Everyone knows how important it is to avoid the damage and disruption of vital services such as water and internet—our communities depend on locate professionals as their first line of defense against these disruptions. What you may not know is when damage happens, your locate evidence is crucial in determining who is responsible for the damage and who should pay for repairs.
Most of the time, damage claims are resolved by people who were never on-site. Therefore, it’s critically important to have a thorough body of evidence to prove liability. Minimal or incomplete information causes challenges for everyone involved and delays claim resolution! What can you do to help claims representatives determine who is at fault for damage? Below are six tips to implement that greatly improves the claims process, brings clarity to the situation, and protects you and your organization.
1. Use the Force – Rely on your Training.
Locate technicians who conduct their work by the book reduce the likelihood of error. In addition to formal education and training, utilize best practices you’ve learned through practical, on-the-job scenarios. Plus, don’t forget to go back to the basics and reference a plat map for the area you’re working.
2. Embrace Your Inner Artist – Take Photos.
Be sure to capture the entire scope of the job. Take photos of EVERYTHING, especially landmarks for easy reference. Utilize the “clock method,” which involves taking four or more photos from one point in a circle, imitating the position of hours on a clock. By creating a library of images and data, you are helping preserve evidence and create an indisputable record of the scene. For comparison, recall a conversation with a friend about your latest fishing trip. On that trip you might have caught a real trophy fish. Do you simply describe this fish? Absolutely not! You immediately bring up five, or perhaps 10, photos taken from nearly every angle to help illustrate the magnitude of such a significant catch?
Good, or better yet, great photographic evidence prior to excavation or construction helps recreate the scene before a damage. We have all have been captivated by before-and-after photos. Pre- and post-damage photos are equally revealing and necessary.
3. Its Chess not Checkers – Think Ahead.
Review the description of work on the locate ticket. Is there incoming weather? Will your marks be destroyed during construction? Are you near a heavily populated area? If so, take a measurement off the road or easement as another identifier. Taking this extra step is helpful to the construction team, and it proves you did a thorough job in providing the information necessary to complete repairs.
4. Remember Grade School? Time to Take Notes.
If you’re able to have a conversation with the foreman or lead on the construction site to discuss your locate marks, write down your recollection of the conversation in your notes. Your conversation can be an opportunity to clarify different points of contention and nuances of the job, which helps prevent damage. If damage occurs, having a documented account of your conversation can prove the foreman received accurate information. Additionally, should damage occur, this will further help prove liability.
5. What happens when we ASSUME? Well…
Be sure to review two items on the locate ticket: the full scope of the request and the description of work. Don’t assume you know where the work on the site will occur. For example, you may be asked to locate the entire property for the installation of a water line at a private residence. The ticket states the contractor plans to relocate the water line. Don’t assume the water line will be installed at the front of the property and call it a day! Be thorough. Remember the ticket – the goal is to locate the entire property. You don’t want the job lead to guess the locations of the line throughout the property.
6. You’re the Bookend – Keep Repair Costs in Mind.
As noted earlier, most claims are resolved by individuals who are never on-site. Providing solid evidence is critical to help your company avoid being found liable for damage and having to pay the invoice for repairs. Damage and the subsequent repairs can negatively impact your company’s finances (not to mention your employment). While it seems like your job is only at the beginning of a project, it’s not! Locate companies are involved from start to finish. Actively working to help reduce repair costs for your company is important to the bottom line. Healthier finances lead to the purchase of new supplies, hiring personnel, and most importantly increased wages, among other benefits.
Implementing these six tips into your work process is crucial to the claims process. Your work helps professionals determine fault and resolve claims quickly. Damage during excavation is inevitable, but you can help prevent the headache of liability.
Jonathan Musgrove, Vice President of Operations at Claims Management Resources (CMR), is an acknowledged leader in the field of property damage claims recovery for governmental agencies and self-insured organizations in the utility industry. Jonathan has over 26 years of experience as a locate technician and property/casualty adjuster. For more resources, visit cmrclaims.com/blog