Column: Roger's Soapbox

A Frightening Fish Story

By: | May 1, 2014 • 3 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Friends who know I write about insurance mock me. How dull, they say, secure in their assumption that the insurance industry is an unexciting place. How utterly wrong they are. Those who report on the risk markets are routinely rewarded with the best stories. Kim Kardashian, for example, has insured her bottom for $21 million. It apparently plays a big part in her career, and were she to lose it, she’d be up the creek, as it were, without a bottom.

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Speaking of insured body parts, Mariah Carey’s legs are reportedly insured for $1 billion. Did I mention she’s a singer?

The finest news headline ever written is generally considered to relate to the story of the coronation of one of the European kings in the mid-1930s. Noting the attendance of almost every crowned head in the world, the ink-stained wretch of a journalist titled the story “All the Kings But Kong.”

A far better headline has presented itself recently, this one from the insurance world. It read: “Lawsuit: Man Choked on Live Fish at Haunted House.”

What terms might apply on a policy that pays out when you choke on a live fish in a haunted house? Or anywhere else, for that matter? How would you prove a house was haunted? How would the premium be calculated? On the fly, probably.

It seems a fellow paid $15 to compete in a curious contest at a place called Frightmare Manor in Davidson County, Tenn., in October 2013. The contest required entrants to eat two live bluegill fish.

Google the bluegill and you’ll see a flattish fish, some of them bigger than a man’s hand. The spikes on their dorsal fins are as sharp as a fin gets.

Frightmare Manor, the fellow’s suit alleged, failed to remove the dorsal fin from the fish, which caused him no small amount of distress when he tried swallowing it during the contest.

The emergency services were called and the fish ingester was hospitalized for four days, “including two nights in the intensive care unit,” his lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit charged the management of Frightmare Manor with negligence, liability, emotional distress and fraud. The contestant asks for $150,000 in compensatory damages and $400,000 in punitive damages.

Stranger-than-fiction details aside, a chap nearly choking to death is a serious matter. What the judge must decide, apart from whether to seek employment in a more serious environment, is contributory risk. To what extent did this would-be fish-swallower bring his troubles upon himself?

(Full disclosure: I have experience in this field. Just before I stopped being a teenager, I ate a Dover sole and my glands went on the fritz. Seems I’m allergic to seafood. It didn’t cross my mind to sue the restaurant because I didn’t know I was allergic at the time, and nor did they. Since then, I have had an arrangement with everything in the sea: I won’t eat it, if it won’t eat me. It’s worked pretty well.)

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This guy paid good money to do a dangerous thing. With or without spiked fins, swallowing whole fish is a job best left to pelicans.

Just the phrase “whole fish” suggests bones and gills and Gawd only knows what. No sane man or woman would or should undertake such ridiculous behavior.

The Latin word for “to swallow” is absorbeo. This, surely, would be a case of caveat absorbeor, let the swallower beware.

And people say insurance is dull.

Read more of the award-winning, irascible Mr. Crombie here.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

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]