Rick Fadness has learned that anything can be risky, even the actions of a tree squirrel.

Fadness, risk management and insurance coordinator for Washington State University’s Risk Management and Insurance Department, has the unique job of overseeing insurance for most of the university, in addition to helping university employees assess risks of activities they may engage in.

Approximately $2.5 million in insurance premiums were processed through his office last year. Usually the cost is borne by the department requiring coverage.

In the more than three years Fadness has held his position, he has encountered insurance claims of all kinds.

A woman who left the window open to her room in a residence hall once tried to file a claim against the university because a squirrel entered her room and relieved itself on her laptop. She told Fadness the custodial staff encouraged the squirrel’s behavior by feeding it. Fadness advised her that he saw no negligence on the part of the university.

“You come to work every day and don’t know what will be on your plate,” he said.

Many types of insurance

There is a common belief, Fadness said, that WSU is “insured” or “self-insured” for everything. That’s not so. In many instances the university is simply “noninsured.” In the absence of any formal program for insuring risks, WSU departments bear the cost of any loss.

Fadness deals with many types of insurance necessary to the university’s exposures. For instance, the university has commercial property insurance for some buildings and contents which covers damages, such as after a fire. Most buildings and contents, however, are not insured.

WSU has emergency medical insurance for faculty and staff who travel abroad. It sometimes buys special events insurance for events that include non-WSU participants. It even operates its own self-insurance program, providing collision coverage for WSU’s fleet of 850 university-owned vehicles.

WSU’s liability for the negligent acts of its employees is covered through the State of Washington Self-Insurance Liability Program; it provides liability coverage for the negligent acts of WSU employees who are acting in good faith in the performance of their official duties.

How much sidewalk?

Some elements of Fadness’ job are detailed and tedious, such as renewing insurance policies.

“Most are renewed annually, so it all runs in cycles,” he said.

Renewing policies requires Fadness to go out to departments and staff agencies and ask them for information necessary when underwriting new policies. For example, Fadness is working on renewing emergency medical insurance for faculty and staff traveling abroad. He has to provide the number of trips and total days abroad projected for the next year.

“Usually, we must provide exact information, and there’s often a lot of information that needs to be collected,” he said.

An underwriter working on replacing a policy once needed to know how many miles of sidewalk run through all WSU campuses.

“We estimated,” Fadness said.

Estimating the risk

Besides insurance, another aspect of Fadness’ job is assessing risk.

He is part of the university’s Risk Management Advisory Group (RMAG) that meets weekly to discuss risk management issues and work with members of different departments on their risk management.

The group includes representatives from Business Affairs, Police, Fire, Environmental Health and Safety, Housing and Dining Services, the Attorney General’s Office, Student Involvement, University Recreation and several other offices.

“Members of the committee are the university’s key players on risk issues,” Fadness said. “Their broad experience can certainly help mitigate most risks.”

The group recently discussed health and travel risks with members of the Center to Bridge the Digital Divide, who were putting together a trip to Rwanda for faculty members and 4-H youth. University units are encouraged to contact the RMAG through Fadness when they have risk management issues.

“Risk surrounds the university in all of our missions, whether it be teaching, research, services or outreach, I can tell you that,” Fadness said.

Think about it the next time a squirrel crosses your path.