Feature Article - October 2004
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The Claim Game

Make your facility as safe as possible by establishing solid incident-response procedures

By Allen F. Wetzel


INVOLVING OTHERS

In a confidential manner, report all incidents to managers in departments where the event occurred. In the amusement industry, ride and maintenance directors receive reports of all ride-related events. This permits them to look for trends, lack of employee training or possible repair lapses, allowing for the correction of procedures before additional episodes transpire. Reports should go to the executive team, explaining what incidents occurred, the cause and how each claim was settled. This allows division heads to get involved if appropriate.

Request your claims handler or insurance carrier visit your facility and offer suggestions. Claims can be reduced through lessons learned from incidents at comparable businesses. Require your insurance carrier to educate you to incidents common to your industry and use the information to prevent similar situations at your facility. Invite purveyors to provide quality-assurance inspections on the use of their products. Solicit industry veterans to visit your facility to offer pointers. Use recommendations from outside agency inspectors to improve your procedures.

If you have a primary supplier (or co-promoter), who is an essential part of your operation, ask them to name you on their insurance policy as an also insured. If necessary, use the police department to take reports on incidents. Ask your legal counsel when this should or should not be done. Join industry organizations and study trade journals to discover improved claims procedures. Promote constructive comments from customers who might point out observed hazards.

BUT NOTHING EVER HAPPENS

Now, you're saying, "That's fine for the big operations, but I'm running a school playground, and we've never had a significant incident."

No doubt some recreational facilities do not experience frequent claims. Consider yourself lucky. It's a matter of when, not if an incident will occur. Even small facilities should set up procedures to provide incident data to their claims person quickly. Require your on-site personnel to carry a notepad and pen and document any potential incident. Note the time, date and involved parties (even if it's only a description without a name). Turn those notes in to the person who would handle a claims call. Downsize these ideas to create simple procedures, but don't let your guard down.

If a claim turns into a lawsuit, the litigation process will center around negligence and prior knowledge. Did you know, should you have known and what was done about it? Remember that a property damage claim could be just as expensive as a personal-injury concern.

CLOSING POINTERS

Inspect your operation to identify and abate concerns before they become hazards. Check the sidewalks around your facility. Many cities have ordinances making property owners responsible for incidents occurring on poorly maintained sidewalks. Document your inspections and resolution of problems.

Write training manuals that educate employees on how to safely do their jobs and regularly retrain veterans. Manuals will help your claims administrator understand how things work when they have to handle a claim, plus manuals will support you if a case goes to court.

Require employees to shut down equipment if they hear a strange noise or if machinery is not operating correctly and not to restart the equipment until an expert has inspected and cleared it for operation. Reward exceptional employee safety performance.

Post signs of explanation that tell customers what is expected of them and what procedures you practice to help keep customers safe and the operation running smoothly. For example, post a sign saying no customers are permitted in employee work areas.

You need safety programs that not only look good on paper but are functional, day to day. Never deviate from established procedures. Such lapses leave an opening for a claimant to prevail.

When confronted with a complaint, approach all issues fairly and promptly. Exercise complete follow-up of the concern and try to resolve concerns in a fair manner. Continually improve your operation. Stress communication and documentation, and you'll be surprised at the positive results. Soon, you'll enjoy an excellent claims record and be ready if the unexpected should happen.