Risk Insider: Susan LaBar

You Gotta Have Heart

By: | March 25, 2015 • 2 min read
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.

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]