2017 Annual Conference Highlight – Working with Defense Counsel and Claims Professionals

Submitted by Abbey Hudson on Fri, 06/09/2017 - 14:17

In a session titled, “Challenges & Opportunities in Educating Defense Counsel”, moderated by Nolan Robinson, Kathy Martin of AIG P&C and John Kouris, Executive Director of the Defense Research Institute (DRI) discussed best practices for working with defense counsel and claims professionals. The DRI is the world’s largest defense bar organization, 21,500 members, and John Kouris shared his organization’s perspective on structured settlements.

Defense counsel is not against structured settlements
      John Kouris surveyed a sample of DRI members to find out how they feel about structured settlements. Not one DRI member said that they oppose structured settlements. Instead, members commented that they would like to use structured settlements more because of the benefits to their clients. However, there are elements of the process that are challenging – document review, in particular.

Structured settlement consultants need to explain the value they bring to the process
      Attorneys in some areas of defense work are more familiar with structured settlements – Worker’s Compensation, Product Liability and Insurance Law being a few. However, structured settlement consultants are a critical part of the process, and defense counsel may not be aware of the ways that a structured settlement consultant can add value. One of these areas is the document review process that defense counsel finds challenging. Kathy Martin mentioned that AIG P&C claims professionals encourage defense counsel to allow the consultant to explain the settlement offer and present the quote. In the same way a defense attorney would consult a medical professional for specifics about a claimant’s physical health, a structured settlement consultant should be deferred to as the expert on the comprehensive settlement plan.

Education for defense counsel is key, and formal education is the best route
      While consultants can reach out to defense attorneys on an individual basis to provide education, a broader, more formal educational process would be the most effective. Exposure at a high level is possible – NSSTA or member companies can provide content for webcasts for defense counsel, can attend seminars and conferences and provide CLE credits through NSSTA University. In these scenarios, all DRI members can benefit and consultants can build a new set of strong structured settlements advocates.

Claims professionals, counsel and consultants all have a role – and should respect lines of authority
      Knowledge about the role everyone plays in the settlement process is important on all sides of a case. Defense counsel has a professional, legal liability that requires them to be responsible for certain aspects of a negotiation. In the survey completed before this presentation, DRI members gave examples of times that this line was crossed – including scenarios where consultants went as far as negotiating and settling a claim without the knowledge or involvement of defense counsel. Conversely, Kathy Martin is aware of times that a claims professional puts too much responsibility on structured settlement consultants, expecting them to manage claims handling responsibilities. Ultimately, a team works best if all parties are aware of what responsibility they have and what expertise and experience other parties bring to the process. Part of good collaboration is knowing what part you play.

Claims professionals are the quarterback
      Collaboration between a claims professional, defense counsel and structured settlement consultant creates huge value in resolving a claim. Getting a structured settlement consultant involved early in the planning and preparation stages before a mediation is key, and claims professionals can work with defense counsel and the consultant to make that happen. Claims professionals can help manage the document review process, can ensure that defense counsel understands the roles of the parties and can help consultants exert their authority.

Commission disputes have no place in the settlement process
     Claims professionals promote structured settlements because they help resolve cases, and because the outcome benefits all parties involved. However, if a commission dispute is brought into the settlement process, and delays resolution of the matter, structured settlements become less valuable as a tool for the claims professional.  Making sure that splits are accurate is important, but disputes should not interfere with settling cases.