Of all of the types of claims I have ever had to handle for homeless shelter clients over the years, allegations of abuse and molestations (“A&M”), though mercifully few, are perhaps the most difficult. Losses that affect property, auto or general liability seldom threaten a mission as gravely as does an allegation involving A&M. There is a certain psychological stigma that goes along with this type of allegation that is not present with other claims. Whereas property losses may be caused by fires, wind or flood, auto claims by collisions or thefts, and general liability claims by slip and fall allegations, A&M claims go right to the heart of the sin in those who perpetrate these crimes, or even falsely allege them.
Due to the personal violation inherent in claims of this nature, the legal principle of “innocent until proven guilty” does not often seem to apply here. Should a mission have a serious fire, you might expect to see an increase in donations coming from the community so as to help restore the affected building. However, when the press reports an allegation of A&M at your mission, the news may be met by mission benefactors with surprising little charity, especially if the accused is a mission employee shown on the 6:00 news being escorted from your facility in handcuffs with his or her head covered by a jacket to protect their identity.
In order to mitigate the potential of a devastating A&M claim, there are two very important risk management tasks that should be undertaken:
- Consistently run background checks on all staff and on those volunteers who will have access to residents in semi-private or private situations such as counseling. Many insurance companies will provide discounted rates, through state and national data-base companies, so as to help you to obtain background reference information including indications of past criminal history, if any.
- Check your insurance policy to verify that A&M coverage is provided. Typically, this coverage will not be available to you unless background checks are already a part of your mission’s hiring/volunteer procedures. If coverage is available, make certain it is for a separate liability limit than what is provided in your General Liability. Most insurance companies merely provide A&M coverage as a sublimit within the General Liability coverage. This is a severe reduction in coverage since one incident may be alleging both General Liability damages (i.e. bodily injury) and A&M (i.e. psychological harm). A separate limit for A&M will provide twice as much coverage and is well worth the small additional premium.
May your mission be spared the stigma of A&M allegations as a result of good risk management practices.