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Florida public adjuster: Awareness and environment at heart of sinkhole claims

The licensed and certified public adjusters at Tutwiler and Associates outline the root of the sinkhole problem and details what property owners should do if they file a claim themselves.
September 28, 2010 / TAMPA, Fla. / 

As is often the case with a popular new area of media focus, the quantity of information usually trumps its quality. Such is the case with recent reporting on the rise in Florida sinkhole claims over the last year, says Florida-based public adjuster Tutwiler and Associates, and this incomplete coverage has led to a confused property owner population looking for clarification of the Florida sinkhole dilemma.

That’s where Tutwiler and Associates steps in.

The licensed and certified public adjusters at Tutwiler and Associates, with offices throughout Florida and licenses in nine other states as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands, believe the recent rise in sinkhole claims can be attributed to a combination of increased awareness on the part of the property owner and an existing geologic problem in Florida made worse by rampant land development. Some reporting, however, seems to allege public adjusters themselves are driving sinkhole claims as a way to make money, which Tutwiler says simply isn’t true.

“We really felt we had to speak up when national publications like ‘The Wall Street Journal’ began writing articles that seemed to question the integrity of what we do," says Dick Tutwiler, founder and CEO of Tutwiler and Associates. "With regard to the ‘Journal,’ it was a particularly puzzling about-face because they had done an article earlier this year about how more and more sinkholes were popping up throughout Florida because of geologic and climatologic reasons.”

(Read the ‘Wall Street Journal’ article here: http://tinyurl.com/y2ewtop)

The article Tutwiler is referring to comes from an April ‘Wall Street Journal’ story that puts the blame for one Florida city’s rash of sinkholes squarely on its local strawberry industry. Last winter, the Plant City area experienced prolonged freezing temperatures and farmers had to spray their strawberry crop to prevent frost damage. According to the article, the water was taken out of the groundwater table, which was quickly reduced by 60 feet. As a result, more than 80 sinkholes opened in the area, and the article says 20 homes were left uninhabitable. The Florida public adjusters at Tutwiler and Associates, of course, are quite familiar with the Sunshine State’s unique geologic quirks, but they say that’s only partially to blame for the recent surge in sinkhole claims.

“I have been an adjuster in Florida for 37 years and, until the recent recession, this state has seen phenomenal growth,” says Tutwiler, referencing a recent 'New York Times' story outlining battles among Florida voters to curb overdevelopment. “It’s no surprise to me we have sinkholes, given this unchecked and often very lackadaisical growth management, especially in sinkhole-prone areas. You have to also remember, people are becoming more aware of possible signs of sinkhole damage because they are becoming better educated on what to look for seeing more of their neighbors dealing with confirmed sinkholes.”

(Read the 'New York Times' article here: http://tinyurl.com/28259fo)

Tutwiler points to a recent article in the southeast edition of ‘Insurance Journal’ that explains the recent rise in sinkhole claims as a product of not only better awareness of sinkholes, but also headline-grabbing sinkhole stories. For instance, a July sinkhole opened under the parking lot of a condominium complex in Tampa and was the top news story for days after it swallowed a car. Stories like these, Tutwiler says, can often drive a homeowner to take a closer look at their property for signs of potential sinkhole damage.

With this increased awareness, however, comes an important piece of advice that Tutwiler says every property owner should know if they do find themselves filing a claim. The Florida public adjuster says it is critical that the policyholder immediately keep written, detailed notes, including dates and times, about who said what and when. This includes telephone calls, emails and personal meetings with adjusters and insurance company representatives. This is especially important in large losses because there are often multiple parties involved, and these parties can be reassigned to another claim or sent to report back to the insurance provider.

"Time and time again, from California wildfires to Florida hurricanes and sinkholes, we hear complaints and run into problems when we get involved with a loss at a later date,” says Tutwiler. "It’s either a new insurance company adjuster who doesn’t have any information or who will not honor what a prior adjuster said to a policyholder. In some cases, the file is lost and the new adjuster has nothing to go on. The lesson here is these problems are easily avoidable with a little planning.”

As with any industry, Tutwiler says, there are going to be ‘bad apples,’ and he believes that’s what has happened with public adjusters who use scare tactics to drum up business. The truth, he says, is public adjusters are often the only ones working on behalf of the property owner and not the insurance company.

For more information about Florida sinkhole claims, please visit www.PublicAdjuster.com.

CONTACT:
Tutwiler and Associates
Email:
Phone: (800) 321-4488
For more information, please visit www.PublicAdjuster.com

About Tutwiler and Associates: Tutwiler and Associates is a firm of public adjusters licensed in 10 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands specializing in commercial and residential property loss adjusting. With well in excess of $113 million in client success stories over a 27-year history, the Florida public adjusters work exclusively on behalf of policyholders to help them achieve the maximum settlement amounts they can fairly and honestly recover based on their loss and their policy provisions. Professional help from the adjusters at Tutwiler and Associates can help clients obtain a fair recovery under their policy. The Gulf Coast based public adjuster firm is committed to public service and strives to educate its clients about commercial and residential windstorm and hurricane losses, flood damage, fire, smoke and water damage, collapse, hidden decay and mold losses, sinkholes, loss of stock, and business interruption.