Friday, January 30, 2009

Might Super Bowl Sunday Bring Super Claims to Adjusters?

WARNING: Football Helmet and Pads Could Make You Hot!!

In late January, the widow of NFL player Korey Stringer settled her liability claim and lawsuit with the NFL following her husband’s heatstroke death at the Minnesota Vikings training camp in the Summer of 2007. Stringer’s wrongful death lawsuit alleged that the NFL had not done enough to ensure that the equipment used by players protected them from heat-related injuries and deaths.

Strnger’s string of lawsuits included an earlier medical malpractice suit against the hospital that treated the lineman after e collapsed in the 100+degree heat. That lawsuit had already been settled.

But the lawsuits are not over. Still open is a claim and product liability lawsuit against Riddell Inc., the maker of the football helmet and pad. Apparently these products were defective because they lacked warnings to the effect that wearing helmets and pads in hot temperatures could be dangerous. Incredible!

Come to think of it, this could open the way to further litigation. Examples:
• Suits against General Motors for not putting written warnings on accelerator pedals.
• Litigation against Harley Davidson, for not designing motorcycles with roll-bars.
• A potential class action against Sarah Lee for irresponsibly baking with BUTTER for the last 30 years.

As Super Bowl Sunday approaches, hazards abound. That’s the bad news.

The good news: there are deep pockets to sue!

Recent studies show that Super Bowl Sunday brings a spike in drunk driving accidents and stomach ailments due to the mix of booze and bar food.

Further, doctors report that people who drink too much during the game and fail to go to the bathroom develop urinary retention, possibly warranting later catheterization. Come to think of it, most of the target audience for those Flomax commercials may be off making a head call at the very moment the ads air!

Other Super Bowl mishaps include:

• A guy getting so drunk he broke his teeth trying to open a beer bottle
• Fans who strained their backs while jumping up to cheer
• An upset fan so ticked off with his team’s performance, he tossed his TV set out the window of his third-floor window.

And we haven’t even gotten to the scourge of wardrobe malfunctions!

All these folks might form a class action lawsuit against the NFL, alleging that the League failed to warn them of the various hazards attendant with watching the game.

I just hope my cardiologist has adequate medical malpractice limits in case my ticker goes haywire while I’m watching that sexy PETA commercial …

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Safe US Airways Landing May not Avert Claims Splash and Courthouse Dash

When I first heard of the miraculous landing of the US Airways Flight 1549 jet in the Hudson River two weeks ago, my first reaction was, “Oh boy – here come the lawsuits.” True confessions from a hard boiled cynical claims person. Even though each passenger survived the landing due to pilot “Sully” Sullenberger’s heroics, I assumed lawsuits would be filed. Grounds might include soft tissue injuries from the bumpy maritime landing, to mental anguish from fearing a crash to exposure to cold during the rescue process.

Now it looks like I may have been premature in my suit-happy assumptions. (See, “Savvy US Airways Pilot May Have Grounded Lawsuits,”

Some say that the pilot may have not only averted a tragedy, he may have averted lawsuits. Moreover, flying into a flock of geese might be termed an “Act of God.” Still, I figured lawyers would find some theory of liability, like a different jet engine design would be more impervious to bird strikes, or that the aircraft lacked equipment to detect bird flocks or that the airport authority knew of the bird peril but failed to alert the airline. God forbid that there be no deep pocket to sue! This is, well, un-American!

Pundits are having fun with the splash, though, some suggesting that . . .
• US Airways’ new marketing slogan should be, “One if By Land – Two if By Sea!”
• Each flight will now have an on-board cruise director as well.
• To generate revenue for the cash-starved airline, US Airways might consider charging $25 apiece for each personal flotation devices used.
• All on-board music courtesy of the group, “Flock of Seagulls.”

Since all passengers and crew survived, we can now chuckle . . . at least until the Summons and Complaints are served.

Too bad the aviation lawyers cannot sue the geese, especially since it is rumored that the birds were distracted in flight by text-messaging each other … Alas, no liability coverage on the geese. (This coverage gap may be an issue befitting the Loyal Order of the Blue Goose, come to think of it.)

Other aviation lawyers are having none of the “Act of God” spiel. By golly, there has got to be someone to blame! (Better still if they have liability insurance coverage.) I often quote the anonymous sage who once said, “Death is not the end; there remains … the litigation.”

When it comes to aviation mishaps, perhaps we can say the same about safe landings.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Practice Checklists: If Surgeons Can Benefit, Why not Adjusters?

This week a number of articles emerged about how simple surgery checklists improve patient care, save lives and reduce adverse patient outcomes. (For starters, see,8599,1871759,00.html)

The idea is that before surgery, the surgical team as a group completes a checklist that includes
• Verifying the patient’s identity
• Confirming the site and type of surgery to be performed
• Confirming availability of backup blood supply “just in case”
• Post-surgery – accounting for ALL sponges used during the procedure

A recent study published by the New England Journal of medicine shows that the use of such checklists can cut patient mortality rates nearly in half and complications by over one third.

This has implications not only for medical malpractice risk management and claim defense, but may have broader implications for claims handling and management across the board.

For example, if surgeons can improve their own risk management practices by using checklists, perhaps a claim offices can as well. Does your claim office have as resources checklists readily available for of the claim staff, checklists that are customized to handling all of the various types of claims that come across you were desks?

Yes, I can anticipate retorts that good claims handling amounts to much more than just working from a punch list were a checklist. I also anticipate surgeons arguing that good medicine involves much more than simply working one's way down a punch list or a checklist.

Fair enough. Nevertheless, as a framework for surgical practice or adjusting practice, perhaps there is a kernel if not more than just a kernel of a sound idea here.

How many client lapses were botched assignments might have been averted had the adjuster had access to and used a thorough checklist that encompassed all of the major contours of claim handling?

If it works for surgeons, why not for claims adjusters?