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Every claims handler can tell you a story about the claim that got to him or her. It is often a story about the sudden, violent death of an ordinary person. These narratives usually include a detailed description of a small mistake that cascaded into a tragedy or a rendition of a momentary loss of attention that led to terrible consequences. These are quintessential claims stories which speak to a chaotic, unpredictable world wherein the chances of sustaining pain, suffering, and death seem much more likely. They arise from a narrow band of experience where fairness and right living count for nothing. They are intended to be disturbing because they originally disturbed the teller.

What is surprising, perhaps, is the fact that these vivid claims stories may not have been experienced firsthand. Typically, they involve a retelling of the victim’s version of the injuries and loss events. Recall of these events does not seem to diminish over the years and, in some cases, the effect of these stories on claims professionals appears to be cumulative. Folks in other departments at insurance companies often comment about how claims handlers are different than associates in sales and underwriting. They mention the specific types of stories that claims people relay and that claims people seem to be more prickly, negative, and cynical than others. These observations from other company departments raise an interesting question: Does a close proximity to losses and the people that have suffered them have an emotional and physical impact on claims representatives themselves?

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