Are You Prepared For The Worst?

Posted on April 25, 2012 by Paul Berne

I read with extreme interest the article “Limo Bus Collision Jolts Veteran Operator” by Jim Luff which appeared in the December 2011 issue of LCT Magazine. Having managed livery claims operations for most of my 31 years in the insurance business, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve helped operators through the same scenario the writer describes.

The emotions, actions, challenges and problems are well described, and not uncommon to incidents on the roadway of varying degrees of severity. Before I go further with a few thoughts on this, I want to make it clear that Lancer Insurance Company is not involved in the described incident. While typical in terms of the type of accidents we see, I thought it would help to add perspective on what operators can do to control post-accident situations.

Always have a plan
The first step is to have a plan and to rehearse it. The plan should address all operational areas of your company, not just the people who will be directly involved in the loss response. An accident reported to your company can involve everyone; your dispatchers controlling incoming calls, safety and maintenance staff gathering and preparing records, and as evident from the article, the receptionist who answers the phone and is often at the center of communication. We developed a DVD/workbook package called “The First 24 Hours” for our policyholders that serves as a working model for running an accident response simulation. We run the simulation with our claims and safety staff; if you ask the company managers with whom we’ve completed accident response simulations, they’ll tell you that they were very surprised as to which problems emerged.

Receptionist is vital
The role of the receptionist can’t be overstated. In addition to calls from frantic passengers and their families, companies can expect inquiries from the media, hospitals, law enforcement, the media again, pending customers who are inquiring as to the safety record of your company because they “heard on the news that your driver was at-fault in a serious accident,” the driver’s family, your insurance company, and the media again and again (see a recurring theme?). And don’t forget that amid the chaos surrounding accident information communication, you still have a business to run. The operations staffers who in one moment are speaking to distressed passengers because of the number of calls you’re receiving may in the next moment be talking to someone who wants to book a trip. You must have roles described, a data compilation mechanism prepared, and a plan for transferring calls to the right personnel for the inquiry.

Watch what you do and say
Two other points are highly relevant to accident occurrences:

  • First, make sure your drivers are part of the accident response process. How much time do you really spend with drivers preparing them for what to do and say in case of an accident? Do they really know what they’ll be faced with? Taking the time to walk them through the process can only help.
  • Secondly, be cautious in what you prepare in terms of statements and documentation. While laws vary among states, you usually should expect that anything you prepare may at some point have to be provided in a lawsuit against your company. Obtaining a signed statement or recording from your driver as to what happened in the accident may seem like a good idea, but it’s probably a better idea to talk to your insurance company’s claims professional or your attorney(s) before you initiate this practice. The intent here is not to hide or suppress evidence; it’s to understand when actions should be undertaken by or at the direction of a lawyer, if at all.

Accident response for a passenger transportation company is a complicated and serious process. Bus and limousine specialty insurers such as Lancer know how to handle these sensitive claims and will provide you with the best chance to control your loss costs. Regardless of what company you’re insured with, take the time to develop a full and complete plan. And practice it!

Paul Berne is the senior vice president of claims for the Lancer Insurance Company (www.lancer-ins.com), based in Long Beach, N.Y. Berne joined the Lancer Group in 1992. He has more than 34 years of experience in the management and administration of commercial claims. Lancer is a leading insurer in the national chauffeured transportation industry.

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