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.

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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!


Hurricane Season 2009: Seven Tips To Be Ready

June 1, 2009

Today marks the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, and early predictions by NOAA suggest that this will be an average season with as many as four to seven hurricanes.

The National Hurricane Center says there is a 70 percent chance of having 9 to 14 named storms, of which 4 to 7 could become hurricanes, including one to three major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5).

Hurricane season runs from June 1st through November. Tropical systems all get names, and the first one will be named “Ana” when it reaches sustained winds of at least 39 mph. Tropical storms become hurricanes when winds reach 74 mph, and become major hurricanes when winds increase to 111 mph.

Here are Seven tips on getting ready for hurricanes or tropical storms:

1. If you have property in a hurricane-prone area, seriously consider buying flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program. Buy the coverage now, not when storm clouds gather. Go to http://www.floodsmart.gov for more details.
2. Dig out your property insurance policy and read it. If there is anything you do not understand, call your agent and get your questions answered.
3. Make sure that you are insured 100% to replacement value. In this economy, market value has dropped, but replacement value is still high. A good average for replacement value is $80.00 per square foot.
4. Make sure that you have the replacement cost endorsement on the building and the contents.
5. Be sure what your deductible is. In many hurricane-prone areas, the insurance companies assess a deductible which is a percentage of the building policy limit, such as 2%, 3% or 5%.
6. Contact a Public Adjuster (PA). Have a conversation about the services a PA can perform for you when you have a major loss. Knowledge is power, but knowledge can also get you a lot more money at claim time.
7. Remember that if a civil authority issues an evacuation order, your homeowners policy will cover your Additional Living Expense while you’re out of your home. Read the policy for the details.

Let’s hope that this hurricane season will pass without even one storm striking land!


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 Claims: You Must Spend Money to Collect Money

March 31, 2009

Insurance claims are getting more and more complicated. Insurance companies are on a mission to increase their profits. That may mean that your insurance company will deny claims, delay claims and defend claims to beef up their bottom line.

The fabled management consulting firm of McKinsey and Company was retained a short time ago by three of the largest Property/Casualty companies in the world. That would be Allstate, Liberty Mutual and State Farm. McKinsey’s mission…as always…is to show companies how to earn more profits. Their final report recommended “The Three Ds”…defend claims, deny claims and delay claims.

All three companies have used this strategy aggressively to boost profits for their shareholders. Concurrently, all three have experienced higher than ever complaints of claims handling. Other companies have noticed the higher profits, and will likely follow suit.

I’m leading with that part of the story to show you that the claims experience you may look forward to…or have had…or are experiencing right now…is not a mistake, or an isolated incident.

So, what can you do when you have a claim?

First: understand that you cannot just trust the insurance company to take care of your claim for you. They are protecting THEIR money. The moment you file a claim, you become their adversary. If you allow the insurance company to handle your claim for you, you are a fool. They will cut corners and pay the absolute LOWEST amount possible to get you to sign a Full Release and close the claim. You will leave hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the table that you could have collected.

Second: just because you have a deductible on your insurance policy doesn’t mean that the deductible amount is all you’re going to have to spend. You need to realize that you might have to spend some extra money to collect the money you’re entitled to collect.

Like what?

– $50-$200 to have your attorney review ALL the documents the insurance company asks you to sign.

– $50-$200 to get an independent appraisal of your car if it’s been damaged.

– $50-$200 to get an independent restoration contractor’s estimate of your real estate property if it has been damaged. Many restoration contractors will do an estimate for free, but be prepared to pay for it.

– $50-$200 to have your attorney supervise your recorded statement with the adjuster.

– $50-$200 for an Independent Medical Examination if you are injured in an accident that was not your fault.

These are just a few of the claims expenses you should EXPECT to pay on your own behalf. Your policy states that it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to prove your claim.

But cheer up!! Spending a small amount of money to prove your claim will usually result in you collecting hundreds or even thousands more dollars in your claim settlement.


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!