How Policyholders Can Benefit from Hiring a Public Adjuster for Their Hurricane Florence Property Insurance Claim
by Charles R. Tutwiler on 10/2/2018
Based on the volume of phone calls coming into our offices, North and South Carolina business and homeowners are quickly turning their attention to recovering from Hurricane Florence. With widespread flooding and property damage, property owners unfamiliar with the process will be filing an insurance claim for the first time and possibly seeking assistance and advice for their property insurance damage claim. One of the most common questions we receive when calls come into our offices revolves around the benefits of hiring a public insurance adjuster. It still amazes us that so many policyholders have not heard of our profession or understand what public adjusters do. So, in an attempt to educate and not blow our own horn, I’ll try to answer that question in hopes of giving readers a basic understanding of what public adjusters do and the critical role they can play in the insurance claims process.
Put simply, Public Adjusters are state licensed and trained experts on property insurance loss adjustment. They are retained and employed exclusively by policyholders who have sustained an insured loss to assist in preparing, filing, managing and negotiating insurance claim settlements. Most importantly, public insurance adjusters act as advocates for the policyholder with their insurance company, managing every detail of the claim and working closely with the policyholder to provide the most equitable and prompt settlement possible. A competent public insurance adjuster should be expected to review the insured’s policy for coverage, inspect the loss site immediately, analyze and document property and personal content damages, assemble claim support data and determine current replacement costs.
The alternative is to manage your own claim, trust your insurance company to send out a competent adjuster who will take the time to properly evaluate your loss and offer you a fair settlement that is adequate to return your property to its pre-damaged condition. In severe storms like Hurricane Florence, we find that insurance company resources can be stressed and it can sometimes take several days or even weeks to get an adjuster to evaluate a property. Policyholders who are under stress to get their damage repaired sometimes settle for less than adequate compensation.
In past storms, we have seen company adjusters, contractors, water restoration firms and many unlicensed individuals telling policyholders they don’t need a public adjuster or an attorney and will take care of filing their insurance claim. This is considered practicing public adjusting without a license and strictly prohibited.
Some of the contractors also have provisions in their contracts called “Assignment of Benefits” (AOB) that assign all proceeds and rights of your claim over to the contractor. Costs get inflated, workmanship suffers, the insurance company refuses to pay and lawsuits follow. If there is only one thing you remember from reading this article, it should be to keep control of your insurance claim. Don’t sign your rights away!
So why should you hire a public adjuster and what benefits might the policyholder get from hiring a public adjuster you might ask? Here are a few key benefits:
1. Properly Filing Your Claim: You need someone knowledgeable in “insurance speak” and the technicalities of policy language that can negotiate with the insurance company to get the best settlement on your claim and to make sure the process is done expertly and error free. We have been involved in many losses where a policyholder was either told or thought they were not covered for a loss where we found coverage in their policy.
2. Experience and Skills: Handling a math problem is a cinch, but understanding your cryptic insurance policy requires more experience than you may have. In my opinion, insurance claim handling is as much art as it is a science. Many adjusters, whether it be an insurance company adjuster, independent adjuster hired by the insurance company or a public adjuster, all have their own techniques in estimating losses. In the aftermath of a storm like Hurricane Florence, many adjusters will be brought in from other States to help handle the thousands of insurance claims. These adjusters from out of state can be problematic especially if the adjuster is not knowledgeable about the specific laws and regulations of the State and how it governs the payment of property insurance claims. When adjusting resources are short, independent adjusting firms who work for the insurance companies rush to train new adjusters so they can meet demand. They get a few days training and send them out to adjust your claim! This situation can lead to claims handling mistakes and the policyholder will be the one who suffers. So, find out where your adjuster is from and what experience they have. Ask questions!
3. Avoiding Mistakes: Placing a fair value on the loss, identifying and accounting for possessions and valuables are facets of the claim that can be tedious but are absolutely necessary. Allowing restoration companies to remove or discard property before it is documented is another problem. Making one mistake when filing your insurance claim could result in not receiving an adequate settlement for your damage. With insurance company adjusters hard-pressed to inspect so many Hurricane Florence claims, having a trained adjuster who works for you taking the time to document all losses can only benefit the policyholder.
4. Getting Paid Quickly: Policyholders are generally happy if they get paid quickly. As a matter of fact, this is a tactic of the insurance companies use to try and get you to settle quickly. However, hindsight is always 20/20. Don’t let your insurance company force you into a settlement that is lower than what you’re entitled to for the promise of getting you your settlement money faster. Public adjusters see this tactic everyday and can help negotiate an upfront payment while moving the claim process along so you have money in your hands faster. Make sure you fully understand what it is going to cost to repair you damages.
5. Network of Contacts: An experienced public adjusting firm will have the right contacts in their database to be able to get the damage cleaned-up and fixed properly. Whether it’s plumbers, contractors, roofers, mold or remediation firms. Some insurance companies have initiated so called “managed repair” programs where they will send you “their” contractors. The only problem we see with this is the conflict of interest where a vendor has agreed to a reduced rate to win the referral business of the insurance company. Lower costs sometimes mean lower quality materials and workmanship. Just be careful. When you need to trust someone the most, using the resources of an experienced public adjuster to handle the intricacies of your insurance claim settlement and get you moving forward again.
In closing, we see the public adjuster as a vital link in the insurance claims process by acting as an advocate for the policyholder, managing their expectations and getting claims settled fairly. In this litigious society, many homeowners think their only recourse is to hire an attorney to fight the insurance company. While this is certainly an option and we fully respect our attorney colleagues who we work closely with, we find that we settle approximately 93% of our claims without the assistance of an attorney. When one is needed, we provide several names as required by law of experienced property insurance lawyers the policyholder can interview. The bottom line is that there are plenty of options for homeowners to protect themselves during the insurance claim process. Don’t short change yourself.
If you have questions regarding any property insurance related issue caused by Hurricane Florence please call 800-321-4488 or contact a licensed Public Adjuster to submit a question to one of our insurance claim experts.