Public Sector Risk

Ambush Killings Put WC Cover for Cops at Risk

The increase in ambush-style assaults on police officers could make it challenging to obtain workers' comp coverage for law enforcement.
By: | January 12, 2015 • 5 min read
police car

While not immediately reacting to a spike in ambush-style killings of law-enforcement officers, workers’ compensation underwriters concerned about police risks were already pushing public entities to increase their self-insured retentions.

Other underwriters stopped providing coverage for police workers’ comp risks in recent years because of the occupation’s dangers.


Now insurers and brokers are watching the rise in the shooting deaths of law-enforcement officers to see whether a longer-term trend will unfold.

In 2014, ambush attacks — including last month’s killing of two New York police officers shot while sitting in their patrol car — “were the number one cause of felonious officer deaths for the fifth year in a row,” according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).

The Washington, D.C.-based organization serves as a clearinghouse of statistics on law enforcement line-of-duty fatalities.

“When you bring up the topic, underwriters will say, ‘We have not addressed this formally. We are very quietly watching it to see what will happen,’ ” said Nancy Sylvester, managing director, public sector, at broker Arthur J. Gallagher.

U.S. law-enforcement fatalities occurring in the line of duty increased 24 percent to 126 during 2014, reversing two years of declines in total fatalities, according to an NLEOMF report released last month.

Firearms were the leading cause of the 2014 fatalities with 50 law-enforcement officers killed with guns, up 56 percent over firearms deaths in 2013. Other causes included traffic fatalities and heart attacks.

But ambush attacks claimed a large human toll.

“Fifteen officers nationwide were killed in ambush assaults in 2014, matching 2012 for the highest total [of ambush-related deaths] since 1995,” according to NLEOMF, which cited anti-government sentiment and anti-law enforcement influences.

“With the increasing number of ambush-style attacks against our officers, I am deeply concerned that a growing anti-government sentiment in America is influencing weak-minded individuals to launch violent assaults,” NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig W. Floyd said in a statement.

For example, 2014 saw the shooting deaths of two Las Vegas police officers ambushed while lunching in a restaurant. The killers draped a “don’t tread on me” flag over one victim and authorities said the husband and wife shooters harbored militia-type ideological leanings.

The tally also included the ambush of two Pennsylvania state troopers outside of their barracks. A survivalist who evaded a manhunt for 48 days is accused of killing one of the troopers and the wounding the other.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said in November that with statistics showing “a significant uptick in ambushes and unprovoked attacks on police” it will study the crimes to help improve officer safety.

Although the human toll is tragic and heart wrenching, in strictly insurance terms the loss frequency from ambush assaults remains limited, observers said. Accordingly insurers have not increased their overall coverage pricing or changed underwriting requirements in response.

The number of law enforcement deaths across the country fluctuates annually, several insurance sources said. So while expressing concern for the human losses, industry observers are watching to see whether a trend is underway.


“We are concerned as brokers and watching the situation because if it does become more widespread obviously there would be a (coverage) problem,” said Mark Goode, executive VP for the public entity group at broker Willis.

Some of the financial expenses for medical and workers’ comp indemnity benefits are likely falling within the self-insured retentions maintained by public entities rather than falling on insurers.

Over the past five years or so, underwriters have demanded that public entities take on increasingly larger retentions because of the severity of police injuries, Sylvester said.

After years of gradual increases, the SIRs are now substantially larger, even for smaller entities.

“Somebody who had a $250,000 SIR for workers’ comp for police — they don’t have that anymore,” Sylvester said. “The minimum I am seeing for police is somewhere close to a half a million. Some of my clients have law enforcement-related SIRs over a million. It’s intense.”

The insurers have not backed down from demanding larger retentions. And unlike in past years when public entities had only one SIR for all employee categories, insurers now require a separate, larger retention for police injuries, Sylvester added.

Insurers “are without exception driving up that SIR, which tells me they are worried about the large losses,” Sylvester said.

Large losses driven by a variety of injury causes, such as auto accidents and scuffles while apprehending suspects, drove some insurers to stop writing police workers’ comp risks in recent years, said Goode.

“It’s not just the shooting situations, but the rate of loss for police officers is higher,” he said. “The markets simply don’t want to take on that exposure.”

To help save officer lives and reduce financial losses, the Texas Municipal League of Intergovernmental Risk Pool provides awareness training for police employed among the 850 municipalities the pool insures.

The training improves decision making in high-stress situations and is in addition to skills, such weapons use, taught by police departments. Because pool members are experience-rated, the training improves their loss experience and reduces their costs, said Carol Loughlin, executive director for the risk pool.

It also helps officers working for pool members meet state law-enforcement certification standards.

Importantly, the training helps officers improve decision making so that workers’ comp and third party liability losses are both avoided.

“It helps the officers make better decisions so they are going to go home at night and also the citizens can go home at night,” said Les Horne, the pool’s loss prevention manager.


Decision-making training is paramount for keeping deputies safe whether the risk is high-speed driving or confrontations, said Jack Bienvenu, deputy chief and chief risk officer for the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana.

“That is the most critical part, training your deputies on decision making,” he said. “The risk benefit analysis is just like if they were a risk manager in the field, but making that split second decision, weighing the cost benefit.”

Yet observers said that many of officers ambushed in 2014, such as the two Las Vegas officers eating lunch, likely thought they were in a safe situation.

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and co-chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at Read more of his columns and features.
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Risk Insider: Marilyn Rivers

Give It Back and Pay It Forward

By: | December 10, 2014 • 2 min read
Marilyn Rivers is director of risk and safety for the City of Saratoga Springs, a historic tourist destination in upstate New York. She chairs the PRIMA Institute for the Public Risk Management Association and was named Public Risk Manager of the Year by PRIMA in 2007. She can be reached at

Awhile back a rather contentious conversation ensued on a social media site when a college student “pinged” a business professional’s web account asking to connect.

Discourse followed as to whether the student should have had the audacity to suggest the connection.

For those of us who are graying in the public risk sector, the “how dare they” came as a sad commentary to a generation lost in transition.

I’m a baby boomer. My generation grew up on hard rock, the introduction of color television and the dreams of space. We watched a man land on the moon.

We looked to Walter Cronkite to hold us accountable for the losses in Vietnam, watched Gloria Steinem ask women to demand more as she burned her bra, and saw our government stumble in Watergate.

Throughout our youth, our generation was coached to reach higher, demand more of ourselves and to understand that we had the ability to make a difference.

Our role models varied, but they taught us to ask questions and to achieve, but at the end of the day – to give back.

However flawed, John F Kennedy reminded us, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

The goal of my generation is to ensure our profession’s survival. Many of us give back by sharing our knowledge through corporate struggles, hints for getting out of sticky situations, providing shoulders to listen, and sharing opportunities to allow growth and advancement.

As I facilitate education in the public sector, I remind my students that I took a long winding route to public risk management although my first job — counting cigarette advertisements on taxicabs in the early ’80s in Boston — might be considered a form of fleet management education these days.

Facilitating risk management education among the younger generation as they attempt to gain respect among their peers and gain the trust of their management staff is awe-inspiring.

Public risk management professionals like to call ourselves family. We share, challenge and connect. We laugh at ourselves, problem-solve our difficulties and offer support when needed.

The lessons learned and the ideas exchanged give faith that the future of our profession is not only viable, but has the potential to transform all of us if we would only give each other a chance.

I’m offering a challenge for the next time someone with a freshly inked resume asks to connect with you on a social media site — remember how vulnerable you once were on that very first job interview.

Think about JFK and how you may wish to be remembered within your profession. I will grant you that the world is definitely a competitive place, but getting there alone is a guaranteed one-way ticket to being forgotten.

Take the chance. Give back and ask that it be paid forward. The journey promised through that contact may offer a kaleidoscope of adventure, the reward of helping the next generation, and the promise your efforts will be remembered.

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Sponsored: Healthcare Solutions

Diversifying Top Management in Workers’ Comp

Inaugural Women in Workers’ Compensation (WiWC) Forum focuses on advancing more women into top leadership roles.
By: | January 7, 2015 • 5 min read

The panel at the inaugural Women in Workers’ Compensation (WiWC) Forum. From left to right: Eileen Ramallo, Elaine Vega, Nina Smith-Garmon, Nancy Hamlet, Michelle Weatherson, Nanette de la Torre, Danielle Lisenbey.

Across the country, the business community is engaged in a robust conversation about women being under-represented among c-level positions.

Why aren’t more women breaking into upper management roles? Does gender bias still exist? And, perhaps more importantly, what can women and men do to add more diversity to top leadership ranks?

Elaine Vega and Nancy Hamlet, of Healthcare Solutions, the Duluth, Ga.-based health services provider to the workers’ compensation and auto liability/PIP markets, have discussed the issue between themselves many times over the years.

The duo agreed that starting an industry-wide conversation would be an effective start to addressing the challenge. After three years of internal discussions, the inaugural Women in Workers’ Compensation (WiWC) Forum became reality. Judging by the attendance, content and feedback, it was an auspicious, very successful, debut.

Nancy Hamlet, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Healthcare Solutions

Nancy Hamlet, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Healthcare Solutions

Specifically, Healthcare Solutions and LRP Publications teamed up at the National Workers’ compensation and Disability Conference (NWCDC), held Nov. 18-21, 2014 in Las Vegas, to present the first WiWC event focused on the development of women as leaders within the industry. The WiWC debut featured a keynote speaker, a panel discussion and a networking cocktail hour.

“We believe this is just the beginning for the WiWC organization,” said Hamlet, senior vice president of marketing, adding that the event’s main theme was the conversation regarding challenges that still exist for women in the workplace is “current, real … and relevant.”

Originally the forum was allocated a room to hold 150 people. Vega and Hamlet worried about the room being too large, so they asked LRP what the contingency would be to make the room smaller if they couldn’t fill it. They needn’t have worried, as more than 400 women, and some men as well, registered and attended, requiring an even larger room.

“Clearly, the topic is relevant and there was plenty to discuss,” said Vega, senior vice president of account management.

Hamlet explained that WiWC was formed to create an open forum to promote a strong sense of community and support for current and future female leaders in the workers’ compensation industry. Going forward, the WiWC forum will provide insight and ideas with opportunities for members to:

  • Engage … with accomplished industry professionals and build lasting relationships.
  • Enrich … their knowledge base with tactical insights from speakers and panelists.
  • Explore … opportunities and challenges facing women leaders today.
  • Encounter … senior executives’ perspectives on leadership.
  • Examine … leadership strategies and how to effectively apply the strategies.
  • Empower … themselves and others to achieve success and groundbreaking results.

At the inaugural event, keynote speaker Peggy Holtman, co-author of “Leading at the Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition,” discussed how a seemingly unconnected historical event can offer critical lessons on leadership in the workplace, especially for women looking to move into top executive spots.

Elaine Vega, Senior Vice President of Account Management, Healthcare Solutions

Elaine Vega, Senior Vice President of Account Management, Healthcare Solutions

After Holtman’s talk, a panel discussion, moderated by Vega, offered the perspectives of five workers’ compensation industry executives on ways in which women can navigate past the glass ceiling. Panelists included Eileen Ramallo , EVP Healthcare Solutions; Danielle Lisenbey, CEO Broadspire; Nanette de la Torre, VP Zenith; Nina Smith-Garmon, EVP Mitchell International; and Michelle Weatherson, Director, Claims Medical and Regulatory Division, State Fund of Calif.

The panelists discussed a wide range of topics related to women in workers’ compensation. For example, one topic focused on the need to take the big risks when it comes to moving past workplace barriers. Other topics included the importance of women in higher positions serving as sponsors and advocates for younger, less experienced women; and the impact of industry consolidation on women’s careers and how to best manage that change. Another topic was how women could best master conflict and emotions in the workplace.

“What’s clear is conflict has to be managed; it will not go away. It will only get worse,” said Healthcare Solutions’ Ramallo. “It then can create other rifts that won’t necessarily be visible immediately, but can have a very large impact. You have to be able to understand what it is early on from another’s perspective, why the situation exists, and then encourage and try to resolve a conflict situation, whatever may be driving it.”

In the wake of the first WiWC Forum, Hamlet noted that while there are countless general reports showing that women have not yet achieved equal representation in top leadership positions in the workplace, studies deal with averages rather than individual stories. And while women must continue to look at the data and work toward closing the gap, hearing from accomplished women in the workers’ compensation industry at NWCDC drove home critical messages on a person level.


Today, Vega and Hamlet are looking to expand WiWC to make it “truly owned” by the industry. For example, they expect to recruit companies interested in becoming sponsors, forming an advisory council, creating a charter and discussing future possibilities for the organization on both the national and regional levels.

“Much remains to be done, but I have confidence that we will come together and make the organization stronger so that it prospers for years to come,” Hamlet said. “After all, it’s clear that our industry is filled with talented women who can make things happen!”

Vega added that WiWC has already received requests to live stream the event in the future, so it will examine the feasibility of that option in an effort to be even more inclusive.

“We have a shared vision for improving opportunities for current and future women leaders in workers’ compensation,” Vega said. “It doesn’t matter our gender or our title, it’s all about supporting the greater vision. As was said several times at the event, this is just the beginning. We hope more women and men will join us in this continued dialogue.”

For more information about the WiWC, send email to or join our WiWC group on LinkedIn.


This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Healthcare Solutions. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.

Healthcare Solutions serves as a health services company delivering integrated solutions to the property and casualty markets, specializing in workers’ compensation and auto liability/PIP.
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