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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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.


Property Insurance Claims: Take Photos

June 18, 2009

I just handled a burglary loss for a very nice woman in Atlanta. She decided to go to the market at about 8:30 pm on a Wednesday evening in late May. She began to drive toward the market and noticed four teenaged boys standing in a park very near her home. She hesitated for a moment, then continued to the market.

When she returned at 8:55 pm, she found that someone had broken through her back door and stole jewelry, cash, a TV, a laptop and some expensive handbags. Her claim totaled over $20,000. Only $1,500 of that were for repairs to the back door.

I provided a Contents Inventory Worksheet so she could list all the items stolen. She submitted the worksheet quickly. Unfortunately, she had no receipts or any other kind of documents to prove that she actually owned the stolen items. Even photos of her stuff would have helped to prove she owned it. But no photos either.

The insurance company wanted to pay some of the claim, but insisted that she provide some documentation. She could not. The insurance company denied the Contents portion of the loss, and paid her only $500 after assessing her $1,000 deductible.

Gentle readers, this is not an isolated incident in the claims process for property claims. Insurance companies are serious about holding down their claims cost. And it is YOUR responsibility to prove your claim.

You have a legal contract with the insurance company. Part of that legal contract requires you to provide proof of ownership of your contents. The insurance companies give a lot of latitude in these matters, but remember that they don’t have to.

Most people are not going to create a master file of all their receipts for the stuff they buy, and then keep that file in a fireproof box or off-site. So, most people who have a fire, flood, burglary, hurricane or water loss are going to be faced with proving ownership of their personal property.

So, remember this: The NUMBER ONE most important thing that you can do to prove ownership of your personal property is to PHOTOGRAPH IT.

Get a camcorder, or digital camera, or even disposable cameras. Go through your home or business and capture your personal property “on film.” Do it once a year, and then remember to update after every major purchase…like a new computer or flat-screen TV. Don’t leave anything out. Even photo inside drawers and closets.

Take the photos or video and place them off-site. I recommend a safe deposit box.

Then, in case of a disaster, you have some visual proof of your loss. You could review the video or photos and compile your inventory list. You could submit a copy of the photos or video as proof of ownership.

The photo/video process takes me an hour when I do it. And that’s filming in average sized home.

Don’t take a chance by being unprepared. It could cost you tens of thousands of dollars at claim time.


Restoration Contractors: Liability Issues That Can Affect YOU!

June 16, 2009

If you are the victim of an insured loss, such as a fire, flood, tornado or hurricane, you will likely have to hire a restoration contractor to complete repairs on your home. However, here is an issue that most property owners never consider…until it’s too late.

That issue is the liability insurance of the restoration contractor. No matter if you are the owner of residential or commercial property, you could have major liability issues in the process of the restoration.

Restoration contractors are customarily general contractors. That means that they manage the work of sub-contractors. They may hire plumbers, framing crews, roofers, electricians, drywall crews, painters and other artisans to complete the work on your property. Many times, the restoration contractor has a crew of workers on his payroll. But, there are some restoration contractors that only act as construction managers.

There’s nothing wrong with that arrangement if the job gets done on time and on budget.

You’ll be entering into a contract with the contractor you choose. In addition, you will be granting authority for your contractor to work on your premises, as well as his sub-contractors. Here is where you must take care to protect yourself.

In the pre-contract process of verifying your chosen contractor’s credentials, you will have required the contractor to provide you with a current copy of his insurance certificate. Take a few minutes and phone the insurance company and confirm that the coverage is in effect, and that the policy dates are correct.

You must insist that the restoration contractor carry General Liability, Completed Operations and Workers Compensation insurance (if he has employees). In addition, you must insist that each sub-contractor furnish the same insurance certificates. The only exception would be a contractor who worked alone and had no employees. That fellow would not need Workers Compensation insurance.

Another very important strategy is to insist that ALL the contractors place you on their insurance policies as an “Additional Named Insured.” That way, if anything were to happen in the course of repairs, such as a worker injury or some other liability issue for which they are liable, THEIR insurance policy would defend and indemnify on your behalf.

This one strategy could save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in a lawsuit award, and thousands in legal fees defending the suit.

Don’t leave yourself vulnerable to liability and lawsuits. Use this strategy!


Personal Property Claims: The Depreciation Trap

June 10, 2009

Personal property claims can be some of the most frustrating claims in the insurance claims process. The deck is stacked against you if you have any kind of insurance policy that insures your personal property. This is true for property owned by homeowners and renters as well as the personal property owned by businesses and other commercial entities.

Personal property, also commonly known as “Contents,” is usually described as any property in or on the insured premises not permanently attached to the building. Naturally, your policy will give you a definition that is more exact that this one, and will also have exclusions about some property that is not covered.

Many property insurance policies have the Replacement Cost (RC) Endorsement on the policy that covers the contents. The claims process for your Contents is the trap laid by the insurance companies. Don’t think that your insurer wouldn’t do that to you…they ALL do it.

Here’s the method of settlement found in all policies with the Replacement Cost Endorsement.

You submit your contents claim inventory. On that inventory you will have listed all of your contents, item by item, and the replacement cost. The insurance company will apply depreciation to each item of your contents, based upon its age and condition. Subtracting the depreciation amount from the replacement cost gives you the Actual Cash Value (ACV) of your property, whether business or personal.

The insurance company settles RC claims by issuing two separate checks. The first check will be for the ACV amount. According to the Loss Conditions in the policy, the insurer only pays you the RC of your contents once the replacement has been made.

For example, if you had an item with an RC value of $1000, and the depreciation amount was 30%, or $300, you would receive the first payment of $700. But, $700 does not replace the item. In order to receive the RC amount you will have to use $300 of your own money plus the $700 paid by the insurance company to make the replacement purchase. Then you are eligible for the second check, the $300 reimbursement.

Now…think about the same example if your entire contents claim is $100,000.

The insurance company “holds back” $30,000. In order for you to make the replacement purchases, you will have to find $30,000 of your own money, make the purchases, and then get reimbursed by the insurance company.

Where are you going to get that $30,000? Savings? Credit Card? Get a loan? Or perhaps you’re like many people that don’t have those cash resources available to them. They cannot make the replacements at all.

Do you see the trap?

Here is a strategy of three things you can do to minimize the effects of the Depreciation Trap.

1. Demand that the insurance company provide you a copy of the Depreciation Tables that they used to calculate your loss.

2. Compare each item, line by line, to be certain that the proper amount of depreciation was assessed by the adjuster.

3. Challenge any and all incorrect depreciation amounts.

By using this three-step strategy, you will maximize your Contents claim amount.

There is another Contents strategy that you MUST use when documenting your Personal Property claim. It relates to the personal property you won’t be replacing.

I knew a family that had a major fire loss. The wife was an attorney for many years. Then, when she had her first child, she decided to leave the business world and be a full-time mom. She had a closet full of expensive business suits, blouses, shoes and accessories. She was not going to replace them, since she was not using them any more for work clothing. So, we worked hard at establishing the highest possible value on her wardrobe. The ACV money that the family was paid for her wardrobe was used to make RC purchases of other items that did need replacing.

You can use this strategy in your Contents claim. Your home, condo, apartment or business is full of personal property that you’ve purchased over the years that (a) is obsolete or (b) you’re not using anymore. A business could have inventory items or office equipment that is unsold or obsolete. In each case, you have every right to be paid the correctly calculated ACV for those items. Then, you can use those dollars to offset the “holdback” amount when you are making your replacement purchases.

Don’t be a pushover! Don’t allow the insurance company to depreciate your Contents without a fight!

Fight back and WIN!


Hurricane Preparedness: Prune Your Losses

June 8, 2009

Hurricane preparedness goes beyond making sure your insurance policies are up to date. There are some practical things you can do around your property, whether home or business, that can lower the risk of storm damage.

The National Climactic Data Center published statistics for 2007 that showed property damage from storms at over $7.4 billion. 2008 totals were higher with the Texas hurricanes. I imagine that you do not want to be part of the 2009 storm statistics.

Let’s concentrate on the simplest remedies. When storms arise, the exterior of your home can be damaged by those high winds and heavy rain. So, roofs, siding and windows are the first line of defense in a storm scenario.

Here are some tips for lowering your risk exposure:

• Make sure that your roofing is in good repair. Well-installed roofs are less susceptible to damage.
• Make sure that your siding is tightly attached to the building.
• If a storm is heading your way, consider boarding up your windows to protect them from being broken by flying debris.
• Caulk windows and doors to prevent wind-driven rain from entering around the openings.
• Cut down unhealthy trees on your property.
• Prune tree limbs that overhang your home or power lines, or overhang your neighbor’s property.
• Clean out roof gutters so rain doesn’t back up and cause interior water damage.
• Move your outside furniture and other personal property into inside storage so it is not blown against your building or a neighbor’s building.

With these tips accomplished, your property has much less exposure to damage from wind and rain. Of course, if your area is struck by a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, missing shingles and siding will be the least of your worries.

At that point, you’ll be glad you updated your insurance policy.

You DID update your policy, didn’t you?