It is certainly a fact that some workplace injuries are unavoidable in that they are caused by unexpected mechanical or equipment failures, technical issues or some other event out of the control of the misfortunate humans involved. But it is also just as certain a fact that many workplace injuries covered by the workers’ compensation system are the result of careless mistakes and improper actions; accidents that are a product of nothing more than unfettered if not momentary stupidity.
Now, before I get attacked by the “Bob hates injured workers” crowd (Who am I kidding? They’ll attack anyway), I must observe that the stupidity that is sometimes associated with workers’ compensation injury claims may not be that of the injured worker. It could belong to an employer, a supervisor, a co-worker, or an unrelated third party driving their minivan through the grocery deli while checking their Facebook updates.
It is also important to note that we all have, at one time or another, done something stupid. We can't help ourselves. It is part of our human charm.
The point is, at the root cause of many accidents somebody somewhere did something stupid, and workers’ comp gets to pay for that. That is the deal. And it is a deal that makes us something unique in the world of risk management.
In other areas of insurance related risk, carriers employ mechanisms (also known as whatchamacallits and thingamabobs) embodied within fine print that serve to transfer liability from an accident to the responsible parties – the ones who acted with the greatest level of stupidity, if you will. True, someone somewhere likely insures the stupid person who caused whatever loss occurred, but that is not our problem. They are some other guy's underwritten ignoramus.
In workers’ comp, thanks entirely to the “Grand Compromise” that established a no fault system as an exclusive remedy for workplace injury and illness, we get to spring in to action no matter who the stupid party was. It doesn’t matter. Supervisor order you to leave a safety guard off the grinder because it slows you down? We gotcha covered. Your co-worker thought it would be hysterical to electrify your lunchbox? We gotcha covered. You thought that getting stoned and feeding the grizzly bears in the cage was a good idea? Yeah, we have your moronic arse covered.
Well, sometimes we have you buried in process and untenable delay, but that is another topic for the industry; but hey, we still accepted your stupid claim.
The issue of fault, based of course on stupid mistakes, has been of great interest to the industry of late, with some championing efforts to chip away at exclusive remedy, thereby denying claims where negligence (stupidity) applies. I of course have been on record as opposing this effort, largely because the dulling of exclusive remedy creates issues for stupid employers and stupid insurers as well. I am not saying that all employers and insurers are stupid; no, but some certainly can be. If you happen to be an employer or insurer reading this blog, then your intellectual prowess is beyond reproach. You are not the stupid ones. I am talking about other employers and insurers.
The ones who aren't reading my blog, or buying my company's products.
My point is, the recent trend to excessive process aside, the solution of workers' compensation as an exclusive remedy has largely worked over the last 100 years. It has kept a stable and secure safety net that has met the needs of many injured workers, and kept liability costs predictable for employers. To continue to chip away and destroy exclusive remedy would represent a return to the wild days of open liability for employers, and years without pay or medical treatment for workers while their case ground through the courts trying to figure out who acted stupidly.
The only ones who would profit in that scenario would be the lawyers; and how stupid is that?
So, whether you are an actuary trying to identify future moronic traits, an underwriter assigning risk of potential stupidity, or a claims professional handling the stupid claim, take pride in what you do. We, as an industry have helped keep the employment environment stable for businesses and provided safety net protections for injured workers. We serve an important purpose. So next time someone asks you what you do, don't be shy. Look them straight in the eye and proudly say, “I help manage stupidity”.