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.

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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.


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!


Restoration Contractor Strategies: Getting The Best Value In Your Claim

May 30, 2009

I’ve written before about how to hire restoration contractors, and things to watch for. Now, here are a few tips on how to get the best prices for the restoration work you need to have completed.

• Make sure that the scope of damages is correct. You can usually get a copy of the scope of damages from your adjuster. The scope of damages lists the necessary work to be performed, not the prices.

• Make sure you get at least three estimates from three separate contractors. Inform the contractors that they are competing against other contractors.

• If any contractor finds needed repairs that are not listed on the scope of damage, insist that these repairs be listed on a supplemental estimate separate from the main estimate.

• Make sure that the general contractor bids include Overhead and Profit.

• Negotiate your claim with the insurance adjuster using the highest contractor bid. Many times, adjusters will use estimating software that has unit pricing far below market pricing. This is especially true after a major disaster such as a widespread hailstorm, tornado or hurricane.

• Once you have successfully negotiated the claim amount, go back to the three contractors and suggest that his contractors or suppliers offer better pricing. Economic times what they are today, some companies will drastically shave profits just to have the work.

• Ask your contractors to offer their professional input on ways to get the job done at reduced prices. He might recommend different floor covering, or different cabinets, or different countertops or light fixtures.

• Make a discounted offer to a contractor. Then shut your mouth. The first one who speaks loses.

• Tell the winning contractor that you prefer paying subcontractors and suppliers directly. This can be a win-win situation, since the contractor won’t have to front the money for materials. You can pay for materials out of the insurance proceeds. You can win because you won’t have to pay his overhead or profit for just paying bills.

• Don’t forget to have all vendors sign a Lien Waiver before receiving payment. No signature, no payment.

These strategies can save you thousands of dollars if you’re careful.


Insurance Appraisers: Property Appraisals and Estimates

March 23, 2009

In this article, we’re going to look at how the value of a property claim is determined. This could relate to your real estate property or your personal property, such as your automobile or the contents of your home.

Before we go any further…remember this statement:

THERE IS NOTHING IN YOUR POLICY THAT REQUIRES YOU TO GET MORE THAN ONE ESTIMATE.

Many times, you’ll hear an adjuster recommend that you get three estimates. That’s just not necessary, and wastes your time and money. That procedure had everything to do with price, but has almost nothing to do with quality and value. Your home or your property is not a commodity…a mere rubber stamp of every other piece of property. It should not be treated like a commodity. Don’t let an adjuster get away with this.

Here’s another statement to remember:

AN ESTIMATE IS AN APPROXIMATE COST OF REPAIR OR REPLACEMENT OF PROPERTY. IT IS NOT ETCHED IN STONE. IT IS NOT A CONTRACT TO REPAIR OR REPLACE PROPERTY.

Automobile Damage Appraisals

If your loss is an automobile loss, and your vehicle is damaged, YOU seize the initiative and take your vehicle to the body shop of YOUR CHOICE. It would be best to have your vehicle inspected by the insurance company appraiser and your chosen body shop appraiser at the same time. That way, they can agree on the scope of damages before they start calculating the repair costs.

Read your policy. Some insurance companies actually specify in their policy that you must take your vehicle for repairs to the insurance companies “Approved Vendor.” But most policies do not. However, most insurance companies will try hard to direct you to their “Approved Body Shop Vendor.”

Just remember this. Is the “Approved Vendor” on your side or on the insurance company’s side? Did that body shop make a special deal with you to repair your vehicle? NO! So, just who do you think that “Approved Vendor” is going to be loyal to?

The insurance companies make deals with body shops so the repairs will get done at a reduced price. That usually means cutting corners on quality and using inferior aftermarket parts. You do understand that a car can look great from the outside after repairs, and not be the same car you had before the accident?

In Chapter 23 of my book, “Insurance Claim Secrets Revealed!”, I talk about my experience recently in an auto accident. One of the things I write about is insisting that your body shop appraiser write an estimate using Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts instead of aftermarket parts. Don’t give in on this point, or you’ll be compromising your safety in that vehicle after it’s repaired.

Once you have an OEM estimate from your chosen body shop, you’ll compare it with the insurance company appraiser’s estimate. You’ll likely find that your estimate is higher in price than the insurer’s estimate. Negotiate from YOUR ESTIMATE, not the insurer’s estimate. Once you’ve gotten agreement on the scope of damages and the amount of repairs, you’re ready to settle that part of the loss.

Don’t sign off on the release until the repairs are completed and you have done and extensive test drive and inspection of the repairs. Once you’re satisfied, then you can consider signing off. Have your attorney review the form before you sign it.

Homeowners and Renters Appraisals

In a homeowners insurance loss, in which the dwelling itself is damaged, the claims adjuster will inspect the dwelling for damage. He will photograph the damage and take measurements. He will make notes of all of the damaged items, and note the quality of the building materials. He will note the cause of the damage, if it can be readily determined. All of that information is commonly referred to as the “Scope of Damages.”

You must get a restoration contractor of your own to inspect the damages and write an estimate. Don’t just accept the estimate of the claims adjuster.

It would be a good idea to have your contractor meet you and the adjuster at your home at the time of the inspection. That way, you can all look over the damage, and you, the adjuster and the contractor can agree on the scope.

There should be an agreement between you, the policyholder, the contractor, and the adjuster on the scope of damages. Likely, you won’t have a chance to accept the adjuster’s scope until he takes the information from his inspection back to the office and enters that information into his estimating software in his computer. Most adjusters will be able to print a copy of the scope and send it to you. You should insist on a written scope of damages from the adjuster.
Don’t sign anything without having your attorney review it FIRST.

Adjusters are human and sometimes miss damages. So do contractors. That’s why there should be an agreement on the scope of damages…before you ever begin discussing the cost of repairs.

Think about it another way. Let’s say you are going to build a new house. Your architect would have to make drawings and specifications of all of the materials that were going to be used to build that house. When it comes time to get bids from contractors, everyone bidding has the same information upon which to base their bid.

It’s no different when you’re getting bids and estimates in an insurance claim.

Once you have the scope of damages, you can then expect to receive the estimate from your contractor and the adjuster. The best way to handle this is to insist that the contractor and adjuster reach an agreement on the amount of the estimate. Once that’s done, the adjuster can report to the insurance company and have them pay the claim.

CONTENTS, or UNSCHEDULED PERSONAL PROPERTY

Get a copy of a JC Penney catalog. Even get two…one Fall/Winter, one Spring/Summer. Get your hands on as many other catalogs as you can find. As you look at the pages of the catalogs, you’ll remember the things that you had in your home. You will find hundreds or thousands of dollars in personal property that you likely would not have remembered owning. Not only will you remember dozens and dozens of items, but you’ll have a retail price from a reputable retailer right at your fingertips.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m telling you to do here. I’m NOT telling you to write down items on your inventory list that you did not own. That’s fraud, and you can go to jail for fraud. I’m simply showing you a way to remind yourself of things long ago purchased, and possibly stored and forgotten. For example, how many parents bought a vaporizer to run in their children’s rooms at night when the young children were sick? That vaporizer might not have been used in years, but you owned it, and you have a right to collect for it under the terms of your policy.

When you have completed the Contents Inventory Worksheets, make copies and submit the copies to the claims adjuster.

In closing, remember this. All insurance claims adjusters and appraisers use estimating software these days. This software is a vast database of materials and labor for any kind of property. But many companies make a deal with the software designers to write software that undervalues the repair costs for the property. Consequently, when the appraiser uses that software, estimates for repair are consistently lower than the actual costs. That’s why you need your own estimates.

Take control of your insurance claims! Add hundreds or even thousands more dollars to your claim settlements!


Insurance Appraisal Clause: Resolving an Impasse in Your Claim

March 7, 2009

What if, after all you’ve done, you and your adjuster/insurance
company are at an impasse on the value of your property? It’s now
time to invoke the Appraisal Clause in your insurance policy. The Appraisal Clause is found in all insurance policies, and was designed to establish a procedure to allow disputed amounts to be resolved by disinterested parties. The appraisal clause can be found in every homeowners policy, in every policy covering commercial buildings, in all business policies, as well as in every renters policy…even automobile policies.

The Appraisal Clause is usually found in the policy under the Heading “Conditions”
and/or “What to do after a loss.”

Don’t confuse the Appraisal process with Arbitration. The Appraisal Clause does not bind either party to its findings. In arbitration, the findings of the arbitrator are usually binding on both parties.

The Appraisal Clause is meant to be the method for determining
disputed values. Appraisal cannot be used to determine what is
covered. That is for a court of law to decide. If you have dispute with
the company on whether or not something is covered, then you must
file a lawsuit against your insurer to get that determination.

HERE’S A REALLY IMPORTANT TIP!!! You don’t have
to wait until you’re hopelessly deadlocked with the adjuster or insurance company to invoke the Appraisal Clause. The Appraisal procedure has been invoked more often by insurers, who have greater understanding of the terms and conditions of their policies. But
you, the insured or policyholder, can do it any time.

I’m not suggesting that you become uncooperative. But occasionally, I
talk to people who are having real difficulties with their adjuster or
insurance company. Taking the claim to Appraisal sometimes stops
all the drama.

In my experience as both an appraiser and an umpire, I’ve found that disputes can be resolved more quickly by appraisal than the resolution you might get with litigation. The cost of the appraisal process is also significantly lower that the cost of litigation.

Here’s what the Appraisal Clause reads in my Homeowner
Insurance policy:

“If you and we fail to agree on the amount of loss, either may
demand an appraisal of the loss. In this event, each party will choose
a competent appraiser within 20 days after receiving a written request
from the other. The two appraisers will choose an umpire. If they
cannot agree upon an umpire within 15 days, you or we may request
that the choice be made by a judge of a court of record in the state
where the “residence premises” is located. The appraisers will
separately set the amount of loss. If the appraisers submit an
agreement to us, the amount agreed upon will be the amount of loss.
If they fail to agree, they will submit their differences to the umpire.
A decision agreed to by any two will set the amount of loss.

Each party will:
a. pay its own appraiser, and
b. Bear the other expenses of the appraisal and umpire equally.”

Each party appoints an independent, disinterested appraiser. In past experience, I’ve seen the insured or policyholder try to appoint his own Public Adjuster as the appraiser. This should never be done, as the PA is not a disinterested party.

The appraisers evaluate the loss independently. The appraisers can still negotiate and reach an agreed amount of the damages. But, if they cannot agree, they work together to choose a mutually acceptable umpire. If the two appraisers cannot agree on the selection of an umpire, either side may appeal to the local court for the appointment of someone to serve in that capacity.

An umpire must also be a disinterested party, and must be impartial, of good moral character and possessing a good reputation. He also must be willing to listen. No umpire should be chosen that has any financial interest in the outcome of the appraisal. Any other consideration other than the hourly rate of compensation for the umpire is not acceptable.

Once the umpire has been chosen, the appraisers each present their loss assessment. Often, this involves informal testimony from the parties involved in the claim. To help the umpire gain a more complete understanding of the details of the loss, the appraisers and the umpire sometimes meet at the loss location and review the loss details. The umpire will subsequently provide a written decision to both parties. If any two parties agree to the amount of the loss, that amount becomes the claim amount. However, if one of the parties does not agree, then the case can still be turned over to legal counsel for litigation.

Question: May the insured or insurer reject the other parties’ choice of appraiser?

Answer: In 2005, the New York Department of Insurance issued a ruling on this question as follows:

“Whether an appraiser appointed by either of the parties is competent and disinterested (or “independent”) is a question of fact for a jury and is outside the determination of this Department.”

ANOTHER TIP!! Notice that there are very specific time limits in the Clause. You MAKE SURE that you choose your appraiser and notify the adjuster within the time limit in your policy. The time limit for both appraisers to choose an umpire begins on the day that both sides choose their appraiser.

Watch very carefully to see if the insurance company and/or
adjuster chooses their appraiser within that time limit. If they do not,
they have violated the terms and conditions of their policy.

My recommendation, in the event of an appraisal, is to call a Claims Consultant. You might also consider contacting a public adjusting company in your area. The Claims Consultant or PA know insurance policies, know the Appraisal Clause, and know property values. The Claims Consultant or PA are the perfect choices for helping you prove the values of the property of your claim.


Ice Storm: Top Ten Tips On How To File Your Ice Storm Insurance Claim

December 14, 2008

A massive ice storm hit New England on the December 12, 2008 weekend, leaving millions of homes and businesses without electrical power. Thousands of homes and vehicles were damaged as ice-laden trees and branches fell.

Now, you’ll begin the cleanup, recovery and repair process. Many of you will be submitting insurance claims for damage to your home, business or vehicle. Let me share a few strategies to help you add hundreds or even thousands more dollars to your claim settlement.

Vehicle Damage Claims

1. Remember that when something falls on your vehicle, it will be covered by the “Other Than Collision” or “Comprehensive” coverage, not your Collision coverage. Make sure you know what your OTC deductible is.

2. Take your damaged vehicle to the body shop of YOUR CHOICE, not the choice of the insurance company. It’s YOUR vehicle, not theirs.

3. Insist on Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts, not cheap aftermarket parts. The insurance company has a legal duty to return you car to its pre-loss condition. Cheap aftermarket parts are not as safe as OEM parts.

4. Perform a very careful inspection and test drive of your vehicle after repairs are completed. If you need to, have a qualified mechanic do the inspection for you. Document any uncompleted repairs, and make sure they get done right then.

5. If your vehicle is a total loss, get written appraisals from dealers of your choice to be sure that the insurance company pays you all that you are entitled to collect.

Building Damage Claims

1. Mitigate your damages…board up and tarp the home or business if necessary. The costs are covered.

2. Call a restoration contractor, not just a remodeling contractor.

3. Get your chosen contractor to meet with the insurance adjuster and agree on the scope of damages. Don’t just accept an estimate written by the adjuster.

4. If your home is too damaged to live in, your policy may have Additional Living Expense coverage. Carefully document all your expenses over and above your normal expenses while you’re living in a hotel or apartment.

5. If you have heavy damage to your home or business, consider consulting with a Public Adjuster to help you with your claim. They are claims professionals, and can customarily help you maximize your settlement amount.

If you have experienced a property loss, you need to know winning insurance claim strategies. The insurance company will not tell you the claims process, but I will. I will show you how to take control of your insurance claim, and add hundreds or even thousands more dollars to your claim settlement. For more information, go to my website at: http://www.insurance-claim-secrets.com