I heard a very interesting thing at RIMS 2012 this week. In a session entitled “Claims Triage: Identifying and Settling Big-Ticket Claims”, the panelists were sharing ideas on how to close “old dog” claims, those files that have been around forever and represent tremendous long term liabilities. Gregory Gitter, president of Gitter and Associates, while speaking of the importance of listening to what the injured worker really wants out of their settlement, relayed a terrific story that shows how a little thinking outside the box can bring big dividends.   

Gitter, whose firm specializes in large loss and catastrophic injury claims resolution, told the audience about a long term case that had landed on his desk. In his first interview with the injured worker and his attorney, Gitter asked the claimant what he was really looking for, and what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. The man replied he just wanted to retire to his home in Oregon and go bass fishing every day.  

Gitter took this info, and got creative. He found a nice bass boat – in his words “nicer than my car. So nice fish would happily jump into it”. Retail cost of the boat and rigging was $42,000. He got a glossy photo of the boat, and placed it in with his settlement offer. That offer was, of course, one fancy bass boat and $8,000 in cash. At their next meeting, when the injured worker saw the offer and the photo of the boat, he accepted immediately. His lawyer tried to interject, but was told by the client “Shut up, I’m not listening to you anymore.” After all, Greg was giving the man a bass boat.   

In the end, Gitter said he was able to buy the boat for $38,000, saving his clients a few more dollars. But the victory was getting an old case closed and removing liability for far less than they originally thought. 

Claimant happy. Client happy. Case closed. Not a bad days work.

He told the audience that no one had ever considered what the man really wanted, and even his attorney seemed completely oblivious. Gitter said the attorney asked him how he knew this guy wanted a boat, when he had been there for that first conversation. All the attorney had to do was listen. He, as well as others, didn’t bother to do that. They did not ask the right questions, did not think outside the box. 

It’s the first time I had ever heard of such a unique settlement offer, but it really did show truly creative thinking. The greater message however, is that if we sometimes did a better job of listening to the people we are dealing with, and developed a better understanding of what “makes them tick”, then some of these old dog cases would never reach that “long in the tooth” status. They could have been resolved long ago. 

I think the adversarial nature of claims management prevents this from happening in many cases, and people get entrenched in their positions on both sides. Gitters example shows us that with a little dialogue, and creative problem solving, some of these cases are not as intractable as most would believe.

A least with avid bass fishermen…..

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