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Liability claims management.

The best approach to managing claims Tis not to have them! Loss prevention is one of the objectives of the risk management process and camping professionals have made giant strides in loss prevention over the years.

But what do you do when an incident that was not planned results in an injury? How do you react if confronted with a potential claim against your insurance policies?

The first emergency response is obviously focused on the immediate well being of the injured person, or preservation of remaining property from further damage. But, after that, a planned approach to handling the incident can make a big difference in the ultimate size of the claim, if any, and the amount of time it takes to be resolved.

The most important step in managing liability claims, or any claim, for that matter, is to report the incident immediately. Don't take your relationship with a camper's family for granted and assume that you are in control. A timely report of the facts affects the quality of the information gathered and the ability of your insurance company to respond appropriately. Delay, or failure to report an occurrence that develops into a claim, will make your defense more difficult and could result in a claim being denied.

Claims adjusters want to evaluate incidents and decide whether further investigation is needed as soon as possible following an occurrence. In most instances, a claims adjuster will visit your camp to investigate, if preliminary information shows potential for liability. The adjuster will take photographs, talk with you and your employees, as well as all witnesses. Minors will not be questioned without parents' permission.

This adjuster could be an employee of your insurance company, or an independent adjuster hired by your insurer. Independent adjusters are often hired because they are located near your camp, or because they have a particular expertise.

The purpose of the investigation is to determine the full extent of your legal liability. The claims manager wants to get the facts while they are still fresh in everyone's mind and before staff returns to school, jobs, or to homes overseas. If the insurance company thinks there is liability, they might seek an early settlement. Sometimes, if an insurer thinks there is no liability, they take an aggressive position and resist settlement offers from the plaintiff s attorney.

Cases involving children are often settled because defense attorneys are reluctant to try them in the unpredictable environment which characterizes our civil justice system these days.

What role can you play in this process? First, advance planning is essential. Be prepared to share how you conducted staff training. Show the adjuster your manual and identify the various skills that were taught. Relate this effort to the overall supervisory plan. Seize the opportunity to demonstrate the responsible approach you took in caring for the campers.

We know that ACA accreditation is important in establishing the standard of performance for camps in court. If you are accredited, use this to your advantage. If you are not, securing your ACA accreditation should be a serious consideration for the safety of your campers and for the future of your camp.

Equally important is documentation. If you exempt someone from a particular part of the training process, be sure you arrange for that person to receive the training at another time. And be sure to document that the training was received. Paperwork is sometimes frustrating and seemingly unnecessary. But we know of court cases where being able to provide the current copy of a certificate or proof of compliance with a regulation had significant impact on the case's outcome.

In circumstances where an injury develops into a potential liability claim, a director's primary role is to help clarify the circumstances by discussing the situation and facts candidly with the adjuster. The value of the claim and the impression about the extent of possible liability depends on the picture you present and the amount and quality of your documentation. Sometimes directors overstate the case or try too hard to convince an adjuster that the camp acted appropriately. This is unnecessary. Be yourself, cooperate fully and encourage your staff to do the same.

Documentation is critical, but be careful. Since camp rules and regulations will come under close scrutiny following an injury resulting from possible negligence, don't set rules you can't follow or don't intend to follow. One of the easiest ways to show negligence is to demonstrate that your camp was not abiding by its own rules.

On the other hand, once you set rules and policies, communicate them effectively and apply them uniformly.

Stay in touch with injured campers. But be careful not prejudice your position or your insurer's position with what you say and do. Consult with your insurance company to determine their willingness to allow this type of activity. Usually, once a lawsuit has been started, insurers suggest that all contact cease and that this is best for all parties. Matters are then handled by the respective attorneys.

The claims adjuster representing your company is the only person you should speak to regarding a liability claim, until an attorney is appointed to represent you. Never discuss the case with anyone representing the injured party. Refer all inquiries from attorneys and other claims adjusters to your insurance company.

Advise your staff that they must follow the same rule. Establish some way of keeping staff informed, to be sure they know a claim exists. If strangers appear on the premises, direct staff to ask for identification and have them bring the person directly to the camp director. This is an appropriate security measure, too. Plaintiff s attorneys can be persistent. Be careful not to volunteer any information, or make any statements which could be interpreted as admissions of guilt.

By taking a proactive role in the management of a claim, camp directors can help minimize the impact of an injury on their insurance program. Since the size and the frequency of claims affects the availability and cost of insurance, this seems like a very good investment!

Ed Schirick is senior vice president of the Markel Rhueln Underwriters and Brokers camp and youth recreation division. He is a charted property casualty underwriter and a certified insurance counselor. Send your risk management inquiries to: Ed Schirick, c/o Markel Rhulen Underwriters and Brokers, 4600 Cox Road, Glen Allen, VA 23058.
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Risk Management
Author:Evans, Will
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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