Protect your charity against claims

  • Having a robust claims defensibility process in place can reduce the amount and severity of claims
  • Following an incident, collecting all the relevant facts in a punctual manner is essential when defending a liability claim
  • A checklist can be a useful way of following correct procedures – both before and after an incident occurs

Organisations such as charities should always be looking to reduce the volume of claims and total costs of accidents.

Recent Ministry of Justice reforms on civil litigation have reduced the timescale to give a response on liability, meaning incidents must now be recorded in a punctual manner.

Claims defensibility is a good way of achieving this. Last year, for instance, it helped one charity successfully defend a public liability claim made against it.

The claim was made against the National Trust in 2009 as a result of an accident on a guided tour of the famous burial mounds at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. The claimant tripped over a boundary rope and hit her left hand on a nearby bench.

How can you defend a claim?

Because the National Trust already had a robust claims defensibility process in place before the incident occurred, the charity was in a good position to defend the claim.

Claims defensibility is something that starts before an incident actually occurs – as it can be too late to take some actions once an accident has happened, or a claim is made. Claims defensibility also identifies weak links in an organisation’s practices, and suggests changes to improve policies and procedures. The ultimate aim is to defend against more claims.

This all came to the aid of the National Trust as – although at first it appeared to be a minor claim as the injury sustained was a dislocated finger – the claimant went on to develop a permanent stiffness in the hand which, it was alleged, resulted in a reduction of the claimant’s earnings as a highly-paid management consultant. The claim was presented as £250,000 plus costs.

The claimant alleged that, while at the beginning of the tour, the guide lowered the boundary rope to allow access to the burial site, at the end of the tour the rope was not lowered to allow safe exit and that the National Trust guide instructed the tour party to step over it.

In the end, the claim was dismissed as the National Trust had enough evidence of previous tours to suggest the tour guide would never have said this as he always followed a script that included a health and safety briefing not to step over boundary ropes, and that the tour guide had followed all practicable duty-of-care procedures.

Importance of demonstrating best practice

As shown in this National Trust example, the claims process can be a serious interrogation of a charity’s risk management disciplines – but, by being able to demonstrate best practice instead of just minimum legal compliance, claims defensibility can help protect an organisation through its most difficult moments.

The claims process is an emotive subject – one where, ultimately, there is a winner and a loser. The majority of liability claims are valid and rightly result in compensation payments; it is, though, when faced with speculative, unmeritorious or fraudulent allegations that claims defensibility can really help a charity.

Claims are very much the business end of the insurance sector, and we can help charities and social organisations in this area in order to help reduce the amount and severity of claims.

Of course, good risk-management procedures will lay the building blocks of any solid health and safety regime, but claims defensibility can add another layer of security. It can be tailored to a charity’s own claims history and responds to the needs and complexity of an organisation.

By making sure pre-accident procedures – such as evidence of risk assessments, adequate staff training and retention of records – are carried out and that a pro-active accident investigation unit is set up to gather all relevant facts should an incident occur, then charities are able to build up a robust defence to successfully resist a claim, if the need arises.