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Editorial - Are Public Adjusters Still Relevant? Two Noted Authorities Say Yes

Veteran public adjuster and large loss consultant Charles R. “Dick” Tutwiler tells industry and governing bodies to stop the infighting, remind themselves why public adjusters were created and who they were created for.
August 20, 2012 / TAMPA, Fla. / 

As a longtime public adjuster, who has been immersed in this industry since 1984, and an insurance company staff employee for 10 years prior to that, I must say that the past few years have seen an unprecedented number of attacks on the profession. Legislators instituting regulations that are deemed unconstitutional and pushing standards (such as the advertising disclaimer) that have been struck down by no other than the legal profession, all while they lack the ability to enforce these regulations to the detriment of public adjusters simply trying to practice their profession. Then we have Citizens Insurance, the State run insurer of last resort, creating a situation where it becomes uneconomical for a public adjuster to assist the policyholder at the most critical time in a claim. This flies in the face of the 2010 OPPAGA Report that shows the clear benefit of using a public adjuster which is noted in the Claims Journal article referenced below.   Add to this insurers writing out coverage’s at the expense of honest policyholders; field adjusters trying to scare policyholders away from using public adjusters; and contractors practicing public adjusting without a license. Top this off with the lack of a comprehensive plan to tackle the insurance market and you have a mess. The bickering, greed and infighting makes us all look foolish to the general public. We deserve the skepticism and mistrust targeted at the industry and those who govern it. 

One thing that seems to have been lost in this discussion is “why public adjusters were created and if they still play an important role in the insurance claims process.”  I personally found out they did while working for one of America’s largest insurance carriers.  Luckily, the general public can find answers to their questions about the benefits of trained, experienced, and qualified professional public adjusters by reading two different articles that recently crossed my desk.  An article in Claims Journal that interviewed attorney, author and law professor Mr. Ken Feinberg, who is well known for his administration of the victim funds for both 9/11 and the BP oil spill, has this to say about public adjusters:

“And while some insurers might balk, Feinberg is equally complimentary of public adjusters. “Public adjusters fill an important role here … the fact of the matter is that in many, many of these mass cases involving mass disasters, public adjusters are essential. There simply weren’t enough private adjusters in BP; there weren’t enough private adjusters after Hurricane Katrina. So, in those volume cases involving thousands of claims, I think the public adjusters fill an important void just to deal with that volume,” he said.

The article goes on to say:

Feinberg thinks empathy, competence and creativity are keys to successful claims negotiations.  “Put yourselves in the shoes of the insured. Make sure that you understand exactly what the policy says, what the exclusions are, what the deductibles are, so that you can sit and explain in an empathetic way exactly what the insurer can do and cannot do,” he said.

And that is exactly what a trained, experienced, and qualified public adjuster should do.  Help the policyholder understand their policy and what options they have in order to make a proper claim under their insurance contract.  And let’s be honest--who out there thinks the general public trusts insurance companies given the recent negative news in the financial markets over the last five years. Trust is paramount in this business.  After all, the policyholder has nothing more for his or her money than a promise. As Mr. Feinberg, says using empathy, competence, and creativity in discussions with clients will go a long way in helping to resolve differences with an insurer and its insured. My guess and experience is that hearing unfavorable news from a public adjuster who has an interest in a claim may be more acceptable and understood by the policyholder than hearing it from an insurance company representative. Thus, in many cases a public adjuster can facilitate the claim process by communication that otherwise might not be accepted or believed by an already distrustful policyholder.

The Homeowners Insurance Buyer’s Guide in Consumer Reports magazine (2012) makes a compelling case of the need for public adjusters. Of those surveyed with losses of $25,000 or more “19% of the respondents disagreed with their insurer’s assessment of what was due,” according to the study.  Regarding challenging the insurance company and the use of public adjusters, the article goes on to say:

“In such cases it can pay for you to try to negotiate with your insurer. Our survey found that among readers who were unhappy with a claim, those who challenged it got a payout that was about $6,000 more, on average, than those who didn't.  If you reach an impasse, consider a public adjuster, who will negotiate for you for a fee, usually 10 percent of the payout. A Florida study of 76,000 claims suggests that it’s money well spent: Policyholders who used a public adjuster settled with their insurance company for 19 to 747 percent more on hurricane-related losses than those who didn't. But such cases take longer to close.”

Do well trained, experienced, and qualified professional public adjusters still have a role to play in the insurance claims process? I say a resounding YES. Public adjusters can help policyholders understand the limits of their policy and file their claim in a proper manner to make sure they are properly compensated for their loss. In large commercial losses as well as homeowner claims, the public adjuster can help property owners maintain control of their claim and avoid a run-up in inflated emergency services and repair expenditures that we often see. They can help association boards meet their fiduciary duties and avoid the pitfalls of the claims process. They can also effectively negotiate with the insurance company with documented evidence of the loss. And as I found out in my prior life, they can be a catalyst in getting a claim settled as we speak and understand the same language as the company and independent adjusters.  Adjusters are adjusters, the scope and price of a loss may be a matter of interpretation, but if the parties cannot communicate, it is unlikely a resolution will be successful.  Finally, public adjusters are a final means of dispute resolution before litigation that we all know can drag on for years and run up costs for all parties.

While the public adjusting community may be under attack, it is not irrelevant. If regulators, insurers and policyholders would allow the trained, experienced and qualified public adjuster to play their proper role, we would see a more equitable insurance claims process that puts the policyholder first. 

Tutwiler and Associates
Phone: (800) 321-4488
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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.