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THE ROLE OF A PUBLIC ADJUSTER

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well-Adjusted – By David Garry

With ownership of property comes great responsibility—and a certain amount of risk. One of the most important aspects of property ownership is ensuring that in the event of loss, damage or accident, your investment is protected. In essence, protecting your investment is protecting yourself.

In an age where hurricanes, deadly fires, and terrorism are part of everyday conversation, knowing your insurance policy and understanding how it works can make the difference between rebuilding your life after a crisis and bankruptcy. One of the resources available to policyholders is the public adjuster—someone with inside knowledge and years of experience in the insurance field who may be able to help weed through the sometimes monumental-seeming task of regrouping, rebuilding, and reinventing after a crisis.

Making the Call

Amid the stress of a fire, flood, or other emergency’s aftermath, the task of making the call to the insurance company can be just another added stress a policyholder faces. The barrage of questions, the specifics—even the language of the policy may prove too much for someone who has just faced a great loss in their life. Lack of understanding and/or not having the presence of mind to recall every detail or every item lost, stolen or destroyed can have a huge impact on whether a policyholder receives a fair and accurate settlement from their insurance company.

That’s where a “Public Insurance Adjuster” may come in handy. While this is a role less familiar to most policyholders than that of the insurance agent or broker, public adjusters have been around nearly as long as the insurance companies themselves. Public adjusters are there to step up in the time of crisis and to act as liaisons between the insurance company and the insured, to advocate for the insured and their claim, and to act as a docent to help the policyholder understand the language in their policy.

Insurance adjusters initially came into vogue about 100 years ago—not only to translate policy language, but to literally translate insurance policies into various languages. Immigrants to the New York metropolitan area who did not speak English well enough to handle their own claims would turn to members of their community to assist in facilitating reimbursements and settling claims. The market for this kind of assistance for all kinds of people quickly became apparent, and the title of public insurance adjuster became more common.

Stepping Up to Bat

Once a public adjuster is involved in a claim—whether it’s when the phone call is made upon the discovery of loss, or when a settlement gets more complicated down the road – they will begin the process of arbitrating and advocating on behalf of their client, the insured.

Obviously, public adjusters feel that the sooner they’re involved, the better. “It’s critical for the insured to get a public adjuster involved as soon as possible,” says Leslie Knox, president of Andrew K. Knox and Company, an adjuster firm located in Toms River. “It is the adjuster’s job to quantify loss and damage—and the sooner we are able to be on-site, the better equipped we are to capture the exact amount of loss and damage.”

As one might imagine, there’s a fine line in the public adjuster/claimant relationship which public adjusters are careful not to cross. “We are not [legal] counsel,” says Knox. “We do provide knowledge, but not in the legal sense as an attorney might.”

Tackling a host of tasks upon his or her arrival to the site, the public insurance adjuster immediately starts gathering the necessary information. Much as an investigating law enforcement official’s job gets harder the longer the evidence has been lying around, the public adjuster’s work can be made exponentially more difficult the longer the claimant waits to enlist his or her services.

Once the initial information is given to an insurance company by the claimant, it may be difficult to amend or add to the list of damages. Tommy Valvano, vice president of ANC Construction & Restoration and a partner with Kramer Smith Torres & Valvano, an insurance adjustment firm in Lyndhurst, agrees that if you’re inclined to use a public adjuster, it’s generally best to get them involved early on in the claim. However he says, “I have had claims where I have gotten involved six months or even a year into the process, and while there may be a lot to undo— generally we can help to rectify the situation.”

Public insurance adjusters know the questions to ask, measurements to take, and avenues for helping the insured—which can include arranging housing for them if there’s been a fire or other disaster.

“[A public adjuster can help] with anything above and beyond the costs the claimant would normally incur,” says Valvano, “such as hotel or rental unit during the restoration process.”

Co-op and community association living has its own set of difficulties. Because this lifestyle always means dealing with multiple homeowners’ policies, it tends to muddy the waters a bit. Board or association policies and master deeds, individual policies, bylaws and public offering statements are all things to consider when navigating a claim.

But regardless of the complexity of a given claim, it really all comes down to the same thing—money. “Most of all, public adjusters can help when an insurance company gives a settlement that isn’t enough,” says Valvano, and uses the common example of a renovated condo unit. After a loss, depending on the language in a given homeowner’s policy, the insurance company may argue that they are only liable for the original specs of the unit—not the upgrade. According to Valvano, “This is not what this type of language was intended for and should not be interpreted as such.”

Getting Along in the Industry

While all adjusters are in the same business and technically do the same thing, a public adjuster works only for the claimant, whereas the insurance adjuster works on behalf of an insurance company. This can at times cause some initial tension between the public adjuster and the larger insurance company.

“Some insurance companies recommend dealing with their agent only,” says Valvano, “but others know that adjusters help in making sure the process is done correctly the first time and recommend them.”

Knox adds, “There is a long-standing prejudice against using public adjusters in the insurance industry because of the fact that once a public adjuster is involved, the insurance company’s sole control over the situation is greatly impacted.”

According to the public adjusters, speaking the language of the industry and flushing out points that might be overlooked by the policyholder alone greatly enhance the chances of the claimant receiving their maximum due. They point out that insurance companies are in business to make money—and with the aid of public adjusters, sometimes they’re forced to pay more to policyholders.

At the end of the day however, getting everyone on the same page is a large part of what the public insurance adjuster is there to do. “We also help to mitigate damage by recommending to the policyholder to board up and secure damaged property—making sure that the areas are tarped to prevent further water damage, and so on” says Valvano, adding that it’s these types of often-overlooked details that end up saving all parties involved money in the long run.

A Matter of Security

So who pays a public adjuster to come in and work their magic on a particularly sticky insurance situation? Obviously, not every insurance claim is going to necessitate a public adjuster, but when the need is there, so is this service. As a rule, public adjusters do not take money out-of-pocket from the claimant—rather, they take a percentage of what is paid out to the policyholder in the final settlement. For that reason, it often behooves the policyholders to utilize a public adjuster for larger-scale claims, rather than for something like a vandalized mailbox or minor storm damage.

And who you choose to represent you to your insurer is nearly as important as the decision to hire a public adjuster in the first place. According to Valvano, “Anyone who negotiates a claim on behalf of an insured must be licensed.” And remember—always ask questions when selecting a public adjuster. “What kind of damages have they worked on? What residences in the area have they assisted? How many settlements are they currently involved in?” These are just a few of the questions that can help reveal an individual or company’s track record in the industry.

Insurance policies exist to ensure a return to normalcy in the event of an emergency. Public insurance adjusters can help make the process expedient and hopefully headache-free.

To learn more call 1-866-450-8520. Here at RHI Claims Specialist, Inc. our experienced public insurance adjusters are ready to assist you with any questions you may have regarding your policy or claim.

Got Co-Insurance?

Do you own a business? Do you have a policy with Co-Insurance? I’m sure when you were speaking with your insurance agent you told them you wanted to keep your premiums low right? Any smart business owner would want to  cut costs and that is understandable but many don’t realize the potential for disaster if you actually have to file a claim.

So What is Co-Insurance?

Generally speaking, this sneaky little clause applies to commercial property or business property and requires that you – the business investor or owner – insure the company property up to a certain percent  (typically 80% of the property value) or risk paying a penalty on a claim. Paying such a penalty can be a very disappointing experience because it will usually occur at a time when you really cannot afford it. Accidents and losses are never welcomed experiences – especially in a business environment where time is money and assets are essential to future production.

Consider an example:

If your Co-Insurance clause states 80% then you are required to have proper business insurance coverage up to that percentage limit. If you do not, then the insurance company will not necessarily cover your loss.

Business Property Value: $300,000

Co-Insurance Statement: 80%

Actual Insurance Coverage: $200,000

Since the clause in this example requires eighty percent, then you would need at least $240,000 of coverage or 80% of your actual business or property value. Since you do not have the full coverage required, you stand to pay a penalty in an insurance loss or accident. Because this will surprise most business ownership teams, it’s important to look into your co-insurance contract immediately.

Most small business professionals (and even the self employed) do not know about the power of the Co-Insurance clause. Don’t be left out in the cold when an unexpected event occurs in your business that could negatively affect your livelihood. Having proper insurance coverage is an essential part of your success in the business world and you never know when something is going to happen.

Time to hire a Public Adjuster

Dealing with a claim when you have a co-insurance clause can be quite a hassle especially when you are under insured. The cost of being underpaid due to penalties far outweighs the cost of  utilizing the services  of a Licensed Public Adjuster to represent you. Just like any business, keeping costs down is a must and unfortunately the insurance company is in the business to collect premiums, not pay claims. Knowing when its time to hire a public adjuster is key to being payed what your claim is worth and in making your recovery as painless as possible.

To learn more call 1-866-450-8520. Here at RHI Claims Specialist, Inc. our experienced staff are ready to assist you with any questions you may have regarding your policy or claim.

Hurricane Preparedness Needs To Be A Priority

By PHIL BEDIENT and JIM BLACKBURN
RICE UNIVERSITY

May 31, 2011, 10:33PM

From the depths of Houston’s worst drought in more than 50 years it may be difficult to recall how soggy Houston was 10 years ago this month.

On June 8-9, 2001, Tropical Storm Allison dumped up to 26 inches of rain on parts the city. The storm claimed 22 lives in the Houston area and caused $5 billion in damages. Though we’d all like just a little of that rain right now, Houstonians would do well to remember the lessons that Allison-and her bigger, younger brother Hurricane Ike-taught us at such great expense.

Ike’s damage in 2008 was estimated at $30 billion, and if Ike had made landfall 50 miles farther south, it would have been far worse; Ike’s storm surge was sufficient to inundate the west side of Galveston Bay as far inland as Interstate 45 and as far north as the Houston Ship Channel. Had that scenario played out, Ike could easily have caused a catastrophic loss of life in the Clear Lake area, far more extensive property damage and an environmental nightmare. Complacency toward the threat from severe storms like Allison and Ike is not an option for Houston.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to preparing Houston and Galveston for severe storms. However, the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center is working to transform our abilities to plan and react to these threats. We have made great strides in improving storm surge predictions and in better evaluating our infrastructure and evacuation plans. We have also begun to look at future scenarios that combine structural improvements like new levees and floodgates with nonstructural strategies for improving how and where we build. Ultimately, we want the Houston/Galveston region to serve as the model for severe-storm preparedness for coastal communities everywhere.

With the current budget cuts, we cannot depend upon the federal government to come to our rescue with bags of money. Instead, we need to take a careful look at the costs and benefits of achieving community protection through innovation. In this regard, the SSPEED Center is evaluating a range of alternative approaches to addressing hurricane risks.

The SSPEED Center is working to develop an extensive flood alert system for the Clear Lake area that will be similar to the one SSPEED developed for the Texas Medical Center (TMC). Using hydrologic technology, we have shown that we can predict the threat of out-of-bank flooding of Brays Bayou in the Medical Center. We proved it during Allison, giving enough warning to TMC hospitals that not a single life was lost in the Medical Center despite widespread flooding. When applied in the Clear Lake area, this technology will help guide both the evacuation and the re-entry processes during and after severe floods.

The SSPEED Center is also evaluating whether a levee and floodgate structure at the Fred Hartman Bridge can protect the Houston Ship Channel from a 20- to 25-foot storm surge. Based on early investigations, it appears that the price tag for such a project can be justified because of the catastrophic economic and environmental consequences that would result if a storm were to inundate a significant portion of the nation’s petrochemical refining industry.

The center is also proposing a levee system to better protect the city of Galveston from bayside flooding. In the lower-lying areas of Galveston Bay, we are exploring ways to re-invent the coastal economy by focusing on the natural resources of this area, such as bird watching and kayaking. It may well be possible to create a healthy, sustainable economy in this area that is largely immune to storm surge and that also provides a natural biological reserve to compensate for potential future damage from offshore drilling.

The SSPEED Center is grateful to Houston Endowment for providing $3.2 million in funding over the next few years to study these innovative solutions. The Center hopes that its work will contribute to making our coastal economy resilient and our homes safer.

The reality today is that we must be both diligent and prudent. To protect ourselves from the next Allison or Ike, we are going to have to solve our own problems the hard way – by rolling up our sleeves, being honest about hard truths and working together.

Bedient is director of the SSPEED Center (http://sspeed.rice.edu) and the Herman Brown Professor of Engineering at Rice University. Blackburn is co-principal investigator of the SSPEED Center hurricane research and a professor in the practice of environmental law in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Rice University.

Click for a PDF copy of a  “Hurricane Preparedness Guide”. To learn more about how a Public Adjuster can help you with an insurance loss call 1-866-450-8520. Here at RHI Claims Specialist, Inc. our experienced staff are ready to assist you with any questions you may have regarding your policy or claim.

“2011 Hurricane Forecast”

Forecasters: 2011 Tropical Storm Season Busy, But Slower Than 2010

By Eric Gilkey

May 16, 2011

Another weather forecasting team is predicting an active hurricane season for 2011, calling for an above-average number of storms to form in the Atlantic Hurricane Basin.

Earth Networks’ WeatherBug meteorology team foresees a lower number of expected hurricanes in comparison to 2010, but its numbers are still trending above what is considered to be a normal tropical storm season.

Specifically, Earth Networks expects a total of 13-14 named storms to form, with 7-8 becoming hurricanes. Of those, it expects four will become strong enough to be classified as “intense” storms-Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

An average tropical storm season is 10 named storms, six hurricanes, and 3 intense hurricanes.

“While water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean are warmer than average in key tropical cyclone development areas, they are not as warm as last year,” says Earth Networks Chief Meteorologist Mark Hoekzema. “La Niña conditions, which usually favor the formation of tropical storms, are forecasted to weaken throughout the summer. Neutral conditions are expected during the prime hurricane months from August through October.”

The above-average forecast stems partly from the fact that recent historical patterns show a string of 12 active hurricane seasons. Additionally, previous years with similar climate conditions have been more active than average, the company says. It said similarities to this year’s predicted weather to 2008 and 1996 point toward an increased potential for a land-falling hurricane to impact the U.S. this year.

So far this year, other forecasters have offered up similar predictions.

The Colorado State University forecasters’ estimate released on April 6 calls for 16 named storms, nine hurricanes, and five intense hurricanes.

Weather Services International’s (WSI) tropical storm forecast released on April 27 predicts 15 named storms, eight hurricanes, and four intense hurricanes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will release its figures this week, May 19, at a press conference at the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility – the epicenter of all satellite data used in developing weather and climate forecasts, including hurricanes.

As has been the case in recent past, an above-average forecast does not necessarily mean there is a greater likelihood of a hurricane landfall in the U.S. Last year’s hurricane season was much above normal, but no hurricanes made landfall in the U.S.

To learn more call 1-866-450-8520. Here at RHI Claims Specialist, Inc. our experienced staff are ready to assist you with any questions you may have regarding your policy or claim.