The claim process is complex and best handled by a professional
By Paul Berne
The typical independent school bus contractor essentially has two customers: the contracting school system and the parents of the pupils being transported. This makes the claim process much more complex as the school bus carrier must consider the needs and requirements of both groups.
Components in the contract between the school district and the school bus operator may require claims to be handled and reported differently than for other bus operators. The contract also may require higher coverage limits.
School bus operators know all too well the heightened expectations of parents and guardians of the students they transport and the emotional aspect of any claim involving even a minor injury or loss to property.
School bus contractors also have to balance state regulations relating to school buses, drivers and pupil transportation with the specific requirements of the school system, which only adds complexity to the claims process.
All claims require prompt reporting to an insurer and immediate analysis of the type of response they require. School bus claims have the added step of ensuring parents, guardians, system administrators and the school bus operator responses are all effectively coordinated.
While dealing with the parents of the students involved and tending to the myriad administrative issues, not to mention the complex repair process that now lies ahead, school bus contractors must at the same time keep the buses rolling on.
The expense of all this is significant, as is trying to get paid by the at-fault party or the insurer. Finding time to handle the many details, the contractor invariably runs into the proverbial brick walls of unreturned phone calls and arguments over liability, only to receive an offer that is about half of what it cost to fix the school bus.
Without assistance of a reputable insurer with enough experience to know what the details entail, a school bus contractor figuring this out on his own is apt to glide over or omit entirely costly considerations.
While insurance adjusters know how to aggressively investigate claims and to do what they can to reduce the loss to their company, operators should expect aggressive application of fault against their driver, or even outright denial of their claim even in situations where fault is seemingly clearly with the other party.
The key to effectively dealing with this lies in the strength of the investigation in support of the school bus contractor’s claim, and knowing how to counter the arguments of the adverse insurer. There also will be times when the adverse insurer may raise issues relating to the at-fault coverage it provides. The insurance adjuster for the operator should be able to evaluate those coverage defenses and know how to argue when they are without merit. Also, the method of documenting loss and the presentation of a properly prepared submission can make a big difference. Insurance carriers specializing in passenger transportation that assist their customers with this will know the best method to get the information prepared and delivered to the adverse carrier.
Usually there is no consideration for expenses related to putting another school bus into service to replace the damaged vehicle. The cost soars, especially when it may involve a larger fleet and multiple accidents. The primary components of the claim are the cost to repair, down time, replacement vehicle cost as indicated.
The operator can submit any additional expense that can be documented, though the adverse carrier will not necessarily consider and pay all of the expenses submitted. Expenses relating to the administrative cost of preparing a claim might also be included. This is when it is essential to work with an insurer with highly experienced bus claim professionals who know how to walk the operator through all the components.
Policy holders deserve to have their claims handled by a company who can present evidence in school bus accidents and argue their side of the case.
For over 25 years, Lancer Insurance, Long Beach, NY, has provided its customers with loss recovery assistance at no charge. This service also applies to any claim reported in which the damage repair bill falls below the collision deductible. Lancer considers it part of what a school bus contractor pays for in insurance, saying it is part of the adjusting process.
Joe Annunziato, a Lancer claim professional in its Plainview, NY claims office, who has recovered over $1 million for Lancer policyholders, says the key to success lies in the continuing communication between the insurer and the policyholders.
According to Annunziato, each side must understand what the other requires for the process to work smoothly.
The insurer will review with the school bus operator what types of documentation it maintains and in what form they need to be prepared. This could include information relating to schedules of operation, documents indicating revenue per vehicle and internal costs relating to temporary repairs and depreciation. The most critical aspects of the communication are in the explanation by the insurance adjuster of how the process works and an ongoing dialogue as the documentation is prepared.
“I copy my clients on all correspondence that I send to the other insurer,” he says. “Many school bus contractors do not have the time or expertise to pursue economic recovery from the other party’s insurer and consequently let them off the hook. Our policyholders no longer have to be out the time and money.”
He says he gives the other insurer two weeks to review his correspondence before he begins calling them.
Thereafter the operator should expect requests from the adverse insurer for additional information and their offers. If the process does not go smoothly, the adjuster will then describe options for litigation, collections and other activities relating to recovery.
Lancer guides its customers through the steps necessary to document their claims to include down time, replacement and repair costs and administrative expenses.
Each claim is unique. Adverse carriers are also very different in terms of the way they will respond to the claim we submit on behalf of the policyholder. The company will help in making the contacts with the at-fault parties or their insurance company and also assist with the often complex negotiations process, as well as the collections or lawsuit process that can ensue.
As any contractor knows, a school bus operation is time consuming and requires constant attention. Think of the time spent on accident damage recovery and how frequently operators do not get paid what they are owed. With a knowledgeable insurer that time can be cut in half if not more with recoveries increased at the same time.
Paul R. Berne serves as senior vice president, claims, Lancer Insurance Company, Long Beach, NY.