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Public Sector Risk

For Less Police Violence, Train More

Insurers who help pay for improved police training today may save on future claims.
By: | June 1, 2017 • 5 min read

In the emotionally and politically charged climate surrounding police violence, a consensus emerges from the right and the left, from cops, attorneys, academics and the insurance community: Mitigation depends on more and better training for law enforcement.

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Every stakeholder — from the cop on the beat through prison management and the insurance industry — has a role in affecting change.

“Sometimes police have to use force, and then bad things happen,” said Greg Champagne, a sheriff in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, and president of the National Sheriff’s Association. “The best risk management is the best training a police force can afford. Insurers can help us provide free training.”

Communities are feeling the financial impact of police training. Bloomberg reported in February 2016 that spending on police training in 23 of the 25 biggest U.S. cities grew 17 percent to $317.9 million in 2015 from 2013.

The cost of not training may be even higher. For example, Chicago residents paid nearly half a billion dollars in settlements over the past decade, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, and spent $84.6 million in fees, settlements and awards in 2013.

Costs fall primarily on taxpayers, since most large cities are self-insured. Many smaller cities belong to self-insured risk pools.

Fewer than five insurers cover public entities nationally, said Scott K. Thomason, vice president, public sector, at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., but the self-insured cities rely on reinsurers, which have a vested interest in improving risk profiles.

Greg Champagne, president, National Sheriff’s Association

“Civil unrest is not created equal, in likelihood and severity,” said Hart S. Brown, senior vice president, organizational resilience, HUB International. For example, riot-type events explode with high energy and emotion but usually dissipate within 72 hours. Labor unrest may last longer but has less geographical impact.

“Carriers and brokers can conduct real risk assessments of the kind of event that’s likely and its cost to municipalities.” Brown said.

Many experts believe that a disproportionate number of claims are caused by a small number of officers, said John Rappaport, assistant professor of law, University of Chicago School of Law.

Insurers “could be bolder” in urging departments to get rid of the bad apples, he said. While carriers don’t want to be perceived as interfering in personnel matters, he said, “this is an occasion for managing risk.”

Training, Training and More Training

In April, the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers Inc. (NABLEO) conducted a two-day de-escalation training program. The curriculum aims to unpack “implicit bias,” which the Justice Department defines as “the unconscious or subtle associations that individuals make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups.”

“Our assumptions of who other people are dictate how we treat them,” said Charles P. Wilson, national chairman at NABLEO. “Assumptions create risk.”

Training aims to change the attitudes and behaviors that can erupt into violence. “How does the officer perceive the other person? How is he speaking to him? What kind of words is he using? How does he interpret body language? How does his cultural lens affect what he sees?”

Implicit bias training is part of the reform in some of the consent decrees the Justice Department reached under the Obama Administration with several troubled police departments.

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The current attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is seeking a review of the consent decrees, citing concerns about their overuse and potential stigma for the police departments.

The DOJ action is “a disservice to law enforcement and the community,” Wilson said. “Police have to understand what they’re doing wrong so they can stop doing it.”

The Fraternal Order of Police, which vociferously supports Sessions on its website, may disagree.

“Sometimes police have to use force, and then bad things happen.” —Greg Champagne, president, National Sheriff’s Association

Regardless, said Rappaport, if consent decrees were abandoned, affected municipalities could see more violent interactions and lawsuits to follow. Most of these cities are self-insured, so only their excess carriers might be affected.

And if federal funding for de-escalation and other training were withdrawn, would the insurance industry have a role in picking up the tab?

Derek Broaddus, senior vice president, Allied World Insurance

“Absolutely,” Rappaport said. “Carriers can do the calculations: Do we expect to save more on claims and lawsuits than we spend on training? Research suggests they will.”

Police liability insurers — many of which are non-competitive, state-specific municipal risk pools — are an important “bumblebee” in cross-pollinating best practices, he said.

Just as carriers share positive results about telematics devices installed in police cars, revealing location, speed and response times, they also share technology and training success stories.

The need for thorough training runs the entire law enforcement and judicial gamut, said Champagne.

“Use of force, medical care, automobile crashes — those are the liability triggers. Sheriffs run jails, and they and their deputies have to understand the law and procedures in their operations,” he said.

Body Cameras, Pros and Cons

With some reservations, body cameras attached to police officers’ shirts are almost universally hailed by police organizations, insurers, academics and even the ACLU.

Some insurers offer grant funding to municipalities to help finance the equipment, said Derek Broaddus, senior vice president at Allied World Insurance, a specialist primary and excess carrier.

Others offer grant-writing training to help put the funds within smaller municipalities’ reach.

The pros? “Body cameras can raise the level of officers’ responsibility because they know they’re being recorded,” said Thomason. They can also influence the behavior of the person on the other side of the lens.

The cons? At $400 to $1,000 apiece, they’re expensive, said Kenny Smith, risk control manager at OneBeacon.

“And then you have the cost of storage, retrieving images, copying and redaction when someone requests them through the Freedom of Information Act,” he said.

“Cameras alone may be prohibitively expensive for an entire police department,” said Brown, “and storage is expensive, whether on a municipality’s own servers or on the cloud.”

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Taser International — now Axon — announced in April a program to equip every U.S. police officer with a free body camera and provide police departments with supporting hardware, software, data storage and training, free for one year. After a year, cameras would cost $399 and use of the company’s Evidence.com platform $15 to $89 per month, per officer.

“The image that appears on the evening news can look awful, but it doesn’t show the run-up to the incident,” Broaddus said. “It doesn’t show the pre-arrest history between the participants, the altercation or instigation.”

“When you don’t have the full scope of context, it creates more risk,” said Thomason.

Video footage can stir up negative public perception, Smith said.

“Once it’s released to the public or the media, it can be very damaging. Police departments need to have their procedural ducks in a row before they venture into this thing.” &

Susannah Levine writes about health care, education and technology. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Pharma Under Fire

Opioids Give Rise to Liability Epidemic

Opioids were supposed to help. Instead, their addictive power harmed many, and calls for accountability are broadening.
By: | May 1, 2018 • 8 min read

The opioid epidemic devastated families and flattened entire communities.

The Yale School of Medicine estimates that deaths are nearly doubling annually: “Between 2015 and 2016, drug overdose deaths went from 33,095 to 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States. That number is expected to continue unabated for the next   several years.”

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That’s roughly 160 deaths every day — and it’s a count that’s increasing daily.

In addition to deaths, the number of Americans struggling with an opioid disorder disease (the official name for opioid addiction) is staggering.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 2 million people in the United States suffer from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and roughly one-third of those people will “graduate” to heroin addiction.

Conversely, 80 percent of heroin addicts became addicted to opioids after being prescribed opioids.

As if the human toll wasn’t devastating enough, NIDA estimates that addiction costs reach “$78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”

Shep Tapasak, managing principal, Integro Insurance Brokers

With numbers like that, families are not the only ones left picking up the pieces. Municipalities, states, and the federal government are strained with heavy demand for social services and crushing expenditures related to opioid addiction.

Despite the amount of money being spent, services are inadequate and too short in duration. Wait times are so long that some people literally die waiting.

Public sector leaders saw firsthand the range and potency of the epidemic, and were among the first to seek a legal reckoning with the manufacturers of  synthetic painkillers.

Seeking redress for their financial burden, some municipalities, states and the federal government filed lawsuits against big pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers. To date, there are more than 100 lawsuits on court dockets.

States such as Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Arkansas have been hit hard by the epidemic. In Arkansas alone, 72 counties, 15 cities, and the state filed suit, naming 65 defendants. In Pennsylvania, 16 counties, Philadelphia, and Commonwealth officials have filed lawsuits.

Forty one states also have banded together to subpoena information from some drug manufacturers.

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, recently told reporters that the banded effort seeks to “change corporate behavior, so that the industry can no longer do what I think it’s been doing, which is turning a blind eye to the effects of dumping these drugs in the communities.”

The volume of legal actions is growing, and some of the Federal cases have been bound together in what is called multidistrict litigation (MDL). These cases will be heard by a judge in Ohio. Plaintiffs hope for a settlement that will provide funding to be used to help thwart the opioid epidemic.

“From a societal perspective, this is obviously a big and impactful issue,”  said Jim George,  a managing director and global claims head with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions. “A lot of people are suffering in connection with this, and it won’t go away anytime soon.

“Insurance, especially those in liability, will be addressing this for a long time. This has been building over five or six years, and we are just now seeing the beginning stages of liability suits.” 

Basis for Lawsuits

The lawsuits filed to date are based on allegations concerning: What pharma knew or didn’t know; what it should have known; failure to monitor size and frequency of opioid orders, misrepresentation in marketing about the addictive nature of opioids; and false financial disclosures.

Opioid manufacturers, distributors and large drugstore chains together represent a $13 billion-a-year industry, meaning the stakes are high, and the pockets deep. Many have compared these lawsuits to the tobacco suits of the ’90s.

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But even that comparison may pale. As difficult as it is to quit smoking, that process is less arduous than the excruciating and often impossible-to-overcome opioid addiction.

Francis Collins, a physician-geneticist who heads the National Institutes of Health, said in a recorded session with the Washington Post: “One really needs to understand the diabolical way that this particular set of compounds rewires the brain in order to appreciate how those who become addicted really are in a circumstance where they can no more [by their own free will] get rid of the addiction than they can get free of needing to eat or drink.”

“Pharma and its supply chain need to know that this is here now. It’s not emerging, it’s here, and it’s being tried. It is a present risk.” — Nancy Bewlay, global chief underwriting officer for casualty, XL Catlin

The addiction creates an absolutely compelling drive that will cause people to do things against any measure of good judgment, said Collins, but the need to do them is “overwhelming.”

Documented knowledge of that chemistry could be devastating to insureds.

“It’s about what big pharma knew — or should have known.  A key allegation is that opioids were aggressively marketed as the clear answer or miracle cure for pain,” said Shep Tapasak, managing principal, Integro Insurance Brokers.

These cases, Tapasak said, have the potential to be severe. “This type of litigation boils down to a “profits over people” strategy, which historically has resonated with juries.”

Broadening Liability

As suits progress, all sides will be waiting and watching to see what case law stems from them. In the meantime, insurance watchers are predicting that the scope of these suits will broaden to include other players in the supply chain including manufacturers, distribution services, retail pharmacies, hospitals, physician practices, clinics, clinical laboratories and marketing agencies.

Litigation is, to some extent, about who can pay. In these cases, there are several places along the distribution chain where plaintiffs will seek relief.

Nancy Bewlay, global chief underwriting officer for casualty, XL Catlin

Nancy Bewlay, XL Catlin’s global chief underwriting officer for casualty, said that insurers and their insureds need to pay close attention to this trend.

“Pharma and its supply chain need to know that this is here now. It’s not emerging, it’s here, and it’s being tried. It is a present risk,” she said.

“We, as insurers who identify emerging risks, have to communicate to clients. We like to be on the forefront and, if we can, positively influence the outcome for our clients in terms of getting ahead of their risks.”

In addition to all aspects of the distribution chain, plaintiffs could launch suits against directors and officers based on allegations that they are ultimately responsible for what the company knew or should have known, or that they misrepresented their products or signed off on misleading financial statements.

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Shareholders, too, could take aim at directors and officers for loss of profits or misleading statements related to litigation.

Civil litigation could pave the way, in some specific instances, for criminal charges. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who in 2015 became the first state attorney general to file suit against a prescription drug maker, has been quoted as saying that if evidence in civil suits points to criminal behavior, he won’t hesitate to file those charges as well.

Governing, a publication for municipalities and states, quoted Hood in late 2017 as saying, “If we get into those emails, and executives are in the chain knowing what they’ve unleashed on the American public, I’m going to kick it over to a criminal lawsuit. I’ve been to too many funerals.”

Insurers and insureds can act now to get ahead of this rising wave of liability.

It may be appropriate to conduct a review of policy underwriting and pricing. XL Catlin’s Bewlay said, “We are not writing as if everyone is a pharma manufacturer. Our perception of what is happening is that everyone is being held accountable as if they are the manufacturer.

“The reality is that when insurers look at the pharma industry and each part of the supply chain, including the pharma companies, those in the chain of distribution, transportation, sales, marketing and retail, there are different considerations and different liabilities for each. This could change the underwriting and affect pricing.”

Bewlay also suggests focusing on communications between claims teams and underwriters and keeping a strong line of communication open with insureds, too.

“We are here to partner with insureds, and we talk to them and advise them about this crisis. We encourage them to talk about it with their risk managers.”

Tapasak from Integro encourages insureds to educate themselves and be a part of the solution. “The laws are evolving,” he said. “Make absolutely certain you know your respective state laws. It’s not enough to know about the crisis, you must know the trends. Be part of the solution and get as much education as possible.

“Most states have ASHRM chapters that are helping their members to stay current on both passed and pending legislation. Health care facilities and providers want to do the right thing and get educated. And at the same time, there will likely be an uptick in frivolous claims, so it’s important to defend the claims that are defensible.”

Social Service Risk

In addition to supply chain concerns, insurers and insureds are concerned that even those whose mission it is to help could be at risk.

Hailed as a lifesaver, and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the drug Naloxone, can be administered to someone who is overdosing on opioids.  Naloxone prevents overdose by blocking opioid receptor sites and reversing the effects of the overdose.

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Some industry experts are concerned that police and emergency responders could incur liability after administering Naloxone.

But according to the U.S. Department of Justice, “From a legal standpoint, it would be extremely difficult to win a lawsuit against an officer who administers Naloxone in good faith and in the course of employment. … Such immunity applies to … other professional responders.”

Especially hard hit are foster care agencies, both by increased child placements and stretched budgets. More details in our related coverage.

While the number of suits is growing and their aim broadening, experts think that some good will come of the litigation. Settlements will fund services for the addicted and opioid risk awareness is higher than ever. &

Mercedes Ott is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]