Risk Insider: Susan LaBar

You Gotta Have Heart

By: | March 25, 2015

Susan LaBar is the risk manager at Coach USA/Megabus. She has more than 20 years experience in handling nationwide liability and workers’ compensation claims. She can be reached at [email protected]

I believe that people who work in claims have the best stories to tell at cocktail parties. I was recently entertaining a group at a local party with one of my sordid stories from the world of bus claims, when someone asked me if I ever had trouble separating my emotions from the claims.

That got me thinking about whether you can allow your emotions and past experiences to enter into the claims evaluation process. Should claims be evaluated strictly on the facts? Can a risk manager have a heart?

For years I have tried to take my emotions out of the evaluation of claims. It has always been my practice to look at the facts and the numbers and not take into account my personal experiences.

“Risk managers can have hearts. We just must be careful how we use them.”

To me, the claims process became very black and white. In my experience, we see so many claims where the liability is questionable or the damages are inflated. It is impossible not to become numb and jaded when faced with these types of claims on a daily basis.

This changed recently when I had a claim that hit close to home. The claimant was about the same age as my children.

In this case, it was very hard to separate the mother from the risk manager. Could I be objective in evaluating this claim if I allowed my own emotions into the process?

After struggling with this concept, I realized that sometimes we need to view the claims with emotion. You never know who could end up on your jury.

The average person on the jury will use all of their past experiences and emotion when deciding the case. If a jury is going to use their emotions when rendering a verdict, shouldn’t the person evaluating the claim do the same thing?

By using the facts and my emotions, I believe we came to a fair settlement. It was a difficult case, but the respect and sympathy that I gave the claimant went a long way in helping to settle the claim. In this case, having a heart was an asset.

Now, let’s not get carried away. I will still use my common sense and years of industry experience when evaluating claims.

Certainly, I will continue to look skeptically on claims that I believe contain exaggerated allegations. The challenge is to find a balance between business sense, common sense and the heart.

There are claims where we must look realistically at the claim and injury and allow ourselves some emotion when evaluating. Our company has always prided itself in doing the right thing. We strive to acknowledge when we are wrong and aggressively defend claims that we believe are fraudulent or exaggerated.

Whether the emotion is sympathy or disdain, don’t we all use our hearts when handling claims? So, the answer is yes. Risk managers can have hearts. We just must be careful how we use them.

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