Public Adjusters: A Battle Looms in Florida

March 5, 2010

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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Insurance Quotes: Save Hundreds Of Dollars, Prevent Financial Disaster

June 22, 2009

Insurance quotes are a terrific way to help lower your monthly expenditures. I used a quote service earlier this year and saved $590 on my homeowners and car insurance package.

In today’s economy millions of people have lost their jobs. Millions more will lose jobs as the economy worsens. Millions of unemployed persons have stopped looking for new jobs, which skews the national unemployment figures, and makes the unemployment rate appear smaller than it actually is.

Some people have had to accept pay cuts just to keep their jobs. Add to that the number of unemployed people who just closed an economy-sensitive business.

I have a good friend who is a home designer. She has been in business for over 25 years, and was a nationally-renowned designer. In 2008, her business stopped like turning off a water faucet. She has just gone out of business. Will her business ever come back? No one knows.

Colleges and universities across America just finished commencement ceremonies, where tens of thousands of young graduates got their degree and a handshake. However, job prospects look bleak for this graduating class. According to an ABC News story, last year over 51% of graduates had a job when they left school. This year, the number is only 20%. But they still live in homes and drive cars every day.

An increasing number of people are allowing their insurance policies to lapse, or they are cancelling them outright. They simply made a decision that they cannot pay the premiums anymore.

What a horrible and tragic decision! Cancel your cell phone…your cable TV…your internet connection…your gym membership…your electrical service. But don’t go without insurance!

“Cancel my home’s electrical service??” I hear you sputter. “Have you lost your mind?”

Listen to me. You could temporarily live without electrical service in your home and your life would not be destroyed. But just have ONE insurance loss without coverage, and your financial life could easily be destroyed for the rest of your life.

A fire, windstorm or flood could wipe out your home or business. An auto accident could destroy your vehicle. If the accident is your fault, the claimant could sue you for damages, which could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In every example shown above, those people have homes, cars and businesses. In the area of auto ownership, every state in the USA and every Canadian province requires auto insurance by law. So, if you cancel your auto insurance, not only are you without coverage, but you are also committing a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions.

In addition, if your home, business or vehicle is financed, your lender requires you keep Property coverage on the property at all times. If the lender finds out that you have cancelled your coverage, they likely have the right to declare you in default on your loan, and require payment of the balance. They could repossess your car, home or business. At the very least, they could purchase coverage on your car, home or business property for the loan balance and charge you for it. This is called “forced-placed coverage,” and is very expensive, inferior coverage.

Before you make a choice to cancel your insurance policy, stop and consider getting insurance quotes that could lower your insurance premiums.

The process of getting insurance quotes is simple and IT COSTS YOU NOTHING! All you have to do is go online and use the search term “Insurance Quotes.” You’ll find hundreds of quote websites, all eager to get that quote for you.

Simply fill out an easy information form, giving the quote services details about what you want to insure and submit the form. Within minutes, you’ll begin receiving contacts from agents and insurance companies who want to compete for your business. Make sure that the coverage quoted are the same, and choose which vendor offers the best deal. Most times, the agent will do all the paperwork for you if you are switching from one company to another. Then, choose your new insurance company and breath easier with YOUR SAVINGS!!

My Insurance Quote website will get you great insurance quotes and also give you valuable claim strategies if you have a loss. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Think like a claims adjuster! No other insurance quote website can give you great rates AND claim strategies that WORK EVERY TIME!!

Get Insurance Quotes and Claim Strategies at:
InsuranceQuoteHQ.com


Department of Insurance Complaints: How To File A DOI Complaint

June 20, 2009

State Departments of Insurance report that dissatisfaction with claim settlements is the top reason consumers file complaints with them. Sometimes it is the fault of the insurer, and sometimes it is the policyholders’ fault for not having the right coverage.

Today, I’m going to walk you through the process of filing an insurance claim complaint. I’m going to use the process here in the state of Georgia, where I live. The process in your home state will be very similar, and can be found at the website of any state’s Department of Insurance. Or, you can phone your Department of Insurance and they will likely either tell you how, or send you printed information on the complaint process.

You may file a complaint with the Department of Insurance if you cannot resolve your dispute directly with your company. You can even file your complaint if you haven’t been through the appraisal process (found in your policy).

The Consumer Services Division of the Department of Insurance provides consumer information and investigates complaints about companies and producers. They handle most insurance problems involving home, business, auto, health, HMO, life, credit, dental, etc. Those problems may include coverage issues, claim disputes, premium problems, sales misrepresentations, policy cancellations, and refunds, just to name a few. They will also investigate a complaint against a Public Adjuster.

The Consumer Services Division will not:

• Give you legal advice or act as your attorney;
• Recommend an insurance company, agent or policy;
• Resolve a dispute when the only evidence is your word against the word of the adjuster, producer or company;
• Make determinations related to the facts of a case. For example, they will not conclude who is at fault in an accident or determine the disputed value of damaged or stolen property;
• Resolve complaints against service providers, like body shops and restoration contractors unless the complaints involve the action of the insurance company. For example, they could resolve complaints against a restoration contractor that the insurance company required you to use;
• Make medical judgments.

The Department of Insurance recommends:

• Read your policy carefully. It is important to know what your policy covers prior to having a loss. If you have questions on the coverages you have purchased have your Agent provide you an explanation.

• Keep copies of all correspondence between you and the insurance company. When communicating with your insurance carrier keep track of the phone numbers you called, the date and time of the call and the name and title of the individual you spoke with. After the call keep notes on what was discussed.

• Ask the company for the specific language in the policy related to your claim. Determine whether the disagreement is because you and the insurance company interpret your policy differently. If there is a disagreement on the language in the policy you can seek assistance through the Consumer Services Division by filing a complaint and providing the documentation which will include the policy language in dispute.

• If at all possible take pictures or videos of your contents in your home and do this periodically which will help in the event of a loss. Keep the pictures or video in a safe deposit box or somewhere other than the home.

AVOIDING AUTO AND HOMEOWNER CLAIMS

• Keep all receipts for repairs you make to your property after damage. Auto and homeowners policies may require you to make reasonable and necessary repairs to protect your property from further damage. Your policy covers the cost of these repairs. Keep the damaged property for the claims adjuster to inspect. If possible, take photos or videos of the damage before making temporary repairs.
• Don’t make permanent repairs until the adjuster has inspected the damage.
• Ask the adjuster for an itemized explanation of the claim settlement offer. For homeowners claims, this should include sales tax, depreciation, and holdback depreciation for policies with replacement cost coverage. Holdback depreciation is an amount of money withheld from your claim settlement until repairs are finished or the items are replaced. Ask how the adjuster determined the estimate amount.
• Be prepared to discuss your claim if there is a disagreement on the settlement offer. The more documentation you have on items owned will make the process easier.

If you do have a claim dispute, contact your insurance company first.

When contacting your insurance company have your policy number ready. Ask where your written dispute needs to be sent. State your complaint and how you expect the company to resolve it. Sending the dispute in writing encourages a written response.

Document your phone calls by noting the phone number you called, the name of the person with whom you spoke, the date of the call and a brief summary of the conversation. Keep copies of all written communications.

In addition to the written complaint, send copies (not originals) of letters, notes, invoices, canceled checks, advertising materials, or other documents that support your complaint.

The DOI Complaint Form

The DOI Complaint Form is a document that can be completed, printed and submitted with copies of documents that support your complaint. Obtain this form at the DOI website or phone them and request a copy be sent to you by mail. This will enable them to set up a case and eliminate the need for them to request documents, and reduce the delay in providing a response. Always keep your original documents for your records.

To help ensure that the Department of Insurance receives all necessary information to investigate your complaint, include the following information with your complaint:

* your name, address, daytime telephone number and email address
* the exact name of the insurance company
* the full name of any agent or adjuster who may be involved
* your policy number
* your claim number and the date of your loss, if applicable
* a copy of both sides of your insurance card
* a concise description of your problem
* copies of all supporting documentation, including invoices, canceled checks, advertising materials, and any letters between you and the company or agent.

What will the Department of Insurance do to resolve your complaint?

* Send a copy of your complaint to the entity you complained against and request a detailed written response.
* Determine if your issue was handled appropriately under the terms of the policy or certificate of coverage.
* Review your file to determine if the insurance company, insurance agent, or adjuster violated state insurance laws.
* Take enforcement action when laws are violated.

Even though they may not always be able to help you resolve your complaint, your complaints and inquiries help the DOI to assist other policyholders by identifying issues of concern and may help identify potential problems with insurance companies, agents, or adjusters. Their involvement can also cause insurance entities to look more closely at your concerns.

What happens after you file a complaint with the Department of Insurance?

* You will receive an acknowledgment letter, advising who the investigator is and their contact information. Your Case Number shown on the letter is for the issue submitted to the Department. The case number should be used to send additional information to the Department on your case.
* If you have future complaints you will get a new case number, acknowledgement letter and the new investigators name and contact information.
* The DOI will notify the company of your complaint and ask for a detailed response. They will send you a copy of the company’s response, with their formal letter regarding the completion of our investigation. The review will result in one of the following actions:

o If the complaint has been resolved, they will send you a letter explaining the resolution.
o If an insurance law has been violated, they will request corrective action by the company.
o If the company is not abiding by the policy, they will request corrective action.
o If the insurer or producer has not responded to all questions or has not investigated the complaint thoroughly, they will require them to do so.

What happens if you are not satisfied with Department of Insurance results?

If you disagree with the Department’s response to your complaint, contact the Consumer Services Division and ask to speak with a Supervisor.

You may wish to consult an attorney to discuss your concerns. You may also request alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to settle disputes with your insurance company on property claims. ADR uses techniques such as mediation with a neutral third party to help settle a dispute outside a formal court of law. Please consult your telephone book for listings for attorneys and mediation services.

Now you have a basic knowledge of the complaint process. Remember, the Departments of Insurance exist to regulate insurance companies and protect consumers. Don’t be shy about enlisting their help. That’s why they exist.


Claims Adjusters: How to Interview and Evaluate a Claims Adjuster

June 20, 2009

Claims adjusters are no different than any other group of people. Some are trainees, some have limited experience and training, and some have lots of experience and training.

But how will you know what kind of adjuster you will be assigned when you have an insurance claim? Adjusters don’t show up and hand you a copy of their resume. Sometimes, you will be lucky to get their business card.

Usually, the qualifications of an adjuster are never mentioned. Yet, it is those very qualifications…or the lack thereof…that can make or break your claim.

People are way too trusting and compliant. They have a loss, call the insurance company and report the claim. But when the adjuster arrives to begin the adjusting process, it seldom seems to occur to policyholders that they have a right to question the qualifications of the adjuster. They just stand there like sheep waiting to be shorn. And then the shearing begins.

So today, I’m going to walk you through the process of determining the qualifications of any insurance adjuster. Once you’ve gathered this information, you’ll be able to make a decision whether or not to accept this adjuster to handle your claim.

This process only works for first party claims, in which you are the policyholder. You cannot use this process when you are the claimant against someone else’s insurance policy.

1. After you have submitted your Notice of Loss to the insurance company, they will assign an adjuster to handle your claim.
2. Know that there is nothing in your policy that requires you to accept any particular adjuster who is representing the insurance company.
3. The adjuster will contact you to make an appointment to meet with you. Make the appointment and keep it.
4. When the adjuster arrives, take control of the situation. Before the adjuster begins his inspection or investigation, ask him:
a. Is he a licensed adjuster in your state? Get his license number. Adjusters in my state are required by law to carry their license card with them.
b. Is he a temporary adjuster?
c. How many years has he been an adjuster?
d. How many years has he worked for this company?
e. What specialized claims training classes has he taken?
f. Has there ever been a complaint filed against him with the Department of Insurance of your state?
g. What is the name and telephone number of his supervisor?

Once you have obtained this information you can make the decision whether or not to accept this adjuster.

My recommendations:

1. Do not accept a temporary adjuster. Commonly known as “Storm Troopers,” temporary adjusters have had very little training. Do you want an ill-trained adjuster handling your loss?
2. Do not accept an adjuster with less than two years of experience handling your particular type of loss. With less than two years experience, he’s still a rookie.
3. Do not accept a non-licensed adjuster. However, if your state does not license adjusters, you have no choice.
4. Do not accept an adjuster than has not had specific training in your type of loss. For example, in disasters, sometimes the insurance company will have auto adjusters helping out with the high volume of property claims. But why should you accept an adjuster that is not a specialist in your type of claim?
5. Check with your state’s Department of Insurance to verify if the adjuster has had complaints filed against him. If he has had a complaint, find out why. What’s most important is the cause of the complaint, like violating a law, unethical acts or fraud.
6. If you get any unsatisfactory answers to your questions, and you want a more qualified adjuster, send your request by letter, US Post Office Certified Mail, to the adjuster’s supervisor.
7. If the insurance company rejects your request, file a complaint with your state’s Department of Insurance.

Adjusters are not accustomed to getting this type of challenge from policyholders. Don’t be surprised if some adjusters resist your questions. Adjusters are taught to control you, the policyholder, in the claims process. If you are in control, they can feel very threatened. But their insecurity or lack of control should not deter you from getting these questions answered.

Remember that your job as claimant is to submit a very accurate claim that maximizes your recovery. Dealing with an unqualified adjuster would only serve to complicate your claim submission.


Public Adjusters: How To Choose the Right Public Adjuster

June 20, 2009

Public Adjusters (PAs) are licensed claims adjusting professionals that represent the policyholder in the calculation, preparation and submission of a claim. They do not work for the insurance company. They work for YOU, the person or business who suffered the loss.

Public Adjusters only work on property claims, such as homeowners, apartment complexes, and businesses. They do not represent clients in auto or liability claims.

The biggest challenge for a policyholder who has had an insured loss is the calculation, preparation and submission of his claim. Most people do not have the expertise to submit an insurance claim, and they end up leaving hundreds or even thousands of dollars “on the table” that they are entitled to collect…but don’t collect. A PA will maximize your claim settlement.

I strongly recommend that you contact a PA any time you have a property claim. A consultation will customarily cost you nothing, but their representation could collect thousands more for you.

When it’s time to find a Public Adjuster, do the following:

1. Use your computer search engine and search for “Public Adjuster” along with your city or zip code.
2. Look in the Yellow Pages under “Public Adjusters.”
3. Go to: http://www.napia.com which is the website for the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters and get referrals in your area.

Contact at least two PAs in your area and interview them with these questions:

1. Are you licensed in your state?
2. How many years have you been a PA?
3. Do you have a specialty?
4. Can you provide a list of at least ten satisfied customers with phone numbers?
5. Do you have documentation of your success in insurance settlements?
6. Have you ever had a complaint filed against you with the Department of Insurance?
7. Please explain your fees and how you are paid.
8. Please provide a copy of your retainer contract.

Based upon the information you receive from each PA, and how you get along with them, make your choice which PA will be on your team. Then work together to collect every dollar that you are entitled to collect.


Property Damage Attorneys: How To Choose The Right Property Damage Attorney

June 20, 2009

Property Damage Attorneys are lawyers that assist policyholders in their property claims. Customarily, they are not Personal Injury attorneys, who represent policyholders and claimants who are seeking recovery from damages or injury.

In my hot-selling book, “Insurance Claim Secrets REVEALED!” I have a chapter entitled “Should I Get A Lawyer?” I recommend that anyone who is preparing a claim should consult an attorney.

When I say “consult an attorney,” I don’t necessarily mean retain an attorney. But you should consult an attorney at every step of the claims process. You do not want to give up any of your rights just because you are unfamiliar with the law. Such an incident could bar you from recovery of your full claim.

You should have your attorney present, or on a conference call, when the adjuster asks for a recorded statement. You should also have your attorney review every document that the insurance company requests that you sign, such as a Sworn Statement in Proof of Loss or a Release Form.

So, here is how to choose the right property damage attorney:

1. Using your computer’s search engine, look for “Property Damage Law” and your zip code or name of your state. That search should give you names of attorneys in your area.
2. Contact at least two Personal Injury attorneys in your area and ask them for referrals to attorneys practicing Property Damage Law.

Once you’ve found Property Damage Attorneys in your area, interview them with the following questions:

1. Are you licensed in your state?
2. How many years have you been a Property Damage Attorney?
3. Do you have a specialty?
4. Can you provide a list of at least ten satisfied customers with phone numbers?
5. Do you have documentation of your success in insurance settlements?
6. Have you ever had a complaint filed against you with the Department of Insurance or the State Bar Association?
7. Please explain your fees and how you are paid.
8. Please provide a copy of your retainer contract.

Based upon the information you glean from your interviews, you can make a choice of the best Property Damage Attorney to consult.


Body Shops: How To Choose the Right Body Shop

June 20, 2009

Automotive Body Shops are everywhere. Most auto dealers have one, as well as most commercial vehicle dealers. Then there are the shade-tree body shop guys that repair cars in their garages in their spare time. Finally, you’ll find many independent body shops sprinkled throughout your area.

So, how does a person who is not an expert in automobile repairs determine what body shop to choose?

In the insurance claims field, the choice is even more complicated. Many insurance companies have relationships with certain body shops that they call “preferred vendors.” The insurers will try hard to steer you toward their favorite repair facility. Customarily, these preferred vendors have made a deal with the insurance company to repair vehicles at a discounted labor rate. They will also agree to use aftermarket auto parts in the repairs.

But remember…you own your car. The insurance company does not own your car. It is YOUR responsibility to make sure your vehicle is repaired correctly.

I recommend three important strategies in dealing with body shops.

1. Take your damaged vehicle to YOUR chosen body shop, not necessarily the preferred vendor of the insurance company.
2. Insist that the body shop write an estimate using Original Equipment Manufactured (OEM) Parts. Aftermarket parts, favored by the insurers, are characteristically inferior parts that do not go through the same inspection and screening that OEM parts undergo. So, while they may FIT your car, they can compromise your safety as well as the value of your car.
3. The insurance companies are required to return your vehicle to pre-loss condition. That is impossible using cheap aftermarket parts.

So here’s how to choose a body shop.

1. Seriously consider getting at least one estimate from a dealer of your make of vehicle. For example, if you have a Toyota, get a Toyota dealer body shop estimate.
2. Ask your friends, neighbors and business associates for referrals to body shops they’ve used in the past.
3. Use your computer search engine to find body shops in your city or zip code.

When you narrow it down to about three shops, interview them asking these questions:

1. Are you licensed in your state?
2. How many years have you been an Auto Body Repair specialist?
3. Do you have a specialty?
4. Can you provide a list of at least ten satisfied customers with phone numbers?
5. Do you have documentation of your success in insurance settlements?
6. Have you ever had a complaint filed against you with the Better Business Bureau or State Office of Consumer Affairs?

Once you get two or three estimates, negotiate with the insurance company based upon the HIGHEST estimate.

Based upon the information you glean from your interviews, you can make a choice of the best auto body shop to use.