Column: Risk Management

Waiving Stupidity

By: | February 20, 2017 • 2 min read
Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

I happened to catch the movie “King Kong” on TV this week. Even though I knew the fictional plot, the fatal outcome for King Kong lingered in my mind. I think it was because I am tired of seeing beautiful majestic creatures captured, caged and turned into circus acts.

Then we the humans are surprised when they get angry and turn on us. One truth seems to hold true — it never ends well for the innocent animal.

Coincidentally, this week I read about “Humpback,” a 12-foot-long alligator caught on video from the Circle B Bar Reserve in Florida. He became an instant attraction on social media due to his absolute mammoth size and lumbering gait.

Reserve workers expressed concern about Humpback’s new celebrity status: “Humpback has lived his life out here, and we want him to live the remainder of his life out here. We don’t want to have to destroy him because somebody was doing something they should not have been doing.”

It should be widely understood as a social contract that if you are doing something you have been told not to do because it is dangerous, and you do it anyway and get hurt, no one is to blame for your hurt but you.

It was frustrating to read. It should be widely understood as a social contract that if you are doing something you have been told not to do because it is dangerous, and you do it anyway and get hurt, no one is to blame for your hurt but you.

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Compare it to, say, skydiving. Caveat: I have never tried it as the sheer thought of plummeting from a plane and having to rely on my wits to pull a rip cord scares me to my core. But if one day I do try it and I get hurt, I know no one is to blame but me.

Sadly, we risk managers all too often need to manage outrageous and ridiculous claims or lawsuits that involve persons not wanting to take accountability for their own irresponsible behaviors. I find this the hardest part of our job as risk managers.
I empathize with the Florida reserve. Now due to some individual’s insatiable thirst for an adrenaline-filled adventure, poor Humpback is in potential jeopardy and so is the reserve.

An animal reserve or refuge is typically run on charitable donations and not rich with funds. Now they may need to consider having visitors sign a waiver before visiting their premises. Fortunately, waivers are still mostly enforceable in Florida.

What is interesting about waivers is that it is a contract that tries to absolve, say, a reserve from fault or liability for injuries that result from their “ordinary” negligence as long as the reserve uses “ordinary” care for its visitor.

What is appropriate care in this situation? How can we save Humpback if he defends himself and creates a ruckus?

“Do not go anywhere near the mammoth alligator that is the size of a small car because he can kill you,” should say the future sign posted every 100 feet around the premises of the reserve. Is that “ordinary” enough? Is it a reasonable action that a prudent professional reserve would take under the circumstances? For Humpback’s sake, I sure hope so. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

This senior risk manager values his role in helping Varian Medical Systems support research and technologies in the fight against cancer.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

When I was 15 years old I had a summer job working for the city of Plentywood, mowing grass in the parks and ballfields, emptying garbage cans, hauling waste to the dump, painting crosswalk lines.  A great job for a teenager but I thought getting a college degree and working in an air-conditioned office would be a good plan long term.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

I was enrolled in the University of Montana as a general business student, and I wanted to declare a more specialized major during my sophomore year. I was working for my dad at his insurance agency over the summer, and taking new agent training coursework on property/casualty risks in my spare time, so I had an appreciation for insurance. My dad suggested I research risk management for a career, and I transferred sight unseen to the University of Georgia to enroll in their risk management program. I did an internship as a senior with the risk management department at Sulzer Medica, and they offered me a full time job.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

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We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks. If we initiate a collaborative exercise with the risk owners — people who may have unique knowledge about that particular risk — and include a cross section of people from other corporate functions, you can do an effective job of taking the risk apart to analyze it, figure out a way to manage that exposure, and then reap the upside benefits while reducing the downside exposure. That can be done with new products and new service offerings, when there isn’t coverage available for a risk. It’s asking, is there anything we can do to reduce the risk without transferring it?

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber liability. There’s so much at stake and the bad guys are getting more resourceful every day. At Varian, our first approach is to try to make our systems and products more resilient, so we’re trying to direct resources to preventing it from happening in the first place. It’s a huge reputation risk if one of our products or systems were compromised, so we want to avoid that at all costs.

We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

I’ve worked with a number of great ones over the years. We’ve enjoyed a great property insurance relationship with Zurich. Their loss control services are very valuable to us. On the umbrella liability side, it’s been great partnering with companies like Swiss Re and Berkley Life Sciences because they’ve put in the time and effort to understand our unique risk exposures.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

One hundred percent through a broker. I view our broker as an extension of our risk management team. We benefit from each team member’s respective area of expertise and experience.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

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I think so. The brokers were kind of villainized by Spitzer. I think it’s fair for brokers and insurers to make a reasonable profit, and if a portion of their profit came from contingent commissions, I’m fine with that. But I do appreciate the transparency and disclosure that came out as a result of the fiasco.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

David Collins, Senior Manager, Risk Management, Varian Medical Systems Inc.

While we might be doing fine here in the U.S. from an economic perspective, the Middle East is a mess, and we’re living with nuclear threat from North Korea. But hope springs eternal, so I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m hoping saner minds prevail and our leaders throughout the world work together to make things better.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My Dad got me started down the insurance and risk path. I’ve also been fortunate to work for or with a number of University of Georgia alumni who’ve been mentors for me. I’ve worked side by side with Karen Epermanis, Michael Rousseau, and Elisha Finney. And I’ve worked with Daniel Dean in his capacity as a broker.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

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Raising my kids. I have a 15-year-old and 12-year-old, and they’re making mom and dad proud of the people they’re turning into.

On a professional level, a recent one would be the creation and implementation of our global travel risk program, which was a combined effort between security, travel and risk functions.

We have a huge team of service personnel around the world, traveling to customer sites to do maintenance and repair. We needed a way to track, monitor and communicate with them. We may need to make security arrangements or vet their lodging in some circumstances.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

My 12-year-old son thought my job responsibilities could be summed up as a “professional worrier.” And that’s not too far off.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Varian’s mission is to focus energy on saving lives. Proper administration of the risk function puts the company in a better position to financially support research that improves products and capabilities, helps to educate health care providers and support cancer care in general. It means more lives saved from a terrible disease. I’m proud to contribute toward that.

When you meet someone whose cancer has been successfully treated with one of our products, it’s a powerful reward.




Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]