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Why a formal process for incident investigations can mitigate lawsuits

Save yourself a headache by having a system in place
  • With a robust investigation process in place, property owners can limit their liability and place the responsibility where it belongs. In the event of a lawsuit, a good defense is having and using a robust incident investigation process.
  • A lack of formal procedures can significantly cost you or your business.
  • Property owners and managers should have a formal incident investigation policy and process along with forms to document witness statements, date and time of the incident and any other pertinent information.

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Each day, thousands of insurance claims are filed by property owners and managers without proper investigation. There are numerous examples of property owners being held legally responsible for incidents that might not be their responsibility.

With a robust investigation process in place, property owners can limit their liability and place the responsibility where it belongs. In the event of a lawsuit, a good defense is having and using a robust incident investigation process.

Without systems in place, you’re vulnerable

Several employees at a large apartment complex were watching the security cameras when they saw a resident being assaulted on the property.

The employees who witnessed the event did not know to save the video footage, respond to the incident or document any statements about the incident.

To receive compensation from the assault, the resident sued the property owner, falsely claiming an injury from slipping on ice while walking up the front steps of the building.

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The property owner was unable to dispute the claim and could not prove that the resident received injuries from an unrelated event. Because no incident process existed, employees did not respond properly, and the property owner was forced to file an insurance claim under their policy and bear the full cost.

This is one example in which having an incident investigation process in place would have saved the property owner time and litigation fees.

If there had been a formal process in place, the employees would have saved the security camera footage, immediately gone to the scene of the incident to take photographs and documented witness statements.

These steps might have lessened the cost of the insurance claim or prevented them from having to file a claim at all.

A formal process and policy for incident investigation

Although property owners and managers understand the importance of an incident investigation process, many fail to implement a formal policy.

The lack of formality has proven to be detrimental in many cases. When employees have a designated process to follow, it eliminates any second-guessing about what to document, and it raises their awareness to certain situations.

A formalized process also allows managers to compare separate incidents easier by using a uniform data collection process.

Property owners and managers should have a formal incident investigation policy and process along with forms to document witness statements, date and time of the incident and any other pertinent information.

To assist property owners and managers through the claim reporting process, we suggest the following steps after the incident is reported:

  • Take photographs of the area where the incident occurred; timeliness is important to maintain the environment where the incident occurred
  • Write down statements from the injured person or someone who witnessed the incident; compare statements between individuals to maintain facts from the incident
  • Document current weather conditions at the time of the incident
  • Check all security camera footage to verify any recording of the incident
  • Make sure the insurance carrier receives all additional facts from the incident to properly file and document the claim.
  • Follow up with the injured person or inspect the affected area after the initial investigation to confirm all deficiencies have been or are being corrected.

Whenever an incident occurs on a property, the property owner and manager’s first impulse will be to correct the issue.

However, implementing a proper incident investigation process is the best line of defense in understanding the cause of incidents and in mitigating future claims.

Mark Lee is a risk consultant at HUB International.

Email Mark Lee.