you're far more likely to die of natural causes than perish in an accident. And as far as injuries go, chances of losing a limb don't even come close to the chance you'll become disabled form a back injury.

If you're employed in a high-risk job, enjoy jumping out of planes or night SCUBA diving in caves; you should definitely consider getting this kind of coverage. Then again, those kinds of activities will send your premium skyrocketing.

Paul Bannister is a freelance writer based in Oregon.

-- Posted: Sept. 23, 2003

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