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Insurance and Law Today, a quarterly podcast hosted by the law firm of Wright, Constable & Skeen and Claims Magazine, recently discussed the Evolvement of Claims Management During COVID-19. The podcast, which is hosted by Marie J. Ignozzi (Wright, Constable & Skeen), featured Caryn Siebert, Vice President and Director of Carrier Engagement at Gallagher Bassett, a global claims service provider.  Ms. Siebert focuses on Business Development and Strategic Initiatives and has more than 20 years of experience in claims, legal, risk management, and process improvement. She has been Chief Executive Officer, Chief Claims Officer, and the general counsel to third-party administrators, carriers, and self-insureds.

Ms. Ignozzi and Ms. Siebert discussed claims management and how it has evolved throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and remote workforces. When the pandemic first started, many courts closed and shifted to remote proceedings and hearings. A number of the courts were reluctant to conduct hearings remotely prior to the pandemic, but due to limited alternatives, they had to adapt, which lead to a substantial increase in remote hearings and trials. At the same time, there is a significant backlog in cases that is expected to grow during the remainder of the pandemic, and it is anticipated there will be delays in litigation, which has led to a significant rise in parties engaging in ADR, like mediation and arbitration.

Ms. Siebert then explained what we can expect to see post-COVID-19 regarding the resolution of claims. She noted that even before the pandemic, Gallagher Bassett and the insurance companies that it works with achieved favorable claims outcomes by conducting thorough investigations up-front, proactively providing medical care for injured workers, and utilizing years of data and analytics to get claims resolved, which resulted in less than 5% going to trial. She anticipates this will continue post-COVID, along with the continued use of ADR due to the time, cost, and risk associated with trials. Ms. Siebert explained that claims professionals often prefer ADR because it allows a party to better assess the evidence, liability, and damages and allows a third-party neutral to make a recommendation regarding the value of the case. She is hesitant to say attorneys will rush back to the courtroom given the uncertainty regarding jurors and timelines, and thinks third-party administrators have a better chance of controlling the outcome of their claims outside of the courtroom. She believes ADR is a great tool for allowing parties to push for fair and efficient outcomes. 

Ms. Siebert noted people have gotten better at using technology, and mediation allows them to effectively and efficiently resolve claims somore parties are likely to embrace the idea of conducting ADR remotely. It is also possible that the technology now used in the courts will  continue to be used to limit time in the courtroom. She believes that the more comfortable people become with technology, the less time anyone parties and witnesses will need to spend in court.  For example, experts could testify from home offices rather than spending the time and expense required to travel across the country, which ultimately saves the client money while still allowing for a fair and reasonable resolution. It also provides greater accessibility for individuals with disabilities who have difficulty attending in-person hearings and parents who would need to obtain child care to attend a mediation or trial. 

Ms. Siebert has observed that allowing for remote work enabled her company to attract a greater number of applicants and avoid relocation costs. There are downsides to remote life, though. For example, while stewardship meetings, team meetings, and business development presentations can all be conducted remotely, people lose the ability to build and maintain relationships in person. She observed that claims professionals continue to adapt to working online, and easily transitioned to remote work. In her estimation, due to the cost of real estate and the amount of money invested in moving to remote work, companies that have seen favorable results will continue to allow employees to remain remote. She noted that many employees are very happy working remotely and are able to stay engaged. 

After the podcast, Ms. Ignozzi provided further insight into how claims handling and litigation have been impacted by the pandemic. In her experience, while insurance companies have not been motivated to settle claims more expeditiously due directly to the pandemic, COVID-19 related backlogs in the courts and delays in resolving matters through litigation have ultimately caused carriers to push for a resolution.  She reported that fewer new cases have been coming in as well, partially due to the fact that courts are not issuing summons because they are closed. Many cases are being solved before cases are filed which has been motivated by the claimants rather than the carriers. Ms. Ignozzi also anticipates that after the pandemic the manner in which law firms operate is likely to change, with firms having fewer offices and many lawyers working remotely. 

You can access the podcast here