Has Claims Writing Improved in the Past 20 Years?

February 3, 2010

“How have the writing skills of property/casualty adjusters changed over the past 20 years? What factors have led claims letters to be better or worse than in the past?”

I posted this question for discussion on a Linkedin claims group discussion board. Comments came from claims people throughout the United States, including claims managers, trainers, and adjusters.

Here’s a sampling of the responses:

“It seems like the short-hand style of e-mailing and texting are also starting to infiltrate the writing of some adjusters. It is one thing to put an incomplete sentence in a file note, but we see it popping up in letters more frequently now. I can easily see where it would lead to more ambiguities and potential issues in the handling of a claim.” — vice president, field operations, Wilmington, Del.

“I think most insurance companies have done a poor job of training claim adjusters. I also think the American school system has done a poorer job of teaching grammar, spelling, writing, etc. People now seem to rely often on cut and paste from e-mails to put together letters. The lack of mentoring hurts. It is not one thing, but several factors leading to a decline in writing skills. Also, it is not often easy to find policy forms to know what to base letters on.” — claims supervisor, Springfield, Ill.

“I have seen some scary things, but I believe that three things have led to poor letters: 1. Canned letters by the carriers who are striving for uniformity. However, the claims adjuster is used to fill in the blank letters and therefore they do not believe they need to check grammar or spelling. 2. MS Word or other letter writing software is available on most desk tops. Claims adjusters are either too busy or too lazy to do a spell check. 3. Are business schools teaching letter writing in college any more?” — claims manager, Scottsdale, Ariz.

“I’d agree with the comments here, and also that there doesn’t seem to be an appropriate emphasis on content or form. Of course, grammar and spelling are very important. However, I often wonder if the adjuster actually read the letter to make sure it made sense. Sometimes letters are written in stream of consciousness; other times, the letter is so unnecessarily wordy or written in ‘legalese’ that the common reader has no idea what it says. It doesn’t surprise me when a previously unrepresented insured or claimant retains an attorney after reading one of these letters, just to decipher it.” — claims supervisor, Branchville, N.J.

“I think letter writing, and writing in general, has gotten worse over the years. I have seen some scary reports and letters from attorneys and expert witnesses as well! I just can’t fathom all the misspellings considering how easy spell check is to use.”

“Writing a good letter that actually says something takes thought and concentration — and time. When you are juggling hundreds of files, e-mails, and phone calls it is hard to find the time to concentrate on writing a well thought out letter. And of course, adjusters always have to be very, very careful about what they say or how they say it with the potential bad faith ramifications (whatever you put in writing can come back to haunt you years later).”

Blake teaches “Effective Claims Writing” at carriers, third-party administrators and independent adjusting firms across North America. E-mail: garyblake@aol.com. Web site: www.writingworkshop.com.

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