Whether the scene is a parking lot, an apartment building or a hotel, a premises negligent security claim can never be taken lightly.
Property owners or insurance carriers who face premises negligent security claims should be prepared to complete a thorough investigation when an incident occurs, explained Bill O’Connell, National Casualty Manager at Engle Martin & Associates Inc., a leading national independent loss adjusting and claims management provider based in Atlanta.
Managing the appropriate response, O’Connell noted, requires an adjuster who understands the nuances of these types of claims, which often result in lofty demands by claimants. Typically, they are presented as personal injury claims, although there can be physical damage claims as well.
According to 25-year claims liability veteran O’Connell, the most common premises negligent security cases are filed against malls, hotels, motels, apartment/condominium complexes, schools and casinos, but there are many venues where this type of claim can arise. Security claims frequently occur in unmonitored locations such as parking lots and garages, elevators, stairwells, hallways, bathrooms and common areas.
Privately held and owner operated, Engle Martin’s staff of liability adjusters, who cover 46 states, are experienced claim professionals trained to identify the key elements of a quality, thorough premises negligent investigation.
O’Connell says Engle Martin’s interviews with potential witnesses are tactful and concise, with adjusters recording a descriptive summary of the conversation. O’Connell added that the investigative reporting tactics Engle Martin employs are discussed directly with defense counsel, making the deliverable non-discoverable for plaintiff’s attorneys.
“Our expertise coupled with years of working with defense attorneys, allows us to deliver the information necessary to resolve the matter at hand, whether it be via the right settlement or defense” he said. “And that only comes through experience and extensive professional training. When these claims get litigated, judges and juries are looking to determine what danger could ‘reasonably’ have been foreseen and, thus, avoided,” O’Connell added. “But in many cases, this is a vague standard and potential claim payers need to rely on experienced adjusters and investigators to help them mount a strong defense.”
O’Connell added that when a premises liability investigation for criminal acts is initiated, it requires a true “boots on the ground” type of response, not one over the telephone from a remote location. “We deliver the thorough investigation a client should expect, and it is often a critical link in a successful defense,” O’Connell said. “In order to effectively defend these claims, you need to obtain the best information possible and that can require using techniques that not every claims operation has in its arsenal.”
For example, O’Connell, who is based out of the corporate office in Atlanta, said the face-to-face interviews that Engle Martin conducts can often turn up discrepancies in the original claim information.
“It is critical to be hands-on and get out in the field and interview people – everyone from the management staff to potential witnesses,” he said. “You also have to perform an in-depth analysis of the police report, and gather crime statistics on the location in question.”
“As is the case in many insurance claims,” O’Connell says, “Engle Martin’s focus – and what we believe to be our main differentiator in the industry – is getting our investigators on location quickly.” If a carrier is put on notice of a claim where a person has been assaulted at an apartment complex, for example, and does not react timely to have the matter investigated, key details to the case can slip through the cracks and make building a defense difficult. Engle Martin’s process is to ensure that clients have a reliable partner and quick reporting mechanism in place.
“Memories fade quickly and witnesses can be hard to find,” he said. “You also can’t always rely solely on police reports. We work diligently to uncover any and every possible detail that can be used to properly evaluate each claim and make the right decision as quickly as possible.”
“We have a strong recurring client base,” O’Connell said. “Times change and people come and go, but the vast majority of our client relationships are long-term because they recognize the value of our approach. That speaks volumes about our people, track record and history.”