When a calamity strikes your company, what's the best way to handle potential mass claims for damage or injury?
The recent Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, Calif., and the BP oil spill in 2010 offer just two examples of how multinational corporations have handled mass claims.
While a company's efforts may not prevent all potential lawsuits, following an established (and humane) claims-handling process can pay off, both financially and in terms of goodwill. Here are five lessons you can learn from recent incidents:
- Prepare to receive claims via multiple means. After the BP oil spill, the company handled mass claims over the phone and online, and also set up claims centers in the field. From a victim's standpoint, in-person contact can go a long way in alleviating frustrations. Using face-to-face interviews to handle claims was a new approach for Chevron after the refinery fire, according to USA Today.
- Make your forms clear and concise. Your intake forms must be able to work for all types of claims, small and large. Depending on what caused the calamity, clarify which types of claims your company will pay for, and which ones you won't. Tell claimants what the next steps will be after they submit a claim.
- Plan to do extra community outreach. This is especially important if there is confusion, or if public health or safety is believed to be at risk. Hold meetings do explain what happened, what's being done, and how your claims process will work. You should also prepare for possible backlash, as happened at a meeting after the Chevron refinery fire.
- Keep tabs on the investigation. Even if the government is getting involved, it's probably wise to launch an internal investigation as well. This can operate as a "check" on the "official" probe, and can shed light on areas that need an in-house counsel's attention.
- Process claims efficiently while looking out for fraud. If victims were upset by the initial calamity, just wait to see their reaction if you fail to follow through on your claims process. Make sure you have enough staff to sift through all the claims, as weeding out fraudulent claims is key to protecting your company's assets when handling mass claims.
- Federal Government Issues Report on Causes of BP Oil Spill (FindLaw's Courtside)
- Will the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trial be Delayed? (FindLaw's U.S. Fifth Circuit blog)
- What General Counsels Can Learn From Rush Limbaugh's Empty Apology (FindLaw's In House)
- 3 Ways for Corporate Counsel to Overcome Lawyer Stereotypes (FindLaw's In House)