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Staying Ahead of Troubling Traumatic Brain Injury Trends

The need for a 'playbook' to manage the growing number of TBI claims is critical to achieving successful outcomes.
By: | December 14, 2016 • 5 min read

A new claim slides across an adjuster’s desk. The claimant suffered whiplash in a car accident, is reporting dizziness, headaches and blurred vision, and is alleging traumatic brain injury. He is seeking a life care plan to help him cope, which means more doctor visits, more tests, more treatments and higher claims costs.

Claims like this are becoming more and more common. Life care plans have always gone hand in hand with catastrophic traumatic brain injuries (TBI), where severe blows to the head left victims with decreased brain function. But TBI claims are now being asserted in less serious, non-contact accidents — like slips and falls and whiplash from fender benders — and plaintiffs’ attorneys are increasingly calling for life care plans to treat them.

“We’re seeing an uptick in allegations of traumatic brain injury and calls for extra care that drive up the cost of litigated claims,” said John Watkins, SVP, Complex Claims at Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Liberty Mutual’s John Watkins discusses the increase in both traumatic brain injury allegations and requests for life care plan in the complex claims management space.

Increased public awareness has helped drive up the frequency of TBI claims. The high-profile concussion lawsuit and settlement between former professional football players and the NFL, as well as publicized cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) have drawn attention to the dangers of TBIs. As public awareness rises, so do the number of allegations and claims.

“We saw a similar wave of claims connected to carpal tunnel syndrome,” Watkins said. “Back when that was something new, we saw an explosion of carpal tunnel claims. We’re now seeing a wave of TBI claims with the added component of life care plans. Again, our challenge is to identify legitimate claims and get people the appropriate treatment.”

The Subjectivity Problem

The subjectivity of brain injury symptoms makes them easy to claim, but difficult to verify. Dizziness, light-headedness, blurred vision, ringing in the ears and difficulty concentrating can be signs of a mild or moderate brain injury — temporary symptoms that can fade as the brain heals. Or, these symptoms could be indicative of a severe injury with lasting damage.

But with no way to objectively measure these symptoms, they are unreliable indicators of severity.

MRIs and CAT scans can typically detect internal damage and bleeding that would be associated with a severe TBI, but sometimes, brain damage may not be visually present. Instead, doctors conduct other tests to measure brain function and the impact of an injury. There is a wide degree of variability involved in these post injury tests and they may only tell a portion of the story. In many cases, a brain function test is not administered immediately after an injury, but several weeks or even months later.

Why traumatic brain injury claims can be challenging.

“Most individuals don’t have documented baseline tests of brain function and that makes it much more difficult to measure any changes after an injury. That’s why much of the time, a diagnosis is based on subjective symptoms like headaches, dizziness, or blurred vision,” Watkins said.

“The brain is a remarkable organ that is capable of healing itself,” Watkins said. “If someone has a concussion and experiences a marked decline in brain function months after an accident, that’s a sign to study that claim further.”

A Dedicated Claims Approach

Liberty Mutual takes a three-pronged approach to managing TBI claims and other complex claims.

First and foremost is staying on top of trends. Big Data plays an important role and helps to identify pockets where the claims experience is outside the norm. For example, if a number of TBI claims are concentrated in specific jurisdictions that could indicate that the uptick in frequency or severity may be driven by reasons other than broader market forces. These claims will require more thorough investigation.

How insurers can help risk managers with traumatic brain injury claims and control costs.

The second prong of the claims management approach is Liberty Mutual’s in-house medical staff.

“We made the conscious choice to invest in having doctors and nurses as part of our claims team. This medical expertise not only helps us on the workers compensation side, it also helps with TBIs and other complex liability claims. Our regional medical directors and nurses know what questions to ask and if the recommended treatment follows evidence-based guidelines. They can respond to any questions our claims adjusters have in the moment, which enables us to address claims more efficiently,” Watkins said.

The third prong of Liberty Mutual’s approach is its dedicated complex claims team. Adjusters specialize in these types of claims and receive advanced training in TBIs so they know how to recognize them early on.

Liberty Mutual has also created an internal traumatic brain injury “playbook,” which helps adjusters understand the injury, symptoms, and how to manage these claims so that they can have productive discussions with treating medical professionals.

LM_SponsoredContent“We saw a similar wave of claims connected to carpal tunnel syndrome. Back when that was something new, we saw an explosion of carpal tunnel claims. We’re now seeing a wave of TBI claims with the added component of life care plans. Again, our challenge is to identify legitimate claims and get people the appropriate treatment.”

— John Watkins, SVP, Complex Claims, Liberty Mutual Insurance

“From our experience we know that early intervention is critical to driving better outcomes for injured people. The first thing an adjuster will do is check for that baseline test. We may be able to get earlier MRIs or brain function tests from the claimant’s medical records. Now, many schools require baseline brain function tests of student athletes, so as the population ages, these early baselines records will become more and more common,” Watkins said.

An adjuster may also request a recorded statement from the claimant soon after the injury that details what symptoms he or she is experiencing. This statement can act as a baseline if there is no brain function test or MRI on record.

Liberty Mutual’s claims staff works hand in hand with its medical experts. Round table discussions give both teams the opportunity to talk through cases and develop action plans. These interactions, paired with additional training and internal resources, enable adjusters to develop expertise in niche areas where trends are developing.

“When our adjusters are cognizant of the trends, follow the playbook and utilize the expertise of our medical staff, we derive better outcomes,” Watkins said. “Our goal is to ensure that that each claimant receives the appropriate care and treatment plan he or she deserves.”

To learn more about Liberty Mutual, visit https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/claims-overview.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.








Liberty Mutual Insurance offers a wide range of insurance products and services, including general liability, property, commercial automobile, excess casualty and workers compensation.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Cyber Resilience

No, Seriously. You Need a Comprehensive Cyber Incident Response Plan Before It’s Too Late.

Awareness of cyber risk is increasing, but some companies may be neglecting to prepare adequate response plans that could save them millions. 
By: | June 1, 2018 • 7 min read

To minimize the financial and reputational damage from a cyber attack, it is absolutely critical that businesses have a cyber incident response plan.

“Sadly, not all yet do,” said David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy.

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In the event of a breach, a company must be able to quickly identify and contain the problem, assess the level of impact, communicate internally and externally, recover where possible any lost data or functionality needed to resume business operations and act quickly to manage potential reputational risk.

This can only be achieved with help from the right external experts and the design and practice of a well-honed internal response.

The first step a company must take, said Legassick, is to understand its cyber exposures through asset identification, classification, risk assessment and protection measures, both technological and human.

According to Raf Sanchez, international breach response manager, Beazley, cyber-response plans should be flexible and applicable to a wide range of incidents, “not just a list of consecutive steps.”

They also should bring together key stakeholders and specify end goals.

Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

With bad actors becoming increasingly sophisticated and often acting in groups, attack vectors can hit companies from multiple angles simultaneously, meaning a holistic approach is essential, agreed Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions.

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.”

This means assembling a response team including individuals from IT, legal, operations, risk management, HR, finance and the board — each of whom must be well drilled in their responsibilities in the event of a breach.

“You can’t pick your players on the day of the game,” said Hogg. “Response times are critical, so speed and timing are of the essence. You should also have a very clear communication plan to keep the CEO and board of directors informed of recommended courses of action and timing expectations.”

People on the incident response team must have sufficient technical skills and access to critical third parties to be able to make decisions and move to contain incidents fast. Knowledge of the company’s data and network topology is also key, said Legassick.

“Perhaps most important of all,” he added, “is to capture in detail how, when, where and why an incident occurred so there is a feedback loop that ensures each threat makes the cyber defense stronger.”

Cyber insurance can play a key role by providing a range of experts such as forensic analysts to help manage a cyber breach quickly and effectively (as well as PR and legal help). However, the learning process should begin before a breach occurs.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Any incident response plan is only as strong as the practice that goes into it,” explained Mike Peters, vice president, IT, RIMS — who also conducts stress testing through his firm Sentinel Cyber Defense Advisors.

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Unless companies have an ethical hacker or certified information security officer on board who can conduct sophisticated simulated attacks, Peters recommended they hire third-party experts to test their networks for weaknesses, remediate these issues and retest again for vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched or have newly appeared.

“You need to plan for every type of threat that’s out there,” he added.

Hogg agreed that bringing third parties in to conduct tests brings “fresh thinking, best practice and cross-pollination of learnings from testing plans across a multitude of industries and enterprises.”

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.” — Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

Legassick added that companies should test their plans at least annually, updating procedures whenever there is a significant change in business activity, technology or location.

“As companies expand, cyber security is not always front of mind, but new operations and territories all expose a company to new risks.”

For smaller companies that might not have the resources or the expertise to develop an internal cyber response plan from whole cloth, some carriers offer their own cyber risk resources online.

Evan Fenaroli, an underwriting product manager with the Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY), said his company hosts an eRiskHub, which gives PHLY clients a place to start looking for cyber event response answers.

That includes access to a pool of attorneys who can guide company executives in creating a plan.

“It’s something at the highest level that needs to be a priority,” Fenaroli said. For those just getting started, Fenaroli provided a checklist for consideration:

  • Purchase cyber insurance, read the policy and understand its notice requirements.
  • Work with an attorney to develop a cyber event response plan that you can customize to your business.
  • Identify stakeholders within the company who will own the plan and its execution.
  • Find outside forensics experts that the company can call in an emergency.
  • Identify a public relations expert who can be called in the case of an event that could be leaked to the press or otherwise become newsworthy.

“When all of these things fall into place, the outcome is far better in that there isn’t a panic,” said Fenaroli, who, like others, recommends the plan be tested at least annually.

Cyber’s Physical Threat

With the digital and physical worlds converging due to the rise of the Internet of Things, Hogg reminded companies: “You can’t just test in the virtual world — testing physical end-point security is critical too.”

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How that testing is communicated to underwriters should also be a key focus, said Rich DePiero, head of cyber, North America, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.

Don’t just report on what went well; it’s far more believable for an underwriter to hear what didn’t go well, he said.

“If I hear a client say it is perfect and then I look at some of the results of the responses to breaches last year, there is a disconnect. Help us understand what you learned and what you worked out. You want things to fail during these incident response tests, because that is how we learn,” he explained.

“Bringing in these outside firms, detailing what they learned and defining roles and responsibilities in the event of an incident is really the best practice, and we are seeing more and more companies do that.”

Support from the Board

Good cyber protection is built around a combination of process, technology, learning and people. While not every cyber incident needs to be reported to the boardroom, senior management has a key role in creating a culture of planning and risk awareness.

David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy

“Cyber is a boardroom risk. If it is not taken seriously at boardroom level, you are more than likely to suffer a network breach,” Legassick said.

However, getting board buy-in or buy-in from the C-suite is not always easy.

“C-suite executives often put off testing crisis plans as they get in the way of the day job. The irony here is obvious given how disruptive an incident can be,” said Sanchez.

“The C-suite must demonstrate its support for incident response planning and that it expects staff at all levels of the organization to play their part in recovering from serious incidents.”

“What these people need from the board is support,” said Jill Salmon, New York-based vice president, head of cyber/tech/MPL, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.

“I don’t know that the information security folks are looking for direction from the board as much as they are looking for support from a resources standpoint and a visibility standpoint.

“They’ve got to be aware of what they need and they need to have the money to be able to build it up to that level,” she said.

Without that support, according to Legassick, failure to empower and encourage the IT team to manage cyber threats holistically through integration with the rest of the organization, particularly risk managers, becomes a common mistake.

He also warned that “blame culture” can prevent staff from escalating problems to management in a timely manner.

Collaboration and Communication

Given that cyber incident response truly is a team effort, it is therefore essential that a culture of collaboration, preparation and practice is embedded from the top down.

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One of the biggest tripping points for companies — and an area that has done the most damage from a reputational perspective — is in how quickly and effectively the company communicates to the public in the aftermath of a cyber event.

Salmon said of all the cyber incident response plans she has seen, the companies that have impressed her most are those that have written mock press releases and rehearsed how they are going to respond to the media in the aftermath of an event.

“We have seen so many companies trip up in that regard,” she said. “There have been examples of companies taking too long and then not explaining why it took them so long. It’s like any other crisis — the way that you are communicating it to the public is really important.” &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]