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Claims Examiner HeavyWeight
By Robert Warne - August 9, 2001

“I’ve been in a lot of fights, but I never took this kind of beating,” exclaimed Craig Spinner after a long day of reading psych reports on a blurry computer monitor and fielding a volley of phone calls from disgruntled claimants
Spinner, after starting as a professional liability claims trainee at Farmers in 1992, innocently volunteered when a regional manager said, “I need a body for WC.” Not knowing what he was getting into, “Within the first three days I knew that this wasn’t what I wanted to do. I tried to transfer back into liability, but my manager wouldn’t let me.
“Being a claims examiner is the most stressful job I could imagine because of the timetables involved and the technical aspects.”
These aren’t statements from a rookie lacking the necessary background and experience against which to weigh the challenges of being a claims examiner. In fact, Spinner is a well-rounded individual with a prior 17-year career in manufacturing and production of microelectronics and designing business systems for the aerospace industry. One common thread runs through Spinner’s broad background—that he is a fighter who knows how to survive.
For Spinner, learning how to survive in the claims industry started from the get-go. “My first day at Farmers in Carlsbad, I noticed there were four claims professionals leaving.” He found out that they had worked at Farmers long enough to receive their certifications and designations and had received offers to do the same job for higher pay at various competitors. Spinner knew that this was his ticket to making up a 35% pay-cut he took moving from aerospace to the insurance industry.
After three years, Spinner’s department was being transferred to Santa Ana, and he knew it was time for a change. So in 1995, he accepted an offer to work for AIG. “By moving to AIG I received a substantial pay increase, but I knew that, by industry standards, it was still below what I could be making.”
In 2000, after spending five years at AIG, he decided to go out on his own and start working as a temp in the industry. Currently he has a full plate temping for Cambridge/Reliance as a senior WC claims examiner.
Road to Success To a fighter, March 14, 1980 represents a dark day in fighting history, when 14 members of the 1980 US Olympic boxing team perished in a plane crash in Poland. To Spinner, there is something poignant about this date. It’s a day of reflection, a time to ponder how tragic the plane crash was, and how close he came to being on that flight.
Spinner was born and raised in Steubenville, OH, which is known for its glass. At 10, his father died in a work accident. “This was a difficult time for our family. Mom went back to school to become a nurse and I became the head of the house even though I was still afraid of the dark.”
A natural-born fighter, Spinner’s breadth of skills and talents enabled him to persevere and survive with a positive attitude through the toughest battles of his life.
“Mom was great. I wasn’t going to let her down. I was more afraid of my mom than Ali or Frazier! She even had a pretty good hook. I couldn’t use excuses to not work hard, not be successful and not stay out of trouble because of the hardships my family faced.
“I grew up learning values from going to church and being involved in Scouts.”
Spinner started boxing when he was 12 in the Police Athletic League. In high school he played football, baseball, basketball, ran track and wrestled.
After he graduated from high school, Spinner’s lottery number came up twice for the draft during Vietnam. At the same time, he was accepted to attend a private school in Dayton, OH to study architectural engineering. It was a great compliment to be accepted into this school since it required the highest recommendations. Determined to attend school, he fought the draft in court and “received the last student deferment in the state of Ohio.”
Making It to the Main Event Following school, Spinner joined the Air Force in 1975. Once he completed boot camp and basic training, Spinner was stationed at Vandenberg AFB in Lompoc, CA. During his four years at the base, he grew and established himself as one of the top junior middleweights in the nation.
After basic training, he was assigned to the Social Actions Department. He said it wasn’t his first choice or preferred position, but it turned out to be “the best assignment possible for me in many ways.” He credits this assignment with shaping him into a real boxer.
Juan Tijerina, Spinner’s boss, proved to be instrumental in helping him advance his boxing career. Tijerina found out that Spinner was involved in underground boxing matches held in the barracks. Tijerina knew about boxing and took an interest in Spinner.
When he first met Spinner, he asked about the unsanctioned fights. Spinner replied by asking him if he knew anything about boxing. Tijerina, described as a 5’5” 165-lb neckless guy, said he knew a little and challenged Spinner to a fight. It only took three rounds for Spinner to realize Tijerina could clean his clock. Finally, Tijerina landed a left hook on Spinner’s chin and said, “That would be lights out.”
Tijerina told Spinner, “You’ve got a good style, but I think you can do better.” Tijerina and Spinner started to organize the first sanctioned bouts on Vandenberg.
Spinner soon had a 39-1 record from fighting in sanctioned events. He admits though, that while the competition was okay, it wasn’t the best. He also fought in smokers (unsanctioned bouts) in various nightclubs, including the officers club. “Smokers were the entertainment at the club. Anyone could fight. We had all kinds of plug-chewing cowboys with a couple of drinks in them wanting to fight.” Spinner started to move up in the rankings after he took first place in a regional competition in Ventura.
A career highlight was an invitation to fight in the Pacific Coast AAU in National City near San Diego. This was a 900-bout, five-day event that became one of Spinner’s most memorable tournaments. His was the only Air Force team in the event. Typically, Olympic fighters come from the Army, Navy and Marines. Fighting in the event included local heroes like Archie Moore and Ken Norton, trained by the legendary Junior Robles.
Spinner fought three times the first day, and was the only one from his team who didn’t get beat. His team left the tournament early because “nobody expected me to last.” Entering the event as a novice, Spinner ended up making it to the final match in his division on the fifth day. “As I was putting on my gloves for the final fight I asked the guy sitting next to me who was the current US boxing champ who he was going up against. The guy responded, ‘Some guy from the Air Force.’”
“I went three rounds and the guy won the decision.” Following the tournament, Spinner was ranked second in California and tenth in the nation. His rankings qualified him to try out for the US Boxing Team.
Spinner will never forget the day. “I received an All Armed Forces Bulletin that had been sent out to all branches of the military naming the people eligible to try out for the 1980 Olympics. Also named in the bulletin was Rodger Leonard, boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard’s brother who was in the Army stationed in Germany. “He and I were in the same weight division.”
Two things prevented Spinner from trying out for the US Olympic Boxing team that year which, looking back, also prevented him from perishing in the plane crash in Poland. If it wasn’t for the following two reasons, Spinner feels he would have made the team, since he had beaten one of the boxers that made the team and who had perished in the crash.
In 1979, the US military was prohibited from traveling due to the hostage crisis in Iran and the USSR invasion of Afghanistan. Boxers could have tried out, but wouldn’t have been able to travel. Neither Spinner nor Leonard tried out.
The main reason, though, why Spinner didn’t try out was due to a shoulder injury he sustained during a basketball game, leaving him in pain for three years.
Spinner, in all aspects of his travels, somehow has been able to roll with the punches to avoid the 10 count. Coming full circle, he finds the everyday challenges of handling claims rewarding. Whether subconsciously or by some unseen force, Spinner has found his niche in the WC claims industry. “It is ironic that my father’s death happened at work, and now I’m handling workers’ comp claims,” he concludes.


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