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Our July “Cover All Your Bases” Contest Winner!

Ken and July's Contest Winner Shannon

Shannon won two field-level tickets to a San Diego Padres home game against the Florida Marlins.  She was entered in the drawing after purchasing a renters insurance policy from MetLife Auto & Home.  By purchasing a renters insurance policy in addition to her auto insurance policy she saved an additional 10% with a multi-policy discount.  Please call or email us to discuss ALL your insurance needs.  The “Cover All Your Bases” contest runs now through the end of August.

Have you “Liked” Ken May Insurance Services on Facebook?

Marcella A. did, and she won two tickets to a San Diego Padres home game against the Arizona Diamonbacks just for liking us on Facebook! Take a look at our fan page for interesting insurance tidbits, local event info, fun client contests and much more!

Ken and our Facebook Contest Winner Marcella A.

Ken May Insurance Services is a independent insurance agency located in Oceanside, CA.  We can help you with your auto, home, umbrella, motorcycle insurance needs and much more.

Our June “Cover All Your Bases” Contest Winner

Ken and June's Contest Winner Erica V.

Erica won two field-level tickets to the August 15, 2011, San Diego Padres home game against the New York Mets.  She was entered in the drawing after purchasing a business owners policy for her babershop/hair salon here in Oceanside, CA.  Please call or email us to discuss ALL your insurance needs.  The “Cover All Your Bases” contest runs now through the end of August.

Erica’s Barbershop & Style is located at 2235 El Camino Real Ste I Oceanside, CA in the Target/24HR Fitness shopping center just south of our office.

What is Betterment as it relates to an auto insurance claim?

This article will explain betterment as it relates to a claim involving your insured automobile. 

What is Betterment?

Webster’s Dictionary defines betterment as:

1)      making or becoming better

2)      an improvement that adds to the value of a property or facility

The goal of insurance is to put you back in the position you were in prior to a loss.  In other words, you should not profit or gain from an insured loss.   For example, in an automobile collision the maximum amount your insurance company is going to pay is the cost to repair your vehicle to its pre-collision condition, or an amount equal to the current vehicle value if the vehicle is deemed a total loss. 

If you have owned your vehicle for a few years, it is not worth the same amount as when it was new.  It has experienced some degree of wear and tear.  Over time some parts wear out and need to be replaced as part of the regular maintenance of your vehicle.  In the repair process after a collision, if partially worn parts are replaced with new parts you would have profited (gained) from the loss.  Since the repair shop should be using new parts, betterment is a reduction in the reimbursement by the insurance company for the cost of new parts so that the settlement amount reflects and is equal to the value of the existing (pre-accident) parts. 

Let’s say that you paid $800 for a new set of tires several years ago.  You get in an accident and as a result you need new tires.  The insurance company appraiser completes an estimate of the cost to repair your vehicle.  He notes that the tires are worn and 50% of the tread is gone.  You have your vehicle repaired and replace the tires.  Your insurance company is going to deduct $400 (50% of $800) of the cost of the new tires from their payment to you.   That $400 is called betterment.  The tires in your loss only had 50% of their value left so they were only worth $400.  If the insurance company paid to put new tires on your car you would be in a better position than you were prior to the loss.  The $400 deduction puts you back in the same financial position that you were in prior to the loss.

Examples of parts that the insurance industry typically considers subject to betterment include:

-Brakes have an average life of 50,000 miles.  Betterment is calculated at 2% per 1,000 miles.

-Transmissions have an average life of 150,000 miles.  Betterment is calculated at .667% per 1,000 miles.

-Exhaust Systems have an average life of 10 years.  Betterment is calculated at 10% per year. 

-Convertible Tops have an average life of 10 years.  Betterment is calculated at 10% per year. 

Betterment is the financial adjustment made in a loss settlement to reflect the depreciation of value of a vehicle part as a result of prior use.

**Special thanks to Carnegie General Insurance Agency for today’s article

Ken May Insurance Services is your one-spot shop for all things insurance in Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista and Fallbrook, CA

Should the trainers get back into the water at the Shamu show in San Diego?

You bet they should! And if you asked the Shamu trainers is they want to get back into the water, I’d bet that each and every one of them would not hesitate to say yes. The trainers know the risks when they sign on and the track record can be good!

First of all, you’re probably thinking “What right does the insurance guy have to make such a statement”? As a few of you know, I was a marine mammal trainer at Sea World (San Diego 1974-1982) before getting into the insurance business many years ago. In fact, I worked at the Shamu show in 1976, 1978, and 1979. So, although I am no longer involved in the day to day operations and decisions at the park, I still feel entitled to my opinion from the thousands of hours working with the killer whales as well as other marine mammals and I still stay somewhat connected to the people that I worked with that still work there.

Ken with his mom, Dotte May, and Kilroy

What I’ve been told by a Sea World insider is that the trainers at all of the Sea World parks stopped getting into the water with the killer whales after the death of Dawn Brancheau at the Orlando, Florida Park in February, 2010 “to regroup”. I’m sure that the Sea World authorities felt some pressure from the Occupational Safety and Health Division (OSHA), environmental groups, and public relations pressure but barring an official legal ruling; it’s time to get wet again. After all, the trainers have been learning and progressing with killer whales since Shamu came to Sea World in 1965.

Let’s go back a few years (well, maybe more than a few) to the 1970’s. After a stint at the Seal and Otter show, I was asked if I would like to move to the Shamu show. Of course, who wouldn’t want to experience working with the magnificent orcas? I worked with three other trainers, Greg, John, and our head show trainer, Rich who I considered to be one of the finest trainers we had on staff. I was the young kid who also happened to be at the bottom of the totem pole but we were all experienced trainers (a must to work at that level).

After losing some of our whales to the Aurora, Ohio Park for the summer season, we had four killer whales at our facility (which is now where the dolphin show is presented, not the wonderful facility being used today). Our main star was Kilroy, the smartest marine mammal I have ever worked with. We also had Winston, an enormous whale that we obtained from a park in England after he outgrew the facility, and the youngsters, Kanau and Kanuk. Each whale was unique in their personalities, learning abilities, and temperament. I always compared them to working with elementary school aged children. They soaked up knowledge, got excited when they learned new things, but each worked at a distinct pace, just like some kids learn quicker than others. The difference, of course, is that these were giant beings that were in the process of being trained but never tamed.

In fact, a key to successfully training a marine mammal is to progress at a pace that is not too fast which creates frustration and sometimes aggression and not too slow which creates boredom. The best trainers made it an art form by working at the perfect pace keeping the animals interested, excited, and wanting more. When the animals are happy and healthy, the trainers are happy. Pretty simple!

The most challenging Orca to work with was Winston who weighed about 6 tons, didn’t completely relax and trust the trainers due to experiences he had at the park in England, and needed his regiment to me straight forward (ABC or 123, no surprises, and no gimmicks). In fact, I always figured that if Winston were human, he would have to use one of those plates when eating that had the dividers separating his food. Granted, it would be a very large plate! The other challenge arose because Winston wasn’t initially trained the Sea World way from an early age and had to learn some of our basics as an adult. 

We trained the killer whales to continue with their behavior, even if the clumsy trainer fell off of him (which I was known to do on more than one occasion). That way, he or she would not feel punished for the trainer falling off and still be rewarded. In fact, in training sessions, we would purposely fall off the whale and if the whale continued the behavior and finished at the platform, he or she would be rewarded. This had the double benefit of the whale getting rewarded for his own behavior and not getting frustrated or aggressive towards the trainer in the water for taking away the chance of his getting rewarded (whew!).

Winston didn’t pick up on this concept right away. I remember riding on his back during a training session and Bruce, our Director of Training, instructed me to fall off into the water. Winston immediately circled and slid next to me waiting for me to climb back onto him. Bruce instructed me to just ignore him. While I prayed that Winston, who seemed even larger when you were floating in the water next to him, would not get frustrated and aggressive, he circled around again and took my arm into his mouth and dragged me back to the platform. Thankfully, he was fairly relaxed and didn’t flinch (for obvious reasons). My wetsuit may have needed to be cleaned afterwards. This was not an animal that would be good at multitasking!

Ken and Kilroy

Our star performer, Kilroy, who played Shamu in our shows, offered other challenges. Without getting too detailed, the marine mammals learn behaviors in small steps, what we call “shaping” a behavior. Kilroy was so good that he could undo a behavior in equally small steps just to mess with us until we would stop and wonder how the behavior had gotten so sloppy! I also fondly remember a time during a show in the summer of 1978 that I gave Kilroy the hand signal to do tumbles (underwater somersaults along the glass) just to change things up a bit and keep him interested. He hesitated at first (he hadn’t done tumbles in about two years since the Yankee Doodle Whale show in 1976) but then proceeded. Now, I figured there was a 50/50 chance that he would start a fast-swim behavior which is usually the behavior used in that part of the show but (again, after two years), he remembered the tumble behavior and executed them perfectly. And, he was all jazzed up for the rest of the show!

Getting back to today, here are some thoughts of what I would do if I still worked at the park and believe me, I am not saying anything here that the current trainers haven’t thought of and discussed over and over. 

  • Safety first – Always have backup trainers around when working with a killer whale. Have enough trainers present in case of an emergency where a trainer and whale need to be separated. Never let anything dangle that the whale can grab on to such as a whistle dangling on a lanyard, sunglasses hanging on a leash, or a pony tail. And, always try to have a way out when working on the platform. There is really nothing you can do once you are in the water except to try not to panic.
  • Back to basics – Start with simple water behaviors working with one whale and gradually increase the complexity of the behaviors over a long period of time. Remember what I said about pace? Nobody should dictate to the trainers what they should do and how fast they should do them. They are the trained professionals who are putting themselves on the line; let the best marine mammal trainers in the world do their job. Eventually, introduce a 2nd whale into the environment. This is also what Sea World meant when they said that they are “regrouping”.
  • Always remember to treat each whale independently of each other. What works with one whale does not necessarily work with another whale and each has their own pace. And never take any of the whales for granted. I trusted Kilroy implicitly but still used extreme caution and awareness at all times. And, I was never left alone.
  • This seems like a no-brainer but especially now, I would only be using trainers that are experienced and have proven themselves to be above average and extremely proficient with the killer whales.
  • One last thought, limit the number of trainers working with the killer whales. In my time, we had four trainers working at the Shamu Stadium plus our director of training. In fact, we had four show areas back then and a total of 17 in-park trainers plus a supervisor and director. I was recently told that with one less show area today, the training staff has over twice as many trainers on staff than we did. This creates a situation where each trainer gets less “face time” with each animal and can lead to a discrimination problem (where an animal may work better or worse for a certain trainer who does things markedly different from the other trainers).

A few other thoughts while I am rambling on;

Single out what I call the “Blue Chip” trainers which are those that not only maintain a high level of behavior with the animals but truly know how to train behaviors from scratch. You may be surprised at how many trainers who are proficient at maintaining behavior are not so proficient in training behaviors. And Sea World needs to compensate the Blue Chippers adequately to keep them on staff! These are the people who keep the behavior level high, maintain a safe environment, and teach the less experienced trainers. Turnover, especially when it involves the best of the best can lead to very difficult situations as has been proven numerous times over the years.

Pay the trainers for what they are; a group of skilled professionals who dedicate themselves to a job that few people in the world do well. It’s a small community. And stop telling them that there are thousand of others that would do their jobs for nothing as an excuse for not paying them sufficiently. If that’s true, replace the ones who are substandard and pay (well) the ones that show skill and expertise. We ran into this problem during my time at the park. Young trainers grew up, got married, had families, and left for other jobs which had the effect of lowering the overall expertise level of the training staff which in turn affected the behavior quality of the animals and ultimately, the shows. Take care of your people. 

Occasionally, I will take a break from writing about insurance issues and giving insurance advice to write about my experiences at Sea World because my hope is that you will enjoy most of what I write. I would love to here from you. Feel free to post comments on our wall. Or stop in to Ken May Insurance Services some time and I will be happy to show you some of my old Sea World photos. If you have any comments or questions, go to or again, come see us.

Ken May has been serving North County since 1982 offering quality insurance products with strong carriers. He is currently the president of the American Agents Alliance of California as well as the local chairperson of the North San Diego County Chapter of the Alliance. He can be contacted at

Our May “Cover All Your Bases” Multi-Policy Contest Winner

Ken and May's Contest Winner Adrian Echevarri

Adrian won two field-level tickets to the June 25, 2011, San Diego Padres home game against the Atlanta Braves.  He was entered in the drawing after purchasing home insurance from Ken May Insurance Services through Mercury Insurance.  By purchasing home insurance with Mercury he also saved an additional 15% on his auto insurance with the Auto + Home multi-policy discount.  Please call or email us to discuss ALL your insurance needs.  The “Cover All Your Bases” contest runs now through the end of August.

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