What should you do if someone brings a Public Liability Claim against you?

Follow these 12 Steps if Someone Brings a Public Liability or Employer’s Liability Claim Against You.

Big businesses, local authorities and other large organisations receive claims from their employees and the public regularly and have people and systems to deal with them.  You may not be so lucky, and receiving a claim when you are not used to it can be confusing and stressful.  If it is a motor claim you can probably rely on your motor insurers to deal with it, but if it is a liability claim here are some tips on what to do.

If you want to avoid paying a claim you did not need to, or paying more than you should, follow each of these steps and keep a record of everything you do at each stage:

  1. Acknowledge the letter, without commenting on the contents.
  2. Ensure it is a claim, i.e. a demand for money (“compensation” or “damages”) and not just a complaint or request.
  3. Check whether you are covered by any of your insurances.  This may be a specific Employers Liability, Public Liability or Combined Liability policy or it may be included as part of a Household or Business policy, so do check.
  4. Certain kinds of claim may not be covered, or may be on a separate policy, such as:
  • Libel and slander
  • Environmental Pollution
  • Cyber Risk (claims arising from the use of computers)
  1. If you are covered, or if you are not sure, inform your insurers or brokers.
  2. Always comply with any instructions they give, otherwise you may invalidate your policy.
  3. Always give your insurers promptly any information or documents they ask for, OR let them know you do not have them.
  4. Let your insurers know of any suspicions you have that the claim may be fraudulent, but remember suspicions are not the same as proof, frustrating as that may be!
    1. If you are not insured, you may be able to investigate and deal with the claim yourself, or you may wish to seek help from a professional.  They should be able to give you some initial advice to enable you to decide whether to engage their services.
    2. Whether insured or not, you may be able to get some help from any trade or professional association you belong to.
    3. Whether insured or not you may be able to save time, money and stress by employing a claims-handler to advise you and manage the process.

 

Finally, deal with the claim promptly: it will probably not go away, and there are time-limits set by Law.  Then keep the process moving: time really is money as far as the claimant’s solicitors are concerned.  If you have not got the time to deal with it properly, make sure somebody does so for you, whether an employee, friend or someone you are paying to look after your interests.

 

Where Have I Been?

You may wonder why I haven’t posted anything for some time. Well I have been busy with three new activities.
Firstly I have been updating my LINKEDIN profile and connections. (See UK.Linkedin.com/in/johnhmurray).
Secondly, I have started writing Ezine articles, the first of which has been published: “Ten Top Tips to Reduce, or at Least Control Your Insurance Premiums”. (See http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=John_Harvey_Murray).
And there are more in the pipeline.
In addition to all that I have been doing some face-to-face networking with Bear Behind just so remembered how to speak to people without using a computer.
I hope to start writing blogs regularly soon.

A Fly in the Soup or a Fly in the Ointment?

 A fly in the soup or a fly in the ointment! 

The Data Protection Act was brought in many years ago, but belatedly even then, as an attempt at preventing the misuse of personal data, mainly by large financial institutions. Not many people would argue that it is not needed today.  Indeed it could be argued that the law needs strengthening as organisations of all kinds, including numerous arms of government seem to be constantly acquiring ever more data on all of us, and apparently getting round the Act, or ignoring it. 

Ironically, however, there is another, opposite problem too: the undue reluctance to share information when such sharing would be at least socially acceptable, or even highly desirable.  I have encountered this when trying to investigate claims and found it difficult or impossible to obtain information relevant to the claim, when it was in the possession of the client. The left hand believed, to mix my metaphors, that the right hand should be kept in the dark!

Fortunately, so far, in my own experience, I do not recall there having been any unfortunate consequences beyond wasted time, money (in increased legal costs) and stress.  However, I have recently heard of an example with a much more serious consequence.  According to the Greater Manchester Police, information concerning the systematic exploitation of young and vulnerable girls was withheld for several years because some of the people who knew, or suspected, what was occurring, believed they were constrained by the Data Protection Act.

Life’s a balancing act! Perhaps it is because I have been involved in risk management for so long, that I have come to accepting that in an imperfect world, all we can do most of the time is to try to balance one risk against another.  So if you have to balance the risk of breaching data confidentiality against the risk of letting a sex-racket continue, which is the greater risk? By the way, I do know that in this example there should never even have been an issue, since the law specifically provides an exception for crime-prevention.  

A sense of proportion seems to me to be essential when managing or advising on risk, so as to not allow one risk to become so all-important as to require measures which increase other risks or have other harmful consequences.  The failure to appreciate the need for this balancing act is probably one of the factors leading to some of the apparently ludicrous stories which have got Health and Safety, and sometimes Insurance, an undeservedly bad name.

“Where do flies come into this?” you may ask.

You probably know a lot of very old jokes such as:

“What’s this fly doing in my soup?” “The breast stroke.”

“Waiter, why is there a dead fly in my soup?” “It’s the hot water that kills them.”

Well, the oldest of these is 2000 years old! It is in the Bible.  Jesus said the religious leaders of his day “strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel” meaning they fussed over something tiny, like an insect, in their soup, and failed to notice something really big, like a camel, in it. 

See St Matthew Chapter 23 verse 24. It was the way he told ’em!

 

Look Back In …

Do I miss working in a large organisation like a local authority with its various support structures, now that I have become a sole trader?

 

The answer is, frankly, No! I rather enjoy not having policies and procedures to follow, apparently arbitrary decisions to obey, and records to keep purely for someone else’s benefit. Of course I keep records that I know are necessary, but that is a different matter.

 

I like not having to ask if I can take time off, yet I don’t mind doing bits of work in what I would have considered my leisure time.  If a thing needs doing it needs doing, and the timescales are set by me or by the work itself.

 

I like being able to make decisions and act on them without waiting for someone (or two or three…) to agree.  I don’t need the threat of some sort of disciplinary action to make me want to achieve high standards of work and of customer care.

 

Regardless of all this, some people still find it strange that after all the years I have been surrounded by people, I can be happy working on my own.  Well, of course I don’t mind not having a boss, but I also don’t mind not having any subordinates (if that is what they were!) or other colleagues.  The thing is that I like not having to worry about other people’s work: I know if something has been done or not, without having to even think let alone ask! And if anything has not been done properly I know it’s my own fault, no excuses.  There are, it is important to note, lots of opportunities for meeting people without having to work for the same employer!

 

One group of people I thought I would miss was IT Support! However, I have surprised myself how much I have learnt about IT in the last year, and how much support is avilable by ‘phone and e-mail from various sources.

 

Phone Bugs Man

I am getting stressed as a result of all the ‘phonecalls I get several times a day on both my home ‘phone and my office ‘phone encouraging me, or almost ordering me, to try to get compensation for having been mis-sold Premium Protection Insurance. Most of these are automated calls so it is impossible to talk to anyone or ask any questions. I have tried following their advice and pressing 9 to instruct them not to call again. The effect of that makes the Government’s economic recovery programme look highly successful by comparison. It would be so easy just to give in and let them make a claim on my behalf, even if I don’t really think I was a victim of mis-selling.

When I do get a call like this from a real person, it’s not much better.  Their English is usually so poor that not only do I have a lot of trouble understanding them, but they also have trouble understanding me, unlike the majority of Asians and East Europeans I have met in Warrington.  So I still can’t ask questions and get answers. Such as…
Aren’t my banking records confidential? These callers always seem to find it especially hard to understand when I ask how they know I was mis-sold, or even sold, PPI anyway. In fact I don’t see how they can know I ever had a loan or mortgage to insure, unless they have access to my financial history.  Most people, including myself, would find reading that a very boring and rather depressing experience.
One reason that this bugs me so much is that I have gone to a lot of trouble to register JHM Claims with the Information Controller’s Office, and have had to study and apply the Data Protection Act so carefully. By the way, I really have, so you can be sure I won’t share any of your data with anyone, if you become a client, except where there is a genuine need to know, such as an insurance company or solicitor involved in your claim. Even then, I will let you know.
The other thing I find strange about all this is the way it seems to be accepted that everyone who has ever had a PPI policy must have been mis-sold it.  Some probably were, but some people, who must have been old enough and sane enough to take out a loan, must have actually needed such a policy, and got some benefit from the cover. Surely they could have asked questions if they were not sure about anything or could have walked away if they felt unhappy with what they were told.
Am I defending bad behaviour by the financial institutions? No! Please don’t get me wrong.  I think banks, insurance companies and anyone, even claims handlers, should be held to account for their selling and marketing practices, but I am concerned that what is happening now is not good. Two wrongs never added up to one right and they still don’t!
Well, if this keeps up, perhaps I can bring a claim for stress!

Why do I not use checklists?

Why do I not use checklists? One of the things I like about being self-employed is not only not having a boss, but also not having any set procedures or checklists to follow slavishly. I know some claims handlers find them useful. Checklists that is, not bosses. The trouble is that you can never include everything, and you just know that the one thing you leave out is going to be the crucial item in your biggest/most important claim!
Anyway, to try to include everything you could think of would mean a very long list. Lets be honest, the longer the list the less it gets looked at and the more tempting it is to skip down it ticking all the boxes without thinking. (Now thinking is the one thing you do need in claims handling). If the list is pretty comprehensive, some boxes are probably irrelevant for 99% of claims and so end up getting ticked every time, but when they are relevant they still get ticked automatically.

So what do I do instead? There are two questions I know I need to keep asking myself whenever I look at a claim:
1. Do I believe there is legal liability here?
2. Is there enough evidence to convince the Court as to my answer to (1) ?
All other questions should be aimed at getting me to the answers to these two. And there is usually no point in continuing down a checklist once you have the answers to these two questions, but I have known people to carry on working through all the outstanding points on their checklist when they could see from the start there was no possible defence. The best thing to do would have been to make an admission then an offer and then a payment, as quickly as possible.
Which reminds me – there is perhaps a third question to keep in mind:
3.What can I do now to move this claim on to its conclusion? Time is money when lawyers are involved. The difference between a liability claim and malt whiskey is that one improves with age and the other does not.

Standards.One argument for checklists is that they maintain consistent standards within the office. Unfortunately this may mean consistently mediocre. Being on my own means I have only myself to be consistent with, and I always aim to attain the highest possible standards

Ten Top Tips to Reduce, or at Least Control, Your Insurance Premiums

Ten Top Tips to Reduce, or at Least Control, Your Insurance Premiums

Don’t accept premiums as if they just fall out of the sky. Here are some ideas to help you take the initiative. For many people insurance premiums are controlled by mysterious market forces beyond their control.  All they think they can do is shop around for the best deal, which is always a good idea, but there are in fact a number of things you can do to influence your premiums regardless of which insurer you choose.

There are two main areas you need to think about: Cover and Claims.

First, take a good look at cover, i.e. what and how much you are insuring, as you do not want to be paying for anything you do not really need.

There are usually four elements to this:

  • Excess – the amount of each claim, which you, not the insurers, will pay.  Increasing this should lead to a reduction in premiums.  How big an excess you should have depends on how much you or your business could afford if there was a claim.
  • Limit – a maximum that insurers will pay, either for each claim or in total for any year: the lower the limit, the lower the premium.  The right limit for you depends on how likely it is that you will have a claim above that level, and how damaging it would be to your business.
  • Exclusions – things the policy does not cover.  There should be a reduction in premium for each exclusion.  There is no point in paying a premium to cover an event that is not possible in your circumstances e.g. demolition work, if you only build or repair property and never demolish any.
  • Extentions –the opposite of exclusions: non-standard items added to your policy, at extra cost.  Do you need them?

If this process results in higher premiums, because you decided to opt for more cover, you should still see it as a saving, if you compare the extra premiums with what an uninsured claim might cost.  Real waste usually occurs when you are paying for more insurance than you need, not when you make an informed decision.

Then have a look at claims, as the more claims you have, and the more they cost, the higher your premiums will be, and insurers are interested in possible future claims as well as actual past claims.  There are two ways of reducing the number and cost of claims: claims management and risk management.

Claims Management is worth thinking about for every kind of insurance but it is really important for liability policies, i.e those which pay for claims brought against you by people who blame you for injuries or damage they have suffered.

  • Make sure you have a system in place that will work for you, whether you do everything yourself, rely on your insurers, or employ some specialist firm of claims handlers, and be sure someone deals with each of the points listed here:
  • Notify your insurers as soon as you know a claim is likely to be made even if you do not have all the facts they will need, but send the rest as soon as you can.
  • Comply with all instructions and requests from your insurers.  If you do not they may be have the right to refuse to cover your claim, and anyway they probably have a good reasons for their procedures.
  • Get all relevant information together as soon as possible – it is surprising how soon details get forgotten or documents lost.
  • If someone brings a claim against you make sure it is properly investigated as quickly as possible so as to decide whether to pay it or not.  Trying to defend what cannot be defended is a waste of time and money, but so is putting off a decision.
  • If you have any suspicion that a claim against you is fraudulent, make sure someone looks into that aspect too.

Risk Management.

Some people would say that this includes everything covered in this article and a lot more, and they may be right, but what I mean here is how to control the causes of the fire, accident or whatever, which led to the claim.

  • Make sure you get feedback from insurers, investigators, or claims handlers as to the reasons they believe it happened and what they think could be done to prevent it happening again.  Try to find out how often such incidents occur, whether they lead to claims or not, in deciding priorities.
  • Once a year, look over all your activities and see where there are possible risks, even if nothing has gone wrong so far.  You may find it worthwhile having someone else look at them with you, as it is very easy to miss the obvious when you see it every day.
  • List options for controlling each risk and pick one or more which you think will work best for you, taking into account such things as the cost of the control measures and the possible cost of a claim and its effects on your business.

It is important that you spend some time thinking about each of the points in this article, and especially that you then act upon them, if you want to take at least some control of your insurance costs and not let them just seem to drop on you out of the sky.