Do Your Employees Drive Personal Vehicles for Business-Related Purposes?

If an accident occurs while an employee or volunteer is operating their personal vehicle for company business, your company could be held liable.  Even when an employee is just running an errand, such as making a bank deposit, dropping off a proposal or picking up a part, if an accident occurs your company could suffer as a result.   

While you cannot insure a non-owned vehicle, there are other steps you can take to protect your company before a loss occurs. If your employees or volunteers use personal vehicles for company business, even if just occasionally, the following guidelines can help reduce your risk:

1.   Determine a minimum level of auto liability insurance your employees and/or volunteers must carry.  Also consider what documentation should be provided to your company to demonstrate that proper insurance coverage is in effect.  For example, you might require that employees or volunteers submit a certificate of insurance each year that verifies coverage limits.

2.   Driving records should be checked prior to an employee’s hiring.  Validate driving credentials and check for accidents and moving violations over the past 5 years.  All recruiters, managers and human resource people should be aware of this policy.

3.   Avoid having youthful drivers, those with little driving experience, or drivers with more than one moving violation or accident use their vehicle for business-related purposes.

4.   Periodically check driving records for new offenses and moving violations.  Introduce a procedure for how discovery of new offenses will be handled.

5.   Develop a written policy on business use of personal vehicles and communicate to all employees. Managers, human resource personnel and recruiters should share this information with any potential new hires.

6.   Be sure you remain in compliance with local, state and federal statutes while obtaining private information about your employees. 

Insurance can play a role in helping to protect your business from this exposure. Non-owned auto liability insurance may be obtained on a stand-alone basis or in conjunction with your general liability coverage.  Coverage for hired vehicles may also be available, if needed.

Insurance premiums for non-owned automobile liability depend on the frequency of personal vehicle use and how employees use their vehicles for your business. Premiums for this line of coverage are generally fairly reasonable.

Another way to reduce risk is to eliminate the exposure.  If employees or volunteers are prohibited from using their personal vehicles for business-related purposes, it eliminates the possibility of an accident that will affect your company.

In the meantime, while you are mapping out your risk reduction strategy, maybe you should consider making that bank deposit yourself…

Longevity Is Key When It Comes to Lawyer’s Professional Liability Claims

Retirement usually means not only leaving your job, but everything associated with that job. However, when a lawyer retires, this isn’t necessarily the case. Whether they are no longer practicing law, or starting an entirely new career, lawyers may find themselves haunted by liability claims arising from their past work.

For this reason, it’s important for departing lawyers to confirm that liability coverage will remain intact for past work. To accomplish this goal, you should review the partnership agreement, the firm’s professional liability insurance, and any recent claims. Keep in mind that partnership agreements and insurance coverage vary from firm to firm. When you review the agreement, you may find an absence of provisions for the firm’s ongoing indemnity or insurance obligations towards former members.

When reviewing the firm’s professional liability policy you’ll probably find that is written on a “claims made” basis. This means that coverage is provided for any claims made during the policy term, even if the events that precipitated the claim happened before the policy’s effective date. Even if your firm has a claims made policy, it can still have coverage gaps that significantly affect you once you decide to leave. For example, the insurer may have included provisions that limit or exclude coverage of the firm’s activities in certain practice areas. Or with claims made policies, if an exclusion is added in the future, it is applicable to all past and future work in that practice area.

Your policy review should also include an examination of its coverage limits. Since these limits cover all claims made and reported within the policy term, there may not be funds available to cover a retiring lawyer if the firm has already submitted a substantial number of claims or even just one large one.

The next step in your evaluation is a determination of how the policy defines “insured.” In some attorney-client relationships, a lawyer may be considered an employee or independent contractor. Under some policies, coverage for employees and independent contractors is either limited or non-existent.

You should also review the conditions regarding the firm’s responsibilities for policy renewal and reporting claims. Don’t assume that the firm will continue to operate as a going concern after you are gone, or that it will continue to renew its liability policy. In fact, in the case of smaller firms, dissolution is often the outcome after a key partner retires.

If the practice is dissolved, it is important that the firm and its former partners maintain insurance coverage. And since time is a crucial factor in a dissolution scenario when it comes to coverage, it is important that you meet as soon as possible with your insurance representative to discuss your coverage status and appropriate options.

Know Your Commercial General Liability Insurance Limits

A commercial general liability policy (CGL) lists six different limits on the policy’s declarations page. While the limits may be listed separately, it’s important to understand that they are all interrelated. That means that payment of damages for one limit will affect another limit.

To illustrate how these limits interact, it is necessary to examine each one in detail:

The General Aggregate Limit  – The maximum amount the insurer will pay during the policy period for all damages including bodily injury, property damage, personal and advertising injury except for any amount paid as damages because of bodily injury or property damage included within the products-completed operations hazard. The definition of the products-completed operations hazard is outlined in the policy and a separate aggregate limit applies to this type of claim. Also included within the general aggregate are damages paid for medical payments.

Products-Completed Operations Aggregate Limit – The maximum amount the insurer will pay for damages because of bodily injury or property damage included within the products-completed operations hazard. The specified hazards are those described within the definition of the products-completed operations hazard and are limited to bodily injury or property damage that:

1.             Occurs away from the insured’s premises.

2.             Caused by the insured’s products that are no longer in the insured’s possession or an insured’s work that has been completed.

Personal and Advertising Injury Limit – The maximum amount the insurer will pay if legally obligated to pay damages due to personal and advertising injury offenses. The personal and advertising injury limit applies separately to each person or organization that sustains damages because of a covered offense. However, regardless of the number of persons or organizations claiming damages, or the number of offenses claimed during the policy period, the insurer is only obligated to pay up to the general aggregate limit.

Each Occurrence Limit – The maximum the insurer will pay for the sum of all damages due to bodily injury, property damage and medical payments. Keep in mind that there is an aggregate limit for bodily injury and property damage claims that arise from the products-completed operations hazard and a separate limit for all other bodily injury and property damages. However, the each occurrence limit does apply to all sums paid for medical payments.

Damage to Premises Rented to You Limit – This coverage is actually an exception to certain exclusions found in the bodily injury and property damage coverage. The first exception provides coverage for property damage to a premises and its contents, rented to the insured for 7 or fewer consecutive days if an insured is legally obligated to pay for such damage due to any cause except fire.

The second exception provides coverage for damage to the premises only if an insured is legally obligated to pay for property damage due to fire. However, if an insured is held liable solely due to an agreement to be responsible for the property or for damage to the property, there is no coverage. Liability has to be imposed on the insured as the result of a lawsuit in order for coverage to apply.

The Damage to Premises Rented to You limit applies to any one premises. Any property damage paid under this limit will reduce the each occurrence limit for that same occurrence and will also reduce the general aggregate limit.

Medical Expense Limit – The medical expenses coverage is a separate insuring agreement that obligates the insurer to pay reasonable medical expenses for bodily injury, caused by an accident, without regard to fault. Medical payments are subject to the medical expense limit. The medical expense limit applies separately to each person. However, medical payments will reduce the each occurrence limit for that same occurrence and will also reduce the general aggregate limit.

A Well-Designed Affirmative Action Plan Can Help You Avoid Discrimination Lawsuits

In an article titled Litigation Explosion, which appeared in the December 10, 2006 edition of the Arizona Daily Star, author Becky Pallack discusses a University of Arizona study that says employee lawsuits are on the rise:

“The researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and found 95,115 claims of employment discrimination nationwide in 2005.Federal employment discrimination lawsuits are up 268 percent since 1991, rising at a rate nine times as fast as other types of federal civil litigation.”

The financial effect on business from this increase in litigation has been devastating:

“For employers, the fallout from the lawsuit boom is expensive. Employers facing discrimination lawsuits were ordered by courts to pay $101.3 million in 2005, up nearly 600 percent from $14.7 million in 1992; and employers paid another $271.6 million in settlements, up 130 percent since 1992.”

As if this wasn’t enough, the EEOC has begun a new initiative, E-RACE (Eradicating Racism and Colorism from Employment), which is designed to improve the agency’s efforts to ensure workplaces are free of race and color discrimination. As part of this new strategy, the EEOC has said that it plans to “identify issues, criteria and barriers that contribute to race and color discrimination, explore strategies to improve the administrative processing and the litigation of race and color discrimination claims, and enhance public awareness of race and color discrimination in employment.”

With this increased emphasis on workplace discrimination, it is more important than ever to develop an effective affirmative action plan. Here are some tips to help you design a road map for ending discriminatory practices in your company:

·   Show commitment – Determine your diversity goals, make a plan to reach those goals, and then work the plan to its conclusion.

·   Identify the specific inequities you want to address – Before you create your diversity plan, perform the analysis required by law to identify what imbalances exist between the makeup of your workforce and the diversity of the workforce in the surrounding area. These are the areas your plan needs to address.

·   Perform an analysis of barriers to success – You will need to list what barriers to diversity exist in your business before you can create an effective affirmative action program. Start by asking yourself if individuals from a particular class are underrepresented in a job category. If the answer is “yes,” you need to figure out why. Is it because you recruit through word of mouth, which may be perpetuating your company’s homogeneous workforce? Where do you conduct interviews for new employees? Is it accessible to all types of applicants? If you advertise in newspapers, are they readily available to different ethnic populations?

·   Target the specific practice(s) that need altering – The corrective measures you select must be designed to remedy the imbalances identified in your assessment. If your company’s interview process puts minority candidates at a disadvantage, then focus on recruiting practices. If you have a lack of inclusion in a job category because you cannot find employees with the necessary skill set, then consider a more proactive job-training program.

·   Specify a timetable to accomplish goals – Have a clear picture of what the program needs to accomplish, and when that progress needs to take place. The ultimate success of your program is dependent upon having a quantifiable time line that clearly establishes the date by which each of your goals will be accomplished.

Ten Tips for Avoiding Legal Malpractice

Statistics show that in any given year, a minimum of five to six insured lawyers out of every 100 in private practice experience a malpractice claim, according to the Colorado Bar Association. In other words, a firm with 20 lawyers could be the recipient of a claim every year. As exposure to legal malpractice claims continues to rise, it is an important function of law office management to establish effective loss prevention practices:

·   Develop a standard calendaring system – This should contain all items to be calendared, deadlines for the various cases being handled, as well as deadlines for critical events. It should also include frequent reminder dates. The most effective calendaring system will have tracking procedures that identify the author of a particular entry.

·   Know the signs of substance abuse and depression – Heavy workloads can often result in an attorney becoming depressed or compensating through substance abuse. Knowing the warning signs associated with each scenario can prevent the firm from being hit with a malpractice suit because of a dysfunctional attorney. Symptoms of substance abuse include Monday morning tiredness, missing deadlines and appointments and neglecting mail and phone calls. Behavioral changes associated with depression include misplaced anger, frequent bouts of crying, self-criticism, becoming easily distracted, and lack of interest in every day activities.

·   Maintain good client relations – When accepting a new client, an attorney should discuss the purpose for which the firm was hired, reporting schedules, fees and billing arrangements, and client obligations. All of this information needs to be documented in writing and given to the client. Also, be sure the lines of communication remain open throughout the attorney-client relationship.

·   Screen clients carefully – Establish a policy of screening clients using a pre-determined set of criteria. Hold each attorney accountable for using those criteria.

·   Conduct thorough research and investigation – Some of the most common errors include failure to correctly apply the law, failure to determine a deadline, inadequate discovery and investigation, poor planning, and errors in the choice of procedure. The attorney of record should review staff work to ensure the accuracy of their work.

·    Avoid conflicts of interest and matter – Avoiding conflicts of interest involves establishing and updating a database of all clients and matters handled. To avoid conflicts of matter, create the practice of circulating a “new matter memo” to all attorneys and support staff whenever the firm accepts a new case. 

·   Never become inappropriately involved in a client’s interests – Accepting a director role in a client’s company, investing in a client’s securities, transacting business deals with a client, agreeing to contingent cash fees, and soliciting investors for a client’s business can result in a host of problems.  For example, the firm could be held liable for the attorney’s activities as the director in a client’s company or face conflict of interest charges because of an attorney’s personal involvement or investment in a client’s business.

·   Document all work – Establish a system for verifying the accuracy and content of all documents such as letters, briefs, contracts and motions. Also create separate files to store all documents prepared or received for each client matter.

·   Avoid fee disputes – Document fees and the scope of work in all matters. Bill on a monthly basis unless the client has asked for a different arrangement. Provide the client with detailed billing statements that include who performed the work and how much time was required.

·   Never delude yourself into believing you are immune from a malpractice suit – Your best defense is to remain acutely aware of how prevalent malpractice suits have become. It is this awareness that will motivate you to establish and maintain effective loss control procedures.

The EEOC Strengthens Commitment to Filing Class Action Suits

In 2006, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission changed its strategy when it announced plans to file more class action suits. This shift was predicated on the decrease in the number of private-sector discrimination-related class action suits and increase in wage-hour class actions. As a result of this decline in discrimination class actions, the Commission’s position may indicate a trend toward more government-led class actions in this area.

The EEOC is in a unique position to litigate this type of suit because it is not required to meet the strict requirements to maintain a class action set forth in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In addition, the agency isn’t hampered by considerations of whether the monetary compensation won will be worth the expense of a trial.

The Commission is also spurred on in its decision by the belief that a national approach to litigating workplace civil rights is necessary due to a lack of consistent effort on the part of the private sector. The Commission itself is guilty of not identifying widespread discrimination in the past, and this shift is seen as attempt to make the agency more proactive.

What means will the agency use to evaluate which cases require class action treatment? Its primary sources will be:

·               Data gathered through EEO-1 surveys of private employers of 100 or more employees

·               Analyses designed by private statisticians who act as consultants to the Commission

·               Charges filed by claimants

·               Its own databases

·               Pending litigation

·               Long-term analysis of EEO-1 reports

In light of this emphasis on rooting out systemic discrimination, employers need to be increasingly vigilant. Here are some guidelines that can help you prevent becoming party to an EEOC-initiated class action suit:

1.                  Keep your affirmative action plans updated so that when analyzing, the data will identify problem areas in recruitment, hiring, transfer, promotion, compensation, termination, or other terms and conditions of employment.

2.                  Review the criteria used for hiring, firing and other personnel decisions to identify standards or actions that can be perceived as discriminatory.

3.                  Review instances in which a personnel decision impacted negatively on an employee or employees to be sure that all criteria used to make the decision was job related and the result of the need to maintain business operations.

4.                  Provide updated training for management involved in interviewing, hiring, job assignment, compensation, job advancement, and termination to ensure that they understand their obligations under the equal employment opportunity laws.

5.                  Inform management of the negative impact that e-mails have on the defense of claims, especially if careless phrases are used, insulting comments are made or e-mails are used for inappropriate purposes.

6.                  Publish company policies that spell out a zero tolerance for all forms of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Train non-management employees in those policies and their obligation to report immediately any actual or perceived harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

7.                  Post and regularly distribute policies regarding reporting harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

8.                  Develop a program through which employees receive severance pay or other consideration in exchange for executing binding releases that comply with the Older Worker Benefit Protection Act.

9.                  Keep and regularly review electronic data to identify potential problems and to avoid the possibility of it becoming damaged.

Take Steps to Prevent Workplace Bias Claims Before They Happen

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently reported that work-related bias complaints increased to 75,768 during 2006 compared with 75,428 the previous year. Discrimination complaints had previously risen to a seven-year high of 84,442 in 2002, but then steadily decreased from 2003 to 2005. The most frequent complaints have remained consistent throughout the years, including allegations of discrimination based on race, sex or retaliation.

This upward trend in the number of suits filed should raise alarms for employers everywhere. The legal cost to defend an allegation of discrimination that reaches trial has been estimated between $75,000 and $200,000. This doesn’t include hidden costs like work time lost because of gathering evidence or giving depositions. It also doesn’t include costs associated with an appeal or with payment of a final judgment.

The National Center for Preventive Law (NCPL) at the California Western School of Law in San Diego recommends that employers practice what it refers to as “preventive law.” That means assessing legal risks and instituting solutions to prevent them from occurring.

To assist employers in creating an effective prevention program, NCPL has established the following guidelines:

·            Manage Compliance – Develop a corporate policy regarding discrimination and document in the employee handbook. Document the specific ways in which corporate policy enforces compliance. Maintain a record keeping system that indicates what actions were taken if policies were violated.

·            Contain Risk – Identify overt employee conduct that could lead to a lawsuit. Also look for less obvious misconduct that encourages or promotes discrimination.

·            Respond to Change – Maintain the longevity and continuity of your policies by including mechanisms that allow for necessary updates caused by new business activities or other organizational developments.

·            State Compliance Policy – Take every opportunity to restate corporate compliance policies, including such practices as having department managers discuss them during departmental meetings or by distributing fliers that remind employees about these policies.

·            Top Level Endorsement – Provide continuing opportunities for senior management to oversee and promote corporate compliance policies.

·            Create Compliance Accountability – Hold all staff members accountable for compliance in every activity they initiate or oversee.

·            Ensure Program Fairness – Be sure practices treat all employees fairly and guard against retaliation for raising compliance issues.

·            Maintain High-Level Oversight – Establish a Compliance Officer who has the authority to initiate, coordinate and review corporate compliance efforts.

·            Reward Success – Promote continued compliance through rewards such as monetary compensation.

National Council on Compensation Insurance Says Younger Workers Are More Accident Prone

According to a study conducted by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, younger workers have more injuries and illnesses than older workers; but older workers have higher costs per claim. The researchers discovered that age is an important factor in overall claim costs, but the significance of age on claims frequency has lessened. This has been interpreted to mean that age may not play an important role in future frequency trends. However, the relationship between age and claim severities is basically unchanged.

Factors associated with age, such as average wages, claim durations, lump-sum payments, injury diagnoses, and number of medical treatments, comprised a large part of the reason for the differences in the severity of claims between younger and older workers. The differences in wages and duration of claims were the principal reasons for the differences in the amount of payouts between younger and older workers. Differences in wages accounted for approximately one third of the differences in the amount of payout, while the differences in the duration of claims accounted for almost one half the difference.

Older workers experience more high cost injuries, such as injuries to joints like rotator cuffs and knees. These were more commonly experienced by workers aged 45-64.  Workers aged 20-34 more commonly experienced ankle sprains. Carpal tunnel syndrome and injuries to the lower back are among the top 10 diagnoses for workers of all ages. The researchers pointed out that the differences in the types of injuries only comprised about a quarter of the difference in medical severities between younger and older workers. The real factor influencing the difference in medical severities between older and younger workers was the significantly higher number and different mix of treatments within a diagnosis. This alone accounted for 70 percent of the difference.

Less than 10 percent of the difference in medical severities is due to a slightly more costly mix of treatments for older workers. This was reflected in small differences in the average prices of different types of medical services. The greater number and different mix of treatments also contribute to the longer duration of payments for older workers.

As for trends in loss costs, the researchers noted that the baby boomers’ impact was apparent when the data was viewed historically, but the major impact of this aging workforce has probably already occurred and employers should not anticipate that the aging workforce would present a major problem in terms of future claims costs.

Naturally Occurring Substances Can Expose Construction Firms to Environmental Liability

What do silica, mercury, arsenic, pyrite, and asbestos have in common? They all are recognized as toxic substances, or contain toxic substances as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Their very presence on a construction site presents a serious exposure for a construction contractor.

There are potentially hazardous consequences when these toxic substances are uncovered during construction:

·   Mercury – is a human neurotoxin; meaning it acts specifically on neurons or nerve cells. It is most hazardous to developing fetuses and small children. Eating mercury-contaminated fish is the way most humans become exposed. When mercury enters water, certain conditions can cause it to convert to methyl mercury. Methyl mercury is ingested by aquatic creatures and becomes more concentrated as it moves along the food chain. Humans receive the highest forms of concentration because they are at the end of this food chain.

·   Pyrite – has a high sulfur content, which if exposed to oxygen or water will form sulfuric acid. When a construction project releases significant amounts of pyrite into the surrounding area, it can result in high amounts of acid drainage, which enters surrounding bodies of water. The acid drainage contaminates streams and water wells of area residents.

·   Asbestos – has little or no impact on the environment and human health if left undisturbed. However, when construction releases natural asbestos fibers into the atmosphere, it exposes workers and residents of the surrounding area to respiratory hazards. Asbestos is known to cause cancer of the lungs and of the lining of internal organs.

·   Silica – is most dangerous in the crystalline form known as silicon dioxide. People who have been exposed to silica and contract silica-related respiratory conditions usually have inhaled tridymite or crystobalite contained in the dust released during construction. Although all forms of crystalline silica are different in chemical structure, all can eventually be deadly.

·   Arsenic – has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate. Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis, and blindness.

What specific implications does the presence of these toxic substances have on environmental liability insurance?  Many of these policies contain wording that excludes these naturally occurring substances from the coverage. In Contractor’s Pollution Liability Insurance (CPL), there are several ways exposure to naturally occurring hazards may be excluded. For example, the insurer could include a specific exclusion for naturally occurring substances in the exclusions section of the policy. No coverage would apply to claims based upon any naturally occurring substances in their unaltered form, or in an altered form due to naturally occurring processes.

A second way to exclude these substances from coverage is to exclude them by definition. In the policy’s definition of covered pollution conditions, the definition does not include naturally occurring substances. Pollution conditions are defined as the emission, discharge, dispersal, release or escape of pollutants, which are not naturally occurring. This negates coverage for these substances.

Does this mean you shouldn’t purchase a CPL policy? The answer to that question would be “no.” There are a number of different policy forms. Talk to your insurance agent to get the one that is best suited to your needs. 

Is Your Cyber-Policy Really Covering Your Technology-Related Exposures?

As businesses become increasingly reliant on technology to store sensitive information, the incidences of security breaches are becoming more prevalent. Each security breach increases the risk that a lawsuit or regulatory action could financially ruin a company and permanently damage its reputation. The situation is so bad, that some retailers and financial institutions targeted by litigation and regulatory actions are trying to hold their technology vendors accountable so they can transfer some of the fallout.

Many companies find themselves financial victims because they don’t buy insurance that addresses the many exposures related to security breaches. In some instances, a breach can trigger the need for a number of coverages, including crime, errors and omissions, employment practices liability, general liability, property and directors and officers liability. The so-called “cyber” policies address only one aspect of the exposure, the theft of information, money and identities through the Internet. That’s because these are major problems that are on the rise. According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, since February 2005, there have been more than 260 major security breaches involving nearly 100 million personal records. But if a company has only this basic coverage, they may not be prepared if disaster strikes. They should consider a more company-wide approach that includes insurance coverage for all possible exposures associated with a breach.

At the very least, your cyber policy should provide coverage in the following general risk areas:

·   Defense Coverage – Some policies limit the insurer’s duty to defend to actual lawsuits. That means that the insurer isn’t required to defend the insured against a claim, which may or may not result in a lawsuit. Others extend the duty to defend to all claims. You should look for the provision to defend against all claims in a cyber policy. You also need to review the policy in terms of who has the right to choose the attorney who will defend the claim. Many insurers can provide a choice of counsel provision that allows the company to make that choice. Talk to your insurer about having this provision incorporated into your policy.

·   Business-to-Business Coverage vs. Business-to-Consumer Coverage – If you want coverage for either or both of these risks, you have to make this known to your insurer. You need to be sure that the various exclusions and/or conditions necessary to minimize gaps in either coverage are present in your policy. These include electric/mechanical breakdown exclusion; breach of security exclusion; bodily injury/property damage exclusion; and employee malicious conduct exclusion.

·   Intellectual Property Infringement Coverage – All cyber insurance policies provide some level of intellectual property infringement coverage. However, some policies offer less coverage than others. Some even exclude coverage for software copyright infringement. Review the policy before you purchase to understand how much protection you have in this area. Most insurers are willing to insure software copyright infringement risk for an additional premium.

Remember, cyber insurance is like health insurance, you should customize your coverage to suit your company’s needs. Your best defense is to talk with your insurance agent to develop a plan that is right for you.