Hurricane Sally Insurance Claim Update – The Public Adjuster’s On-the-Ground Perspective
by Rick Tutwiler on 10/27/2020
It’s been a little over a month since Hurricane Sally roared ashore. My fellow adjusters and I have seen some serious damage in the Pensacola area and we plan to be here for the long-haul. Many policyholders are just starting to receive their insurance checks in the mail and much to their surprise, the settlement checks received are grossly insufficient and barely cover a fraction of what the true cost of repairs will actually be. Some brave souls are trying to handle their own claim. We see this same scenario play out in every storm that we have worked over the years.
Sadly, this trend will continue and as the demand for construction services increases, the overall recovery from Sally will continue to deteriorate. This factor is driven by increasing costs for quality labor and specialty subcontractors along with rising costs for building supplies and materials.
For those who have hired a licensed public adjuster, those claims are on top of the pile and being expedited every way possible. Sadly, those who chose to “wait and see” what their insurance companies were going to offer, reality has hit and they are quickly scrambling to hire a public adjuster to help dig them out of the hole. Many see they have been caught in the log-jam and now want to get ahead of the thousands of other policyholders whose claims are still in the que. To add to the misery, the Florida State statutes places a fee cap where licensed public adjusters cannot charge more than 10% of any “new” money that has been previously offered or paid by the insurance company. Essentially, lobbyist and advocates for the insurance companies have made it cost prohibitive for the policyholder to hire professional claims help even if the consumer wants to pay for the service from dollar one.
We’re also hearing anecdotal evidence that some insurance companies are instructing their field adjusters to “keep the estimates low.” That may come as a shock to some, but you have to remember that insurance companies make their money off of the claim reserves that they don’t have to pay out. I recently had a conversation with an independent adjuster who was actually a great guy who wanted to write an accurate estimate, but his managers and superiors told him to keep the repair estimate below $150K when he verbally agreed and told me his estimate exceed $350K! This is happening more than you would want to know.
We are also seeing some companies sending settlement checks with no repair estimate attached to support the payment amount, which is bad business. Of greater concern are the checks that come with “Release of Rights” language stating: “cashing of this check constitutes your agreement of the claim settlement” where if the check is cashed the companies will argue that you were in full agreement and therefore they will close the claim. We continue to see this “tactic” and each day we hear many more stories just like it.
To be fair and balanced, some of our firm's clients have been adequately paid by their respective insurance companies. I’d like to think the reason is because our firm properly assembled and presented a legitimate claim. If done correctly the insurance company has nothing to legitimately dispute so they simply pay what they rightfully owe and everyone is happy. In these cases, we make sure that we acknowledge the company for doing the right thing and oftentimes they respond by thanking us for helping them to present the claims to their inside claims management who ultimately signs off to authorize making the payment. Also, my guess is that many insured policyholders in the most ravaged areas, are being paid full policy limits where the structure is gone, the loss is over the policy limits AND there is no dispute about wind vs. flood. Let’s hope.
Make no mistake, there are some really good field adjusters working for the insurance companies and those are the folks who should be carrying the checkbooks in their cars to write a check right on the spot. Unfortunately, those days are long gone and now the field adjusters have to submit their reports, which the inside file examiners who sit behind their computers (often in another State) sometimes tell them to modify their estimate for whatever reason. But we all know the reason - MONEY! If an insurance company can save $5K on a claim payment and apply the same concept to 1,000 other claims, that is a savings of $5,000,000 dollars! My claim noted above is a $200K difference and simple math tells me that if they can get away with 10 of those there is another $2,000,000 dollars in their pocket. The list goes on.
Historically, many company adjusters get tired of the day to day grind of having to do so many inspections. Life in the disaster zone is not easy. Working 7 days a week and long hours at night grows old quick. Sitting in traffic, mounting expenses for fuel and hotel along with dealing with angry consumers does take a toll and eventually many of these men and women want to go home to their families, especially as the Holiday Season approaches. Many will not return leaving files open. This leaves policyholders still waiting to receive a fair settlement having to call their insurance companies to request another adjuster be reassigned in their attempts to get the insurance companies to make supplemental payments and do what is right.
From what I am seeing, Hurricane Sally will be the nightmare that is going to last for many months to come. Especially for the many condominiums that lie along the coast. Businesses and homeowners need to educate themselves, be vigilant and not give in to a process that can hurt them in the long run. If you feel you are not being treated fairly, seek out professional advice from someone you feel comfortable with and get an advocate on your side.
Let us know what your claims experience has been? Tutwiler & Associates has been working hurricane claims since 1984. For your own peace of mind, call our Pensacola insurance adjusters now at 850-783-3319 for a free, no-cost claim evaluation, visit our Hurricane Sally Insurance Claim Public Adjuster page for additional information or contact a public adjuster to submit a question to one of our insurance claim experts.