Public Adjusters: A Battle Looms in Florida

By Russell D. Longcore

In the State of Florida over the last twenty years, Public Adjusters (PA) have been very successful in helping policyholders recover all the money they are entitled to collect.

Way too successful for the insurance companies’ liking.

So, a major battle is looming in the State of Florida over the business practices of Public Adjusters.

Three insurance associations are supporting legislation to restrict how Public Adjusters operate. The Florida Insurance Council, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and the Florida Property Casualty Association issued statements which criticize Public Adjusters…who represent homeowners in the professional preparation of insurance claims…accusing them of “inflating” claims, driving up costs for all policyholders.

But think about it for a moment, friends. The insurance companies enter into agreements with the PA and the policyholder to settle a claim. That means that “a buyer and a seller” agree on a price. Nothing forces the insurance companies to agree to a price they believe is too high. The insurance companies simply hate the fact that a policyholder goes into the marketplace and hires a claims professional to represent himself in the preparation of his claim. That is akin to the IRS getting mad at people for having their taxes prepared by an accountant.

State Senator Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole filed new legislative bills in February. The bills (S2264 and H1181) seek to:

• Prevent Public Adjusters from soliciting customers either by phone or in person unless both parties had a prior knowledge of one another or were family members.

• Prevent PAs from sending mail to prospective clients in the first 30 days after a storm. Further, the bill seeks to force Pas to label their letters “ADVERTISEMENT” in 14-point font red letters.

• Prohibit PAs from informing a prospective client of their firm’s success record in obtaining claim settlements for policyholders.

• Cap fees for PA services at 10% for hurricane claims, and a 20% cap for all other property claims.¹

It is a criminal restraint of trade to suggest that a Public Adjuster cannot attempt to make contact with a prospective client for 30 days after a storm. After a major hurricane, communications systems are usually broken for a time. In most instances, the only way a PA can contact a prospective client in the dasy after a storm is through either a personal visit or mail delivery.

Insureds with damages have immediate needs for emergency board-up, mitigation of damages, Living Expenses and other policy benefits. The insureds will need this kind of help immediately, not 30 days after the storm.

There is no legislation that prevents a building contractor from soliciting business right after a storm. Same goes for a roofer, tree removal company, or a debris hauler. So, no restriction should be imposed on PAs either.

You don’t see a restriction on accountants in tax season. You don’t see restrictions on Personal Injury attorneys after accidents. Why pick on PAs?

Think about this also. Hurricanes happen in hot weather. Damages from water quickly become mold damages. Mold left untreated for 30 days could render a building entirely useless and could require demolition. Further, the insurance companies have written ironclad Mold Exclusions that you can be sure they would invoke.

The state legislators wish to deny policyholders the timely assistance in preparation of their insurance claims, under the guise of protecting the policyholders of the State of Florida. But this effort to too transparent not to be seen for what it is…a desperate insurance industry trying to maximize its own profits at the expense of the policyholders of the State of Florida.

A recent state study found that in the past six years, the Division of Insurance Fraud received 937 complaints about public adjuster-related fraud from insurers and policyholders. It investigated only 269 of the complaints and made 31 arrests from 2004 to 2009. Curiously, the study did not say how many complaints it had received from policyholders about their own insurance companies’ claims practices. Nor did the study show how many hundreds of thousands of claims had been filed from 2004 to 2009. But we do know that SIX major hurricanes struck Florida in that time period.

They were:

Charlie – Category 4
Frances – Category 3
Jeanne – Category 3
Dennis – Category 4
Katrina – Category 3
Wilma – Category 4

Let’s run some numbers to show how deceptive this report is and give some perspective.

Let’s say that the total number of property claims filed for all the listed hurricanes togetherover six years was 1,000,000 claims. You already know that this number is ridiculously small, since tens of millions of property owners suffered repeated losses in the hurricanes. But at 1 million claims, 937 complaints is less than 0.0937% of all the claims filed. That is less than one percent of a purposefully low estimate of claims. And in only 31 cases was there enough evidence for even an arrest, much less a conviction.

And 31 arrests…not convictions…over six years is not enough illegal activity to cause legislators to pass additional laws restricting the business operations of ALL Public Adjusters.

Looks to me like the Public Adjusters, taken as a group, are paragons of virtue. They should be praised, not pilloried…lauded, not legislated…decorated, not demagogued.

I wonder if Senator Mike Bennett and Rep. Janet Long would open up their financial records and disclose how much money they have received in contributions from insurance industry-related donors. My guess is that these Florida solons are bought and paid for by the insurance lobby.

Write to your own Senate or House representative and vigorously protest the enactment of these bills into law. Florida policyholders would once again be taken advantage of by the insurance companies if this bill is passed.

¹To read the bill for yourself, go to: Public Adjuster Bill

© Copyright 2010, Russell D. Longcore. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

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One Response to Public Adjusters: A Battle Looms in Florida

  1. […] See more here: Public Adjusters: A Battle Looms in Florida « World of Insurance … […]

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