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Who You Gonna’ Call, Ghostbusters?

A real risk management plan.

For some of us, the worst part of any accident is after the bleeding has stopped or the victim is in the hospital. What happens next? Who should be contacted and how? Who should do the calling? Many times, insurance companies seemingly train us to play “Ostrich.” Stick our heads in the ground, hide and ignore what may be happening all around us. For example, take a look at the back of you your automobile insurance card. On most insurance cards, you are instructed to say nothing to anyone except the police.

For this industry, this may be the wrong advice. For most of you, this may sound heretical. However, to do something different will definitely strike fear in the hearts of insurance companies and defense attorneys. (Yeah, as if an insurance company has a heart to scare! [Just kidding guys!])

One of the big reasons most of us are in this business is because we like two things: the outdoors, and people. We develop great relationships with the people we introduce to the wilderness and help some of them to make changes in their lives. We are in the business watching our guests to see new vistas both inside and in front of them. To wreck that experience after an accident occurs is contrary to your goals and desires. It is also contrary to the basic decency and curtsey you were taught as a child. Why not take the parts of the experience you enjoy and the relationship you have created and build on it when disaster occurs.

Let’s look at some examples:

OSTRICH RISK MANAGEMENT PLAN

In this scenario, you are notified that a disaster has occurred. One person is dead and several people are badly hurt. You have everyone transported to where they can be treated. The injured are taken to the hospital; the deceased to the morgue; and everyone else safely to a hotel. Then you run home, turn out the lights, and hide under your bed. While you are hiding, this is what is occurring.

Hospital: Hello? Mrs. Smith? Mrs. Smith, this is Nurse Jane Fuzzywuzzy at Metropolitan Memorial Hospital. I need to know if your husband is allergic to any drugs or medications.

Mrs. Smith has been celebrating the fact her husband and breadwinner is gone for a week playing testosterone games. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, she is answering questions about her husband’s medical needs with no warning and without hearing any other information, such as how the accident occurred.

Hospital Pay Phone call to Jane Brown: Jane? Jane! Oh, Jane! It was terrible. It was a disaster! I don’t know what happened, but I think Bill is hurt bad. The hospital will not tell me anything. (Patient privacy laws remember?). I called you just as soon as I could….

Jane has been worried for a week. She just knew something was going to happen while Bill was gone. Then she gets a hysterical phone call from one of Bill’s friends from the hospital, and no one told her anything.

Sheriff’s Department (on voice mail): Ms. Jones, this is Deputy Dawg of the Monumental Screw Up County Sheriff’s department. I’m sorry to inform you that your husband, Jim or was it John, darn, I can’t read my own notes, anyway he was rock climbing with XYZ Rock Climbing company, you know those hippies down on the other side of town, they look funny, well they killed him today rock climbing. If you have any questions, you can just call back here and ask for me. Ok? Good-bye.

Ms. Jones was just told by the sheriff’s department that someone killed her husband. She is alone, lost and destroyed.

All three of these people, unexpectedly have had their lives turned upside down. Let’s look at what is running through their minds.

Questions! They all have questions. What happened? How did it happen? Are they going to be all right? How do I get to where they are to take care of them? How do I pay to get to where they are? How do I get his body home? Who is going to help me? How am I going to survive? Whom can I call for help? What am I going to do without him?

Now let look at some better scenarios.

Scene 1 and 2

At Your Office as Soon as you were notified of a Problem: Mrs. Smith, this is Bob Jones of ABC Company. Your husband was injured today while climbing with us. He is being transported to Metropolitan Memorial Hospital. I do not know his condition is at this time, but I am on my way to the hospital right now to check on him. As soon as I learn anything, I will call you back. Do you have something to write on, I want to give you my telephone numbers. The office 800 number here is 877-Don’t Die. If you call here and I’m not here, ask for Suzy. My cell phone number is 123-456-7890. My home telephone number is 102-345-6789. My name is Bob Jones. It will take me about 45 minutes to get to the hospital. As soon as I find out anything, I will call you right away.

At Hospital: Mrs. Smith, this is Bob Jones, I just was talking to your husband’s doctor, (or here is your husband’s doctor). Your husband is going to recover fully. He broke his arm while climbing. His Doctor’s name is Dr. Wacko, and his telephone number is 321-654-0987. The hospital is Local Memorial Hospital, and the telephone number is 231-465-0897. I am not sure what his room number is, but as soon as I find out, I will call you back. As soon as I can talk to your husband, I will also call you back. Is there anything else I can do for you at this time? I am going to stay here so call me if you have any more questions. Just call my cell phone number you still have that number correct? Great, I’ll call you in a bit. I’m glad your husband will be all right.

After Husband is in Hospital Room. Mrs. Smith, this is Bob Jones, here is your husband. Then hand the telephone to the husband.

After Mrs. Smith has talked to her husband. Mr. Smith, here is my home, cellular and office telephone numbers. Call me any time if you need anything. Is there anything I can get for you right now? Ok, I’ll stop back tomorrow morning and see how you are doing. The doctor said you are going to be discharged tomorrow. I will start to arrange to make sure you can get home, as soon as I get back to my office.

Next Day. Hello Mr. Smith, how are you today. I talked to your wife on the way over here. She said she would be here about noon and expects to take your home right after that. How are you feeling? Great. I brought you this ABC Company T-shirt, and I have a rain check here for you. When you arm heals up, we would like you to come back and finish your day of rock climbing. You have my telephone number, so if you need anything or have any questions give me a call. It was nice meeting you, and I am very sorry you were hurt, as we discussed before you went out on the trip, occasionally accidents do happen when climbing, but we sure are sorry it happened to you. I hope you come back and see us again.

Next Week. Hello Mr. Smith, how are you? This is Bob Jones from ABC Company. I just thought I would call and see how you are doing. Great, I am glad things are going fine. Still have my telephone numbers? Great. It has been nice talking to you take care of yourself. Give me a call when you are ready to go climbing again.

Some of you might argue this is setting you up for a lawsuit, but how? You have done nothing except be nice and courteous, (the way your mother would expect you to act). Worst-case scenario is you are sued. The worst-case scenario is the same either way. Even if everything you did was presented to a jury, what could be used against you? You acted as a kind and courteous businessperson. You did not admit liability, you reinforced the language in your release, and you helped an injured human being.

Scene 3

When a death occurs, you must do some research immediately. Contact any friends of the deceased who were on the trip when the accident occurred and learn as much as you can. Find out who you can call to go visit the deceased’s family. Call that person and have them go to the family’s house to be there. If those people are not available, or in addition to that person, call the person’s minister or priest if possible.

“Mrs. Jones, this is Bob Jones of ABC Company. Mrs. Jones, I am sorry to tell you that your husband was fatally injured today rock climbing. I am not sure what happened, as soon as we learn something I will call you and let you know. Mrs. Jones, is there anyone I can call for you, I have all ready called your priest and Mrs. Neighbor and asked them to come over to your house. Do you have something to write with, I want to give you my telephone numbers so you can contact me? The office 800 number here is 877 Did Die. If you call here and I am not here, ask for Suzy. My cell phone number is 123-456-7890. My home telephone number is 102-345-6789. My name is Bob Jones. As soon as I find out what happened, I will call you back and let you know. I will also call you back and talk to you when I find out what the authorities have done with your husband and how we can transport him back to you.”

The critical component in all three of these telephone calls is you. You are there to answer their questions. They have your telephone number to use to call a nice, friendly, helpful person to answer their questions. You are not creating hospital or bureaucratic nightmares. You are not allowing the system to create a disaster for you. You are attempting to ease their problems.

The call from the previous paragraph about the fatality is not going to be easy. In fact, people are going to be crying and screaming on the phone. However, it will pay off both for you and for the family. I know I have made those phone calls.

In a fatality, many counties require the Sheriff’s department or the corner to make the notification of the death. That is done usually by having the local law enforcement authorities stop by in person. Make sure you stay on top of the situation. In one case, it took twelve hours from the time of death to notify the family because of bureaucratic delays. The family did not need this. You should work with the authorities to notify the family in a timely and kind manner.

Many times, you will be confronted with angry or even hostile responses. Do not waiver; continue with the same calm helpful tone of voice. Do not bow down, hide, or become angry. Just continue to help. Some people when faced with these situations react in ways that might be difficult to deal with. In those situations, they will eventually calm down and thank you for your response. Becoming angry or hostile will just send them to an attorney quicker.

The other reason people hide from this duty is time. They believe they do not have the time to respond to these situations. Let’s look at this from a couple of different perspectives. If you lose your company, you will have plenty of time to do anything you want, stand in unemployment lines, stand in free food lines, or sit and feed pigeons in the park. In addition, the time you spend working with your injured clients may save you hundreds of hours later. If you are sued, think about how much time you will miss from your business for trials, depositions, working with your attorneys and everything else that is involved with defending a suit. Finally, consider it marketing time. If someone has been injured, they are going to tell everyone at work, school, church, and in their community. They can either put a good spin or a bad spin on how they were treated. One description of the facts can help your company immensely; the other can only hurt you. The opportunity is in your hands.

SEVEN IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER!

1. You should make the phone calls from your base of operation. Not from the field. The trip leaders have their hand full with the living, the bleeding, and the dead they do not have the time or energy to deal with calling people. (Why everyone carries client emergency contact information with them in the field is beyond me. Yet, every time I tell someone to leave it behind, they are aghast!). They are already emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. They do not need any additional responsibilities. You have access to telephones, faxes, and the Internet. You are set up for communication. If you are running international treks, you are prepared to call overseas cheaply and easily. If you are US based, you can give the people a local number or an 800 number to call you back.

2. You are familiar with the travel business! This is a promise, I am making too you. If someone dies on your trip, the family will show up at the scene someday to see what happened. Ninety-nine percent of the time!, I had a Risk Management Seminar graduate call me to tell me that a family had come from Pakistan to the East Coast to see where their relative had died. They will come.

Knowing this, you can help them arrive and take care of them while they are on-site. You have relationships with the airlines that will allow you to get these people to your location quickly and easily. You can meet them at the airport and help them to a hotel. You know the hotel owners because you market to them every day. You know what the family of the injured or deceased does not know. If you have a guest who is going to spend several days or more in your local hospital, the family will come to the bedside of the injured person. Why not be prepared, help them get to where they need to be, stay and go home. It is better to know they are coming, then to be introduced, unexpectedly, in a hospital room. Eating alone in a strange city is intimidating. The chance to take someone out and provide them with a non-hospital kitchen meal will do wonders for them and your relationship. You can answer their questions; you can get to know them. You can become their friend. You can provide them with a source of information. You can show them you are a human being, not just a nameless face. A human being is hard to sue. A nameless face and a Company are easy to sue.

3. Who would you want to call if a member of your family was injured? Would you want a telephone call from the company your family member was with when they were injured or died? I believe you would. I also believe that everyone would. In every single deposition, I have attended or read at some point a family member says, “They didn’t even call me.”

People want some connection. People believe what their mother taught them more than what insurance companies want them to do. Our mothers taught us to make that telephone call.

4. The family members are going to have questions, and they will stop at nothing to have them answered. Here again, at every single trial, at every single deposition, at some time during every negotiation the attorney hears the comment “they would not even return my telephone calls to tell me what happened.”

You may not have the answers, but that still does not mean the questions are not going to be asked. If you do not answer the questions, the family will find someone to force you to answer them. That person will be an attorney. One of the great lines used by attorneys to clinch the sale is “I’ll get you your answers.” For most attorneys, that translates to we will use this excuse to get money out of the defendant. In addition, it works if the family member does not know how or why their loved one died. You understand what happens on the river or in the mountains. Those who stay at home have no idea what occurs, except what they see on television.

After a while, the desire to have those questions answered may go away, but the attorney can keep the desire alive or can roll that desire into the desire for money. One emotion, grief is converted to another emotion, greed. If they do not answer the question, they should pay. The desire for money never goes away.

I had this happen to me personally. I was in Salt Lake City years ago when the tornado hit that town. I ended up performing CPR on the one man who died. A month later, his widow called me. I did not have any answers for her, and she knew that. However, she wanted a connection with the last person to deal with her husband. I talked about what I did, what I thought, how it happened from my eyes. She was extremely grateful. Some call this closure; some might call it answering questions, whatever it is people wanted to know.

5. You can provide them with a central number to help with many of their problems. They can call you to get answers. They can call you to get personal property back. They can call you for transportation. They can call you to find the rest of their party. You, of all the people involved, are going to have the most answers.

I was working for a business when a guest was involved in an accident and became a quadriplegic. The mother in law of the injured guest called wanting to know where the guest’s watch was. It took time to find the medical report that stated the watch had been put inside the guest’s mitten, and then stuffed inside his coat pocket. I faxed that report to the mother in law. She called me back to say they had found the watch. She thanked me for my efforts, and she thanked the resort for their efforts on behalf of her son-in-law. People, who thank you for your help do not sue, and that family did not sue.

6. You are going to present the best front for your company. Not everyone else the family members deal with will present your business in a good light. Hospitals and the people who work there only see adventure activities as dangerous. They only see the injured people coming through the doors; they do not see the thousands of people having fun. The sheriff department and the state or federal land management agency just sees paperwork because people are injured. The only see numbers, whether 1 or 100 it is more work for them. Here again, they do not see the happy satisfied customers.

7. You DO NOT tell the family member you killed their loved one.

REMEMBER

A. Look up the emergency numbers your clients provided. Review the other information you have to see if it has any other information you may need to know. Have someone else determine the quickest way for the family to get to your location. Make the telephone call.

Tell them what happened to their loved one. Tell them where that person is and how to get there. Give them your name and telephone number so they can call you if they have any more questions. Tell them you will call them back the next day to check on them. Be prepared to tell them what happened, if you know. Provide facts, not guesses or opinions. If you were not there, you cannot guess or speculate. Ask them if they want to come to the hospital/scene. Tell them if they do not know you can help arrange for them. Do not speculate do not lie both will condemn you.

Many times, they will call you back after the initial shock wears off. They will call back to ask more questions. Be prepared for that. Again, ask them if they want to come. You need to know what they are going to do. You need to know if relatives are going to be out looking around at your business or the accident scene.

If they do want to come, pick up some of the tab if you can. “I’ve made arrangements for you to stay at the Bad Bed Motel. I can pick you up at the airport and take you to the hospital and then to the motel. What else can I do to help you?”

Think about the situation that person is in and what you would want to have done if you were in their shoes. What you would want to know, what questions would you have? If you cannot come up with anything, ask your spouse or mother. Mother’s are great at this.

Do they have the money to rent a car? Can you provide them with a car and driver? They may be lonely in a new town, have dinner with them or invite them over for dinner.

If you are dealing with a death, contact a mortician and find out what needs to occur. Become the intermediary to help. Tell the people you will go to the airport with the deceased to make sure things work smoothly. Call them from the airport and tell them the body is on the flight, and the flight left 20 minutes late (I fly out of Denver) and the expected time of arrival.

Keep in touch over time. After the second call on the second day, call the next day. Skip a day and call again. Call a week later. Continue to stay in touch. After six months tell them, you probably will not call again, unless they want you too. Tell them to call you any time, and if there is anything else, they need to let you know.

Your insurance company is afraid you are going to admit liability. If you are smart enough to subscribe to the law review, you will not say something stupid. Be honest, answer questions. Tell them the river, the weather, or Mother Nature acts in ways you cannot control, and you could not predict. Tell them you are sorry for their loss. Act the way your mother taught you, and you may not have to act the way your lawyer says you must.

Conclusion

You have a great opportunity to prevent litigation if you do not play ostrich. That telephone call will be tough. However, when you are done, you will feel better 90% of the time.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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