Periodically, we like to highlight a property claim we’ve handled based on something new we’ve learned, alert readers of important insurance claim issues or just to show the value public adjusters can bring to the claims process. This was a particularly satisfying claim. Not only for the settlement amount we were able to achieve but because it helped improve the client’s perception of the value of public adjusters as you will see by the note at the end of this article.
First some background on the loss. On February, 2015 a massive fire erupted to a commercial shopping center in the heart of downtown Naples, Florida. The blaze caused significant fire, water, and smoke damage to the building structure and businesses on the first level. Sadly, a gentleman perished in the blaze, which is all too common with fire and smoke claims.
As the fire raged on in the wee hours of the morning, many restoration contractors and public adjuster chasers bombarded the owners of the property who were viewing their investment go up in flames. Sadly, this onslaught that many times includes scare tactics is becoming a recurring theme that creates defensive clients and a bad name for all. Our philosophy at Tutwiler & Associates Public Adjusters, has been to try and educate our clients at this most vulnerable time. Property owners need to realize that it is in their best interest to stay away from the majority of these people and avoid signing a contract for services under duress until they have a coordinated plan in place. It is very possible they may be signing their entire insurance policy over to a stranger who now owns their policy give today’s assignment of benefit tactics.
The owner, a sophisticated real estate owner and developer was pressured relentlessly, but knew not to sign anything until he had a chance to think about it, consult with family members and his attorney. Most importantly they wanted to call and check references on any public adjusters they would consider hiring. Smart!
The insurance company (a very large surplus lines writer in the State of Florida) immediately assigned their large loss adjuster to handle the claim. This adjuster prepared a repair estimate that did not exceed a $100,000 deductible and omitted many structural damages to the building that were hidden. It became obvious that the repair estimate lacked sufficient detail and the owner quickly realized he needed help when a check was sent for what later was determined to be no more than a drive-by scope of the loss. More importantly, there was a HUGE discrepancy with the contractor’s emergency clean-up and restoration services bill. Specifically, the contractor overcharged for their services and the insurance company balked at paying the full amount, potentially leaving the owner having to pay the balance.
Once the owner vetted and agreed to hire our firm, we were able to guide the owners in negotiating a reasonable price for the limited “emergency services” that were performed. We immediately took control of the claim and talked the insurance company into sending out another building consultant to inspect the damage. With the help of the insured’s trusted structural engineers, contractors and architects, we were able to develop a thorough well documented scope and cost of the building loss and present it to the insurance company. Subsequent inspections, conference calls and negotiations took place and we were able to negotiate a settlement for 650% above the insurance company’s original offer.
We are seeing a very disturbing trend nowadays. Seemingly, once an insurance claim is reported, the insurance company immediately dispatches one of their preferred contractors to secure the scene. Unfortunately, the disturbing trend is that the contractor cleans up the fire and water debris without any consideration for preserving critical evidence that may help claim professionals determine the cause and origin of the loss. In the adjusting world this is called “spiking the loss” which runs off the competition and ingrains the contractor with the insurance company claims adjuster who may show up several days after the loss occurs. This tactic proved to be very bad for everyone involved in this large fire claim because the “emergency services contractor” may have prevented the forensic cause and origin experts from determining the true cause of this loss due to the spoilage of evidence that was discarded in the city dump. This was a severe oversight that should never have happened given the stakes that were involved for all parties.
As stated above, we were happy to help our client achieve a fair settlement but were most happy with the letter we received at the conclusion:
Dear Mr. Tutwiler,
I have enjoyed our relationship. I had heard horror stories of dealing with public adjusters, which is why I waited so long to engage your services.
Had I known how professional you conducted yourself and your business, I would have started from day one. I will be pleased to write a letter of recommendation.
Thanks again for all your work on our behalf.