Sunday, March 30, 2008

Do Lawyers Make Good Adjusters?

Occasionally an attorney comes to occupy a claims position for an insurance company, self-insured or TPA. Some coverage programs that underwrite specialized lines of coverage may seek claim staffers with law degrees or practitioners who have worked in private legal practices. There are conflicting views as to the “fit,” however. A recent discussion thread on a risk management list serve (RiskList) veered briefly in this direction and got The Claims Coach to thinking.

Do attorneys make good adjusters?

Here are some thoughts on the pro’s and con’s of having attorneys transition into a claims role:


· Solid grounding in legal principles, especially tort, liability and contract principles

· Ability to analyze what liability and coverage defenses may fly and which ones are losers

· ork well with outside counsel since they “speak the same language” and have common frames of reference

· Effective review of outside counsel billings, knowing where the “fudge factors” might lie and having some sense of how long legal tasks really should take if done efficiently


· Paralysis by analysis. Constipated decision-making by never quite having enough information or facts. Decision-making is no longer done by the client, but by the claim-handler.

· Difficulty in adjusting to higher caseloads of claim staff, perhaps multiples of what counsel handled while in private practice.

· “Circle the wagons” affinity with outside counsel in relating to them so much that objectivity is lost.

· May over-compensate as a former attorney by bearing down too hard on outside legal bills, becoming outside counsel’s worst nightmare.

So what do you think? In your view, do attorneys make good adjusters and claim-handlers?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Help! Oprah Needs a Claims Adjuster!!

Sounds like a premises and operations claim to me. Apparently Oprah and her production company – Harpo Enterprises – are the targets of a recent lawsuit by one Orit Greenberg. The latter seeks at least $50,000 in damages, claiming that Harpo Studios negligently failed to exercise adequate crowd control during an “open seating” scramble on 12/5/06. The company told audience members to sit wherever they wanted. Allegedly, this triggered a stampede for the front row. The stampede knocked Greenberg down a fight of stairs, causing severe and permanent injuries.

No word on whether Greenberg eventually made it to her seat during that show. If so, perhaps there is some ready-made surveillance tape to scrutinize in assessing whether the plaintiff really looked injured or not.

Celebs – along with pro athletes -- are frequent targets for lawsuits. This is nothing new. They have money, perhaps few as much as Oprah, so they represent “deep pockets.” No telling how many civil suits Oprah has had filed against her, though I know of no “Oprah Class Action.” This is not the first civil suit against the big “O.” Years ago she was sued for defamation by the Texas cattle industry for making an anti-beef tirade on her show. Oprah eventually prevailed but it was during the trial that she came to know a jury consultant, Dr. Phil McGraw, later to become famous in his own right as “Dr. Phil.” Maybe this is an opportunity for a claims adjuster to become the next offshoot celeb (I wouldn’t bet on it, though).

The allegation against Oprah is reminiscent of civil suits years ago filed by plaintiffs injured in Cincinnati during an “open seating” concert with the classic rock group, The Who. Some patrons actually died in the trampling. Oprah’s melee pales in comparison but may draw from some of the same theories of liability, i.e., inadequate crowd control.

No word yet as to whether Oprah has liability coverage, a large SIR or is self-insured. Not only claim questions but litigation management issues abound. For example, does Oprah get to pick her own defense attorney or “settle” for the approved panel counsel assigned by her liability carrier? Will counsel be held to “panel rates” or bill at a gaudy stratosphere rivaling Skadden Arps? Will she be entitled to Cumis counsel if her insurer reserves coverage rights?

For those interested in becoming the next Dr. Phil – or Dr. Claims – step right up and offer to adjust Oprah’s claim. If you do well, maybe you will be the subject of a future Oprah show, “The Ultimate Adjuster”!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

7 Ways to Recession-Proof Your Claims Career

In a recession, claims people can be at risk for job loss. To trim expenses, insurers and others may look to the claim department for staff reductions as part of overall belt-tightening gestures. Less economic activity may manifest itself in the form of fewer claims. In turn, this phenomenon may create less of a need for claim professionals, prompting companies to lay off staff. How as a claim professional can you recession-proof your career? No failsafe techniques exist, but here are seven tips:

Work your network. Vigorously. Attend claim association meetings and conferences. Get involved. Consider joining a business-networking oriented social networking site such as LinkedIn ( Attend continuing education conferences when you can. While there, not only learn but mingle. Do more than swap business cards, though that’s a start. Follow up. Tend to relationships. The time to work your network is not after you are laid off or canned.

Treat the boss as customer client #1. Build good karma and positive constituencies throughout your company.

Be an ambassador for your company if you get the chance. If you get an opportunity to speak at an I-Day event, claims conference or participate in an industry function, do it.

Be visible within the company. Get face time. Volunteer for projects or committee work that addresses key parts of the claim operation.

Attend to your personal finances and get them in shape. Build a six-month emergency reserve fund consisting of liquid assets. Nuke all those high-interest credit cards. Take out a home equity line of credit, even if you do not immediately need it.

Update your resume. If it has been a while since you looked at your resume, get it out and dust it off. Bring it current. Update your references.

Dig your headhunter "well" before you're thirsty. Initiate and maintain a relationship with at least one placement specialist, a/k/a “headhunter” while you are gainfully employed. Again, the time to seek one out is not after you get a pink slip.

In today’s economic straits, perhaps the only certainty for claims people is … is the existence of growing uncertainty. By adding value every day, demonstrating one’s worth to the company and heeded the preceding steps, claim professionals can go far in recession-proofing their careers.