Court Rules Insurer Not Responsible for an Insured’s Former Worker

When a former employee tries to gain coverage under his former employer, the insurer denies coverage.
By: | February 9, 2019 • 2 min read

Joel Palmer was involved in a civic organization for the Bella Vista neighborhood. He served in various roles throughout the organization, including president. In 2011, Palmer resigned from the board.

On March 10, 2012, Palmer filed a conservatorship petition over 614 Kater Street, a house located in the Bella Vista neighborhood. The property owners were furious, claiming that the petition was littered with falsities and was a backhanded way to “run the owner … out of the neighborhood.”

The petition was ultimately denied, but the owner filed suit against Palmer, his attorney and Bella Vista, claiming Palmer co-conspired with Bella Vista.

Bella Vista argued it did not have anything to do with the petition and filed preliminary objections. Palmer, too, filed preliminary objections. The court dismissed all claims against Bella Vista but overruled Palmer’s objections. At trial, the jury ruled in favor of the property owners. Palmer and his attorney owed $277,000 in attorney’s fees and emotional and punitive damages.

Twin City Fire Insurance Company provided coverage for Bella Vista and controlled its defense during the suit. Palmer initially sought defense coverage from Twin City, which agreed to the defense “under a reservation of rights until it was established that Palmer was not entitled to coverage under the policy.”

In the policy, Twin City covered “loss on behalf of any Insured Person … for a Wrongful Act by the Insured Person … duly elected or appointed” to the board of Bella Vista. It defined a wrongful act as an action “committed by an Insured Person, solely by reason of their serving in such capacity.”

When Bella Vista was dismissed from the case, Twin City withdrew its coverage of Palmer, stating that he no longer served Bella Vista or its board, and therefore did not qualify for coverage.

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In the following suit, the clause “solely by reason of their serving in such capacity” became the deciding factor on whether Palmer’s defense would be covered. His tenure at Bella Vista also came into question. Ultimately, the court ruled in favor of Twin City; Palmer would receive no defense.

Scorecard: Joel Palmer resigned from the Bella Vista board in 2011. The conservatorship petition was posted on March 10, 2012. By this point, Palmer no longer associated with Bella Vista, therefore breaking ties with the neighborhood’s insurer Twin City.

Takeaway: Insurers must provide clear language as to who and what is covered under a policy. Otherwise, it can lead to confusion over coverage and possible extraneous claims.

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]