It sounds like pure Hollywood: Taking out a million-dollar insurance policy on a pair of legs or a stunning smile.
In some cases, having written proof that your assets are worth a million dollars — or more — is certainly good for publicity. The practice of insuring a specific body part is decades old and did begin in Hollywood, but insurance experts say a specialized insurance policy can make financial sense for a handful of high-earners in a specialized profession.
Insurance necessity or publicity stunt?
You won't find body part policies on the coverage menu at most major insurers, so you can forget any savings by bundling it with your auto and home policies. Perhaps the best known supplier is Lloyd's of London, a U.K-based insurance market that began in London's Lloyd's Coffee House in the 1680s.
According to Lloyd's, body part insurance dates back to the 1920s, when silent film comedian Ben Turpin famously bought a $25,000 policy — payable if his trademark crossed eyes should ever correct themselves. This was followed by a $140,000 policy on Jimmy "the Schnozzle" Durante's generous nose and a $28,000 policy on Bette Davis tiny waistline. (No dessert for her!)
"I remember Betty Grable's legs as being one example," says University of Southern California Professor Leo Braudy, a cultural historian and film critic, citing the policy that spawned the phrase "million-dollar legs."
There's no doubt, he suggests, that insuring a personal moneymaker can generate mutual publicity for both the insured and insurer.
"Throughout our history, we've hit the headlines for insuring the weird, or rather wonderful, body parts of celebrities," Lloyd's of London states on its website.
It's not all about publicity. In many cases, the policy covers lost income if the vital body part should lose its earning potential due to an unforeseen calamity.
Betty Grable's policy was the beginning of a rush of celebrity leg insurance that included ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev, "Riverdance" star Michael Flatley and soccer great David Beckham.
What body parts are popular to insure?
Legs, however, aren't the only income-generating assets for public figures. Noted food critic Egon Ronay insured his taste buds, and speculation on which body part singer Dolly Parton has insured would probably be correct.
Not all policies are taken out by stars themselves. The makers of Aquafresh White Trays took out a $10 million policy on "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera's smile — which came as a flattering surprise to the actress, according to Lloyd's.
The age of Internet and social media has spawned a new type of policy in which advertisers insure against financial loss should a celebrity endorsement take a scandalous wrong turn. AIG in 2015 introduced a coverage option titled Celebrity Product Recall Response to help companies in the event of a "public fall from grace, scandal or unexpected death," according to the company.
Hiring celebrities can be a nerve-wracking experience for any marketer, says Christopher Cakebread, professor of public relations and mass communication at Boston University.
"For every Jennifer Aniston or LeBron James, there are any number of knuckleheads who abuse the situation and damage the credibility of the brand," he says. "You can’t take out an insurance policy on common sense, unfortunately."
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Just like anything tailor-made, an insurance policy on a body part is going to cost more than an out-of-the-box product. Any insurance policy that isn't standard comes with costs of creating and customizing it.
“I’ve written some unusual things,” says Texas-based insurance broker Ron Johnson, who recalled a client who inquired about a policy to cover a book he was about to publish. As it turned out, the fictional characters in his upcoming book were based on actual people, and the novelist had wanted protection in the event the real life versions of his characters should file a defamation suit.
The policy didn’t come to fruition, Johnson says, not because it couldn't be done — but due to costly legal work needed beforehand.
Doesn't disability insurance cover your body?
For the average worker, a garden variety disability policy will cover income loss if they become too injured or sick to work.
These policies typically cost 2 percent or less of one's gross income, and provide a monthly benefit if the holder is deemed unable to work. Benefits are paid for partial or total disability, such as loss of sight in both eyes, and are based on pre-established formulas. So unlike a food critic with taste-bud insurance, you would be deemed able to work whether you could taste your lunch or not.
Depending on one's profession and income level, adding body part insurance could, in a few instances, make financial sense. A surgeon, hand model or pianist on tour may take out a policy on his or her hands — because even if his or her hands were only temporarily injured, it would result in a significant loss of income.
Most athletes involved in team sports are generally insured under a career protection policy that covers him or her for loss of earnings, and individual sports athletes can sometimes get team injury insurance from a sports club or national association.
Athletes do, on occasion, cover a body part: Formula One’s champion, Fernando Alonso, is reported to have insured his thumbs should he no longer be able to grip the steering wheel.
Even celebrities have a practical side.