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Fearful claimants generate higher workers comp costs

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Researchers at Lockton Cos. L.L.C. found that whenever an injured worker mentioned the word “fear” or a synonym to a claims adjuster, that claim was more likely to head to costly litigation, according to a new study.

In the study, released Tuesday, 39% of lost-time claims that went to litigation had “fear words” in the claim adjusters’ notes. 

In terms of cost, 84% of lost-time litigated claims that cost insurers and employers more than $100,000 saw “fear words” in adjuster notes. For claims costing more than $50,000, 75% of them had notes with similar wording. 

The research, compiled in a white paper entitled “Leading with Empathy,” also found a correlation between uncertainty in the claims process and the prevalence of attorney representation.

Researchers examined claims adjuster notes in $16 billion in workers compensation claims representing 65 million transactions in Lockton’s property/casualty database over an unspecified time frame. Some examples of claims adjusters’ notes culled for the study included: 

• “She told me she was scared about her future and felt she needed to speak to someone.”

• “The employee reports extreme distressing thoughts, such as tearful, anxious, angry, and at times, overwhelmed by the current situation, which he perceives to be never-ending.”

• “The employee is worried that the employer will fire him after he is returned to work.”

Authors of the white paper wrote that “one of the most common cost drivers of workers compensation is a lack of communication … The average lost-time claims costs 3.5 times more when words such as ‘fear’ and ‘afraid’ are recorded in adjuster conversations.” 

“By changing the process, the experience for the claimant can be improved and the resulting claim costs can be lowered,” the paper states. “We believe through this research and our work with clients that litigation is an outcome, and through improved processes and strategies, can be controlled … It is important that managers are trained in active listening and showing empathy.”