(Reuters) - The mild winter led to at least one unexpected consequence: many more costly collisions between cars and wildlife on American roads.
Insurer Chubb Corp received 35 percent more claims for car-animal collisions in the first three months of 2012 than it did for all of 2011, the company said on Wednesday.
If those figures hold across the industry, they would mark a sharp reversal. State Farm, the country's largest auto insurer, has reported a decline in car-deer incidents for three years running, through last summer.
In a post on the company's risk blog, Chubb executives speculated the warm weather may have pushed both people and animals onto the roads.
"It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why the numbers have risen, but I suspect the unusually mild winter may have made for a more active wildlife population," said Ray Crisci, worldwide auto manager for Chubb's personal insurance unit, adding that conditions may have led people to drive more, too.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the winter of 2011-2012 was the fourth-warmest ever in the United States.
Car-animal collisions may not seem high-risk, but they account for roughly 4 percent of light vehicle crashes and some 200 deaths annually, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said.
Based on an estimated insured cost of $2,800 per collision, according to the Insurance Information Institute, that represents a cost of nearly $700 million a year.
Reporting By Ben Berkowitz; editing by John Wallace