Column: Roger's Soapbox


By: | August 3, 2015 • 3 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Fawlty Towers was a British TV show considered the acme of the half-hour situation comedy program. Basil Fawlty, owner of the eponymous hotel, would tell fibs that required much larger lies as situations ballooned out of his control. The greater truth underlying the show’s humor was how, in the ordinary course of events, the slightly ridiculous can become the completely deranged.


Basil was fictional, but his antics were greatly more believable than those of Maria Angeles Duran, a 54-year-old mother of four from Vigo, Spain.

She claims to own the sun, and in 2013 began selling square-meter plots of it on eBay. So far, so slightly amusing.

eBay didn’t see the humor, and since one cannot sell what cannot be owned, sent her packing. Duran, an unusual character whose earlier exploits included founding a religion and attempting to copyright Tarzan’s original call, sued eBay for breach of contract. The auction website tried to settle, but failed.

By that time, 1,000 people had bought plots on the sun, at one Euro a throw. As if that weren’t Fawlty enough, Duran applied to a Spanish court to be allowed to sue eBay and was granted permission.

A little spot of eccentricity has thus become a brouhaha of absurdity, and we’re nowhere near the end of the story.

Consider the matter from the insurance perspective.

For a start, it would be difficult to assess the nature of solar risks, and therefore to price them. The finest insurance modellers offer nothing in this area. A visit, in order to carry out a risk assessment, is out of the question.

A little spot of eccentricity has thus become a brouhaha of absurdity, and we’re nowhere near the end of the story.

Not even Sun Alliance (now part of the RSA Insurance Group) offers coverage against the type of risks one might experience on solar real estate.

The surface temperature of the sun is just shy of 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That rules out most homeowners’ insurance, as well as fire and probably all risks. Life insurance for those planning on moving to the solar region is also limited; not even Sun Life of Canada offers any relevant policies.

Experience tells us that, were construction possible on the sun’s surface, people would build homes dangerously close to the lava stream and then howl when their insurance premiums rose following an intense solar windstorm.

In most jurisdictions, Duran’s case would not have made it to the courts. Spanish law, however, is an odd beast and Duran might win. What then?

Solar builders would be unable to insure their projects, which would raise prices significantly. Duran might then sue the insurance industry for restraint of trade.

An insurance commissioner would have to be appointed to address issues arising from solar developments, and would need a hefty staff, the sun being quite a big place.


The NAIC would have to become the GAIC — the word National being replaced in its title by the word Galactic.

RIMS would have to be held on the sun every few years, which would be tricky since cocktails evaporate long before the temperature reaches 11,000 degrees.

Reinsurers would balk at any involvement, and a Solar Pool Re would have to be established.

A little far-fetched? Best to think ahead, I say. Plans are afoot for manned colonies on Mars, and insurers are already way behind on that project.

It’s time for the industry to develop sun-consciousness before the hedge fund guys beat them to it.

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.


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.


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]