Settlement and Closure of Safety Officer Claims
All too often, public agency loss runs contain a high number of unresolved claims or future medical claims where sworn officers will not consider settlement. It is a phenomenon that every agency grapples with and no one seems to have the solution. This session at the PARMA 2019 Annual Risk Management Conference investigated why this occurs and explored ideas to help settle these claims.
- Keith Epstein, Hanna Brophy Law Firm
- Alexander Wong, Jones Clifford Law Firm
- Frank Grgurina, Ret. Public Safety Director City of Sunnyvale
Remembering the Mission: To Protect & Serve
Many agencies with sworn officers are challenged with a high number of unresolved claims or future medical claims where the safety officers will not consider settling their claim via stipulated award or a compromise and release. The longer these claims stay open, the more expensive they become and overall claims counts continue to rise.
It is time to take a step back and remember that police officers and firefighters are valued assets to a public entity. At the very surface, these individuals protect and serve the entity’s citizens. To do that well, the entity puts significant cost and time resources towards training this specialized workforce – a workforce in which supply does not always reach demand.
That being said, a public entity’s primary focus should be on maintaining the highest number of police/fire in the field and giving them the best immediate care if they are injured. Treatment disputes can delay return to work, meaning more leave paid out, plus pay of overtime for others to cover the injured worker’s shift. This can also cause understaffing, which can compromise public safety. None of this supports the overall mission to protect and serve.
Quick Settlements Benefit All Parties
When claims handling focuses on providing treatment and return to work, rather than a focus of saving costs by denial and contesting medical care, settlements will occur sooner. This results in savings realized by less lost time, more return-to-work claims and better safety provided to the overall public. When you consider the training, expense and lack of good safety officers, it pays to provide the care that will minimize lost time, get their claim settled and get them back to work.
Items to Note:
- Your claims management actions send a message to your employee, which affects loyalty and morale.
- Quick settlements let the employee move on with their lives.
- Some injuries take a long time to heal and claims, overall, do not get better with time.
- Addressing aggression with aggression typically does not save time or costs.
- Negotiating with empathy and understanding may help obtain better and quicker settlements.
- Even if settlement techniques and approach sometimes result in a higher payment to the employee, they still will usually lower litigation costs and result in an employee that is more dedicated to the service of the community in which they were sworn to serve.