In a smaller, more technological world, we can’t afford to underestimate proactive, collaborative safety and risk management strategies.
By Peter A. Persuitti
The Ebola crisis has all of us thinking differently, for the time being. Unfortunately, our sensitizing is hard to sustain with so much information hitting our radar screens.
Missionary work in third-world countries has been a noble church mission for centuries. Today, it offers a horizon of growth of evangelization in a shrinking “believing” western world.
Adams & Associates (now Gallagher Charitable International Insurance Services) — a firm we acquired eight years ago — has been serving mission-sending organizations with travel insurance products since 1981. Gallagher innovatively developed general liability coverage for the mission-sending organization to complement the coverages for individuals participating, having clearly seen the risks associated with sponsoring individuals.
The same is true today — especially if you’ve read and studied (as I have) Richard Hammar’s remarkable review of a lawsuit involving a well-known boarding school (“Travel Injuries: Why Churches Must Better Prepare”) in the September / October 2014 edition of Church Law & Tax Report. In this situation,the school was found negligent in its preparation of students for short-term study in China. The Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed a $42-million jury verdict after a student (victim) sustained permanent brain damage as a result of a tick bite.
An expert perspective
Fast forward to today. Dana Crowl, program manager of our Gallagher Charitable International Insurance Services, sat down with me to talk about her experiences leading this legacy division. I had a number of questions for her — how the servicing of these groups has changed over the years, what the trends are in claims, how she and her program are dealing with the Ebola scare, as well as her reaction to the boarding school lawsuit verdict.
“Most programs are very good about using release forms,” Crowl said, very affirmatively. “However, some groups taking less formalized trips. Those with smaller churches might not use the appropriate release forms. As with many aspects of risk control, there are still opportunities to make the forms more meaningful, as Hammar points out.”
As a service provider that’s also the front line for the claims, Crowl indicated there are typical claims relative to property stolen / missing (which have escalated with the prevalence of technological gadgets) and trip cancellation reimbursements — another area that remains prevalent, especially given terrorist threats and CDC warnings.
“The emergency evacuations are few and far between, but they require an adroitness and alignment with partners that are the best in the business,” Crowl says.
For these crises, Gallagher Charitable aligns with red24, a worldwide security service available to help members manage or avoid personal risk to themselves and their families. Members have access to advice on both a preventative and reactive level, relating to personal security, risk and travel, through: a members-only website; personalized briefings; and 24/7 assistance online, by phone and by email.
A key takeaway from my discussion with Crowl: the need to manage participants’ emerging medical conditions. Mindful that much of this is personal information, one of the trends Crowl sees is the triggering of medical conditions on these short- and long-term ventures that lead to danger — not only for the participant, but perhaps also for others in the program!
As a former boarding school administrator, this was an interesting reminder. I once took students abroad and recall one of our students causing harm to others when xenophobia appeared to get the best of her. We had to ensure she was immediately returned to the United States.
While the boarding school case might reflect more the obligations when including minors on your program, the verdict is striking in its message to sponsoring organizations: The school failed to take the basic safety precautions to protect the minor children in its care.
I hope this case will help alert all schools which sponsor overseas trips for minors that they need to check with the CDC for disease risks in the areas where they will be
traveling, and that they must advise children in their care to use repellant and wear proper clothing when necessary.
As the plaintiff’s attorney in the boarding school case showed, these injuries were easily preventable.
Peter A. Persuitti is managing director, Religious Practice, at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. in Chicago. Gallagher is a financial services firm specializing in insurance brokerage, benefits and retirement consulting, claims administration and advocacy, institutional investment and fiduciary services, alternative risk financing and program administration and risk management. As a dedicated Religious Practice, Gallagher works with more than 24,000 nonprofits around the world.
Key safety tips for the “vast frontier”
• Work with specialists to continually update
a comprehensive “release form”
• Follow all CDC website recommended
• Consult with specialists prior to the trip
for instructions on minimizing risks
• Understand the unusual exposures of
the particular areas of travel
• Consider new methods of communication
to those traveling — such as videos of the areas of travel when possible
• Ensure that team leaders are equipped to
respond promptly in emergencies.