Claims College and the Blueprint for Success

School of Construction Dean Lee Wright talks about building the new school and what it means for this year's freshman class.

By Bevrlee J. Lips

The Claims College is entering its second year and will be hosting four new schools, one of which includes the School of Construction. Dean Lee Wright, of David Morse & Associates, shares his thoughts on why the school is important, what the first year will look like for students, and the importance of training in this unique segment of the insurance industry.

What prepared you to lead the School of Construction?

I started my career over 25 years ago in San Diego, Calif., which is understood to be the birthplace of construction defect litigation, and was handling things in this arena pretty much from the beginning. As I moved on to different companies, inevitably someone would ask if anyone handled construction defect claims, and I would reluctantly raise my hand. I tried to leave it several times but, thankfully, it just kept pulling me back in. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the absolute best people in the industry and, conversely, some of the worst. I’ve worked on the third-party administrator and independent side and for self-insureds and foreign insurers. I’ve been privileged to be lead chair for CLM’s construction committee for several years, and I am a past president of the Construction Defect Claim Managers Association. Together, I think it’s given me a comprehensive perspective on construction and construction defect claims and what we as an industry should be doing to identify and develop the best people.

Who is the school’s executive council, and how do they serve it?

Our executive council consists of two of the best resources in the industry. West Coast Casualty’s Dave Stern, who runs the largest construction defect seminar anywhere, and Beth Fitch, a partner with Phoenix-based Righi Law Group. Both have a broad knowledge of construction claims and are exceptionally good at what they do.

In addition to the executive council, we have subject matter experts who will act as department chairs and are responsible for making sure that not only are the individual classes of high quality, but also that there is a bit of overlap so that there is reinforcement while not rehashing the same thing over and over again. Their job is to make sure that the classes work together as a whole.

What are some of the topics in store for first-year students?

Students likely will be very good in one or two areas of construction claims, but not all. So for the first year, we’re going to focus on providing a solid base of knowledge in three areas—claims and litigation management, insurance coverage, and construction practices.

We will look at coverage forms that are used for insuring construction companies, standard CGL, excess, and surplus, including a course on how to analyze that coverage step by step to make sure all of the bases are covered. There is a course on the anatomy of a construction defect lawsuit—what a typical case might look like and the kinds of claims that might arise. Another will look at liability theories and defenses, and we’ll talk about coverage review and analysis principles.

Two courses on actual construction will look at managing a project from the ground up. There are many types of contractors and subcontractors on the job at the same time. It’s essentially organized chaos. We’re going to look at onsite scheduling, integration, and coordination of these trades because an understanding of the process will help students recognize where it can go wrong and, when it does go wrong, what happens. There also will be a course on construction contracts.

Why is it important to have insurance professionals educating other insurance professionals?

For claims and litigation management and insurance coverage, we need industry professionals teaching these courses because they have the internal perspective from the carriers. And we’ll have coverage lawyers who can give students perspective on what’s happening in the courts—the trends and insights on how the courts are going to react to certain issues.

The third area that we’re going to focus on is construction. It’s ironic, but that is the area where construction adjusters are weakest. They are trained in claims, litigation management, and insurance coverage, but the one thing that we don’t do very well as an industry is teach construction adjusters about construction. We’ve not covered the differences in building a residential project versus a civic project, for example.

For Claims College students, however, we’ll teach what goes into managing a project, what’s in a construction contract, and why it’s important to read a contract in its entirety. Those are the areas where construction adjusters get lost and must rely too heavily on experts. We want students who come out of this program to be well rounded and have a strong base of knowledge so that they can put all of these tools to work and become better at what they do.

Is it hard for insurers to identify the best staff to handle these types of claims?

The technical talent may be there, but I think we’re having a difficult time identifying the people who can handle the really complex matters. So hopefully this school goes a long way toward highlighting the people who can do the job and giving them all the tools that they need.

How is the Claims College different from other educational opportunities?

While conferences and seminars have their place, they are nothing like the Claims College. This school is different; this school is a real educational activity. We’re going to treat it like you’re going back to college. If the designation is going to be worth something, it has to be well earned. It’s going to be difficult, but it’s going to be fun, too. And we’ve got a couple of surprises for our students. They’ll be very glad they came.   


2014 Claims College

CLM’s Claims College is one of the most powerful educational opportunities available in the insurance industry today. Students in the program complete pre-course readings, attend classroom instruction, participate in group projects, and take comprehensive exams. Now in its second year, the 2014 session will take place from Sept. 7-10, 2014, at the Downtown Philadelphia Marriott.

Each school in the Claims College is focused on a specific discipline and provides a three-year program that is designed to enable students not only to improve in their current jobs, but also to advance in their careers. This year, four new schools have been added for a total of seven.

Claims College schools include: 

  • School of Casualty Claims
  • School of Construction - NEW!
  • School of Insurance Fraud - NEW!
  • School of Professional Lines
  • School of Property - NEW!
  • School of Transportation - NEW!
  • School of Workers’ Compensation

Approximately 17 CE/CLE credits will be provided each year. Successful completion of all three levels of a school leads to a respected claims designation, which will become the industry standard for identifying the best and brightest claims professionals.

Seats are limited to 300 for the School of Casualty Claims and 100 for all other schools. Outside defense counsel registrations are limited to 25 students per school. Registration is open and space is filling up quickly, so register today at theclm.org/claimscollege.

Bevrlee J. Lips was managing editor of Claims Management magazine (now CLM Magazine) from January 2012 until March 2017.

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