The Importance of Proper Record-Keeping
Whatever their field, all professionals—from veterinarians, dentists, and lawyers to damage insurance agents and brokers, and claims adjusters—share a common, universal obligation: to make accurate and detailed notes in the client-file of every action they take. This obligation not only protects the client—it can also be particularly useful to you in the event of a dispute.
Just one example: hospital nurses know which medications were administered to their patients during the night because everything is noted in the patients’ charts.
Remember that “carrying on activities dishonestly or negligently […] constitutes a breach of the Code of Ethics […].” A professional whose file-notes are incomplete has committed negligence. Damage insurance agents and brokers should refer to sections 9 and 37 (1) of the Code of ethics of damage insurance representatives while claims adjusters should read sections 10 and 58 (1) of the Code ethics of claims adjusters.
And yet all too often, the Syndic’s Office of the ChAD still sees examples of poor record-keeping amongst its members, despite numerous reminders in La ChADPresse and a plethora of ChAD Discipline Committee rulings that identify this issue as a breach of ethics. Not to mention all the tools on this topic that are available on the ChAD’s website for damage insurance agents and brokers and claims adjusters. The ChAD even offers on-line training on record-keeping and notes in the file for damage insurance representatives and claims adjusters on its on-line platform, ÉduChAD. And there is no use mentioning the many disciplinary decisions. Instead, let’s look at why proper record-keeping is so essential.
ACT AS IF YOU WERE GOING TO BE STRUCK BY LIGHTNING.
Far be it from me to wish misfortune on anyone, but imagine for a moment how disastrous it would be for your clients if you were to leave your firm, or be on vacation or absent for any other reason and none of your actions or instructions were recorded in your client-files. How would your replacement get his bearings? Your replacement must be able to check the file in order to see, for example, that your client requested an increase in property coverage. In another file, he has to understand that the cause of the sinister is not clear, and that a specialist must be brought in.
None of this is new—this advice has been repeated many times. In fact, in an article published in 2008, Carole Chauvin, the ChAD’s syndic at the time, wrote:
All actions taken in the file, as well as all conversations with various individuals and advice given to insureds must be recorded in said file in an orderly manner, including noting the date the action took place, such that this information might be used by a firm employee other than the one who made the notes.
Insureds must be able to sleep easy, knowing that their insurance coverage, or the proper handling of their claim, does not solely depend on you. In other words, your work must be done in a manner that allows anyone to replace you at a moment’s notice in order to assist the client. Only a properly documented file will make this possible.
PROTECTING YOURSELF IN THE EVENT OF A DISPUTE
Due to the nature of our work at the Syndic’s Office of the ChAD, we only deal with problematic cases. And it is often in such situations that the importance of good record-keeping becomes crystal clear.
For example, your client claims that you did not offer him “replacement cost endorsement” when he purchased his automobile insurance contract. You, on the other hand, know that he refused it. Another case: in the wake of a loss, a car rental company claims rental costs from the insurer, whereas you clearly remember telling them in a timely manner that the claim was subject to further investigation without prejudice to the insurer’s rights. One last example: your client insists that he had never heard of the “co-insurance clause,” whereas you systematically explain it to all your clients, without exception.
There is no doubt that a note in the file confirming your assertion would be very useful and would support your version of the facts. Without any notes in the file to confirm the explanations given or the instructions received, the result of the dispute between you and your client will depend entirely on the credibility of your respective versions. And do not forget, telephone recordings do not replace notes in the file.
If a Discipline Committee hearing takes place, one of the two versions will inevitably be given more credence than the other. If the Committee believes your version and concludes that you did indeed explain the co-insurance clause, for example, it will nevertheless find you guilty of negligence for poor record-keeping. If you had taken a few minutes to write down what was said, a misunderstanding would have been avoided.
Let’s end with this humorous quote from Carole Chauvin, which is just as true today as it was in 2011, when she wrote in La ChADPresse, “Note it down, note it down, note it down, until you get tendonitis in your wrist!”
By Me Marie-Josée Belhumeur, LL.B., syndic