By Bob Crescenzo
Luxury passenger transportation companies spend a great deal of time training chauffeurs about proper driving techniques and defensive driving in the hopes that their employees will become skilled and knowledgeable enough to avoid a vehicular accident. Yet, there is no way to guarantee that accidents won’t happen, and chauffeurs also need to be instructed in what to do should one occur. Doing so will not only help protect your passengers, your driver, and your company’s reputation, but it can also have a great impact on the outcome of the claim.
Establish Accident Policies and Procedures
The process begins with your company’s policies and procedures, which outline when chauffeurs must report incidents, and the protocols for handling these situations. If you currently do not have written policies and procedures for handling an accident, now would be a good time to write and distribute (or update) them to all of your chauffeurs. Even if you already have these policies and procedures in place, consider reviewing them with your chauffeurs at the next driver training meeting. Be sure to provide detailed information about who to call, including the phone numbers, as well as what to expect under different accident scenarios. Thankfully, accidents happen infrequently, but the more familiar chauffeurs are with managing a crisis situation—and what’s expected of them at the scene—the less likely that a step will be overlooked.
It’s important that every chauffeur understands that ANYTHING that occurs in and around their vehicle could result in a potential claim. Being attentive to details of what is happening inside the vehicle (to passengers), as well as outside of the vehicle, is critical to your drivers knowing when to report an incident to your company.
These policies and procedures also need to be thoroughly reviewed with your office and management staff, so they are better able to handle the situation, and know how to report a claim to your insurance company. Your staff must recognize that chauffeurs may be under extreme stress at the accident scene, and they will need calm, reassuring support to help them stay focused on following proper protocols and collecting important data about the incident.
Time Is of the Essence
One of the most critical aspects of managing an accident is reporting it promptly to your insurance company. Timely reporting is a condition of your insurance policy, and failure to report claims quickly could void coverage. What’s more, insurance industry studies have pointed to lower claim costs, less downtime, and faster resolutions when claims are reported immediately.
By reporting accidents promptly:
- Statements can be obtained from witnesses while the information is still fresh in their minds, lending more credibility and accuracy to their version of events. With the passage of time, witnesses often tend to be less cooperative, and their recollection of the incident can become fuzzy. It’s also to your advantage if your insurance company contacts any witnesses before they have spoken to plaintiff lawyers who could try to steer testimony and turn favorable or neutral witnesses into an adverse witnesses. This is vital as accident liability can, at times, hinge on witness accounts.
- Chauffeurs can give their version of the accident before their memory of events diminishes. This helps your insurer’s claims department quickly make a meaningful liability analysis, and determine an appropriate plan of action for resolving the claim.
- Your insurance carrier will have the opportunity to talk to the other party to fairly and quickly settle the claim before they are influenced by anyone to embellish a loss. Obtaining a statement from a claimant immediately after a crash also reduces the risk that a subsequent injury is attributed to the accident. An example would be if a claimant twists their ankle or hurts their back in a fall at home two days after a minor sideswipe collision, but then claims the injury occurred during the crash. A statement from the claimant about their injuries on the day of the vehicular accident helps guard against this risk.
- Valuable evidence from the accident can be preserved. The longer the delay in reporting, the greater the chance that key evidence such as gouge marks, tire marks, debris, and surveillance video from the area will be distorted, lost, or destroyed. Additional costs and resources may then be needed to track down information that may have been readily available immediately after the accident.
- You can gather and retain evidence such as data from an electronic video recording, electronic control module, or electronic logging device that, if not collected, could drive a spoliation of evidence charge against your company and a negative inference given to a jury. Your insurer can retain counsel and work with you to marginalize or prevent the risk of spoliation.
- The opportunity for someone to commit insurance fraud against your company is reduced. By collecting information and establishing facts quickly, your insurer’s claim adjusters are better prepared to protect your organization from unscrupulous or exaggerated losses.
- You have the advantage of having an experienced and knowledgeable claims team protecting the interests of your company from the onset. Claims professionals can provide expert advice on gathering information and taking photos at the accident scene; the steps needed to preserve evidence; drug testing requirements (if applicable); and dealing with the media.
It’s also important to keep in mind that even seemingly minor incidents may actually carry much more risk than what is apparent to non-claim professionals. For example, a sideswipe accident is difficult to prove when both drivers allege the other one changed lanes. Often times, these claims become a credibility issue, and juries end up placing blame on the drivers involved at 50/50. In addition, many states have joint and several laws that protect injured passengers who have no negligence. In some states, if a defendant is found just 1 percent at fault, they could be held responsible for 100 percent of a negligent-free passenger’s injury claim. Prompt claims reporting will allow immediate recognition of these issues by your insurance carrier, and help to avoid a large claim down the road.
Report ALL Accidents Promptly
Errors in reporting and managing a claim can prove disastrous for any luxury passenger transportation company. By having accident policies and procedures in place, ensuring your chauffeurs and staff understand their responsibilities ahead of time, and reporting all accidents—no matter how large or small and regardless of fault—promptly, you can help avoid costly mistakes when the clock is ticking, and help your insurer manage any resulting claims on your behalf in a fair and efficient manner. [CD0721]
Bob Crescenzo is the Vice President for safety & loss control of Lancer Insurance Company in Long Beach, N.Y. He can be reached at email@example.com.