Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Insurance Helpline | Cedric Stephens | The ‘wait and pray’ claims strategy

Published:Sunday | February 19, 2017 | 2:00 AM
A woman walks by the offices of insurance regulator, the Financial Services Commission, in New Kingston.

Two human interest articles, 'Waiting in Pain' and 'Praying for Payment', were published in this newspaper a few days ago.

Articles of this kind, according to Wikipedia, "present people and their problems ... in ways that bring about interest, sympathy".

They touched me very deeply. The reason: two columns that I wrote in 2015 'Dear Attorney General, how does GOJ motor self-insurance work?' and 'More clarity on GOJ self-insurance'.

Officials in the AG's Chambers did not respond. Now, nearly two years later, and after I made a request under the Access to Information Act, things are clearer. I now have clues why an 82-year-old accident victim waited six years to get compensation after she was hit by a police car. Also, I have indications why other claimants against the state have no other recourse but to wait in line and pray.

I have criticised the insurance industry in this column for nearly two decades about their motor claims process. Today's complaint is directed at the motor claims process of our Government.

GOJ MOTOR SELF-INSURANCE

The Government's approach to the insurance of its motor vehicle fleet is a small part of a big plan.

Central government assets, like hospitals, police stations and other property, are self-insured. When losses occur, money is taken from revenue to pay for the damage. When the police or doctors, for example, are sued for negligence and court awards are made against the State, monies to settle those awards come from the consolidated fund.

On the other hand, agencies like the Port Authority of Jamaica, Urban Development Corporation, Airports Authority of Jamaica, Bank of Jamaica, and the like, transfer some of the many risks they face to private insurers by way of insurance contracts.

In the case of motor vehicles, mainly those assigned to members of the political directorate and to other selected public officials, the Ministry of Finance & Planning, according to an April 24, 2003 document, says they should be insured comprehensively, that is, with private insurers.

Vehicles falling outside of this group, which are referred to as fleet vehicles, are self-insured. This means money to repair these units and costs associated with claims made by third parties are borne by the state. No information was available about the numbers of vehicles in the two groups.

All insurance companies some of which are authorised to conduct the business of motor insurance - are regulated by the Financial Services Commission (FSC). The FSC is, in turn, supervised by the Ministry of Finance. The ministry, therefore, has access to information about how insurance companies operate and, more importantly, about the motor insurance business.

More specifically, since the ministry provides budgetary support to the Jamaica Urban Transit Company which self-insures its bus fleet it should have lots of information about how to properly manage the self-insurance programme for its vehicle fleet.

DUTIES OF THE

ATTORNEY GENERAL

The duties of the attorney general of Jamaica, according to diGjamaica.com, include: "All civil proceedings by or against the Government are instituted in the name of the attorney general pursuant to the Crown Proceedings Act. Therefore, the attorney general acts as the respondent in civil matters which are initiated against the of Jamaica."

Motor vehicle claims alleging negligence on the part of drivers of government-owned vehicles are, therefore, made against the AG and the driver.

None of the information on the AG's website or in the finance ministry's 2003 policy statement, or that the AG has provided under the Access to information Act, offers any details about how the Government's motor self-insurance programme operates or how one should go about making a motor vehicle claim against the State.

Given the variety of functions that the department undertakes from litigation to the provision of legal advice to a variety of ministries and departments it should come as no surprise that managing the Government's motor self-insurance arrangements does not figure prominently on the department's to-do list.

The fact that an 82-year-old victim had to wait six years in order to get compensation, and other persons who have legitimate claims against the State have no option but to wait in line and pray suggest that the self-insurance strategy in relation to motor vehicles should be revamped.

It is entirely probable that much in the same way that citizens are being negatively affected by the status quo, the government, in the words of a former boss, is also leaving lots of money on the table.

n Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to aegis@flowja.com