The DFS and Public Adjuster Apprentices – Whose Advice can you Trust?
The latest Journal of Public Adjusting, Volume 4 Issue 2, prompted this blog. Appeal Efforts Results in Unfavorable Ruling for Dominick Belinchak highlights the long and I assume costly battle Mr. Belinchak, (a licensed public adjuster) has waged with the Florida Department of Financial Services over the issue of the “undefined term of direct supervision” of a public adjuster apprentice.
I have been following Mr. Belinchak’s case in The Journal of Public Adjusting and also spoke with him at length some months back about the history and status of this dispute. It seems this all started due to his employment of several apprentice public adjusters following the series of hurricanes that impacted Florida in 2004 and 2005.
From my recollection, some in the public adjusting industry came up with the idea that an apprentice program would in some way correct and legitimize the profession and also help correct conduct that some in the insurance industry and perhaps at the regulatory level felt was necessary due to the wholesale licensing of inexperienced public adjusters. Sometime later, it was reported that many of the presumably problem public adjusters were granted licenses after taking an on-line public adjusters exam with no DIRECT SUPERVISION to authenticate who was actually taking the test or providing the answers.
While seemingly a good idea to a few at the time, the Belinchak’s matter has shown the apprentice program has now become a loadstone for those in the industry and others who aspire to be part of the profession in Florida.
The issue with Mr. Beinchak centers on the fact that he was not with his apprentice public adjusters at the time they entered into a contract with some clients. Apparently, the regulators said direct supervision required Mr. Belinchak to be present and supervising the solicitation and contract signing process in person. Mr. Belinchak stated that he called the DFS hotline and was given clear and unambiguous instructions as to what direct supervision was and that relying on this advice his role was to be the supervisor of the public adjusters apprentice work but not necessarily the solicitation and signing of the contract.
The DFS took exception with this, and litigation ensued up through the 5th District Court of Appeals who refused to hear his appeal from a lower court that had ruled in favor of the DFS, stating that direct supervision meant direct in person supervision at the time of solicitation and contract signing. As a result, Mr. Beinchak’s license was suspended for 1 year.
So while we know what the requirements are for direct supervision, one of the things that came out of this litigation is astounding to me. Mr. Belinchak states in his note to “My Fellow Public Adjusters” that the DFS attorney reminded the lower court that whatever the DFS says or writes is just an opinion and is non–binding!
The fact that this attorney said this and the lower court relied on the DFS statement, is a shocker to me and should be to all insurance license holders and the public in general. Can anyone that seeks advice and counsel utilizing the DFS Hotline at their time of need trust the direction they receive?
Meanwhile, the apprentice program has backfired, in more ways than one. Want to grow your business and hire adjusters? Good luck. Not many firms or individuals I know will have the resources to have an all lines public adjuster directly supervise an apprentice public adjuster during all phases of solicitation and contract signing. I must question if there is a case for discrimination here, as I am not aware of other insurance license holders such as life, health, auto, and property insurance agent trainees having a requirement to have a supervisor constantly present while they practice their trade. What do you think?