OK, so you’ve made the decision to hire a public insurance adjuster. Most likely, if you’ve experienced major damage (like fire or smoke damage) or been caught up in extensive damage from a windstorm, then you probably are being solicited by several public adjusters. Like any business, all adjusters are not created equal. They have different experience levels, handle different types of claims and have various levels of experience with different insurance carriers. Screening for adjusters that have experience handling your type of claim and most importantly that you are comfortable turning your claim over to should not be taken lightly. Always remember that you are the client and do not be intimidated by high pressure tactics or industry lingo. If you’re uncomfortable with someone, there is probably a good reason for it. So it’s just as important to trust your intuition.
Consider the following criteria when hiring a public insurance adjuster:
- Don’t hire the first adjuster that comes along. Their ability to find and market to you says nothing about their abilities to serve you.
- Make sure your public adjuster is experienced in his field. He should belong to a number of groups including the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters (NAPIA), Windstorm Insurance Network (WIND), and United Policyholders of America. Many of these groups have strict ethical standards that members are held to and also have online directories that list their members.
- Make sure they obey the law. In Florida, no one should be contacting you if you have a personal lines residential loss (homeowners) until 48 hours (2 days) after you have suffered a loss. You however have no restrictions on when you can contact a public adjuster if you feel immediate assistance is beneficial.
- No public adjuster should make any promises of what they can do for you before first reading and carefully reviewing your insurance policy as well as looking carefully at the loss. We believe that just as a good doctor must first look at a patient before treating them, the same should apply to public adjusting. We need to meet you, see your loss, review your records (the policy among other things) before outlining a plan to get you back on track for a full recovery.
- Make sure the public adjuster is licensed by the State of Florida or other States where the loss occurred. Contractors or restoration companies posing as public adjusters who tell you they can adjust your claim or negotiate with your insurance company are committing a 3rd degree felony in Florida. Just as a contractor cannot adjust your claim, a public adjuster cannot have a financial interest in your loss except for their approved public adjusting contract fee. You can confirm an adjuster is licensed in Florida by calling 1-877-693-5236 or visit The Florida Division of License Search.
- Do ask for and call any references a public adjuster might give you. Especially ask for references to clients with similar claims. Does your adjuster deal with your insurance company on a regular basis? Your public adjuster’s reputation with the insurance carrier can dramatically affect your claim. Make some calls and speak to references. You can usually find out about experience and reputation from folks in your community.
- Beware of local contractors and remediation companies that offer to file your claim and then fix the damage. We have seen some serious abuse in this area. In some cases these firms’ contracts will require you to sign over your settlement check to them. Sometimes they will spend less fixing your property and pocket the rest. In other cases we have seen overreaching and unconscionable bills run-up which the insurance company then refuses to pay because the policyholder alone signed the work authorization without authorization from the insurance company. This often results in a construction lien being placed against the property. In some cases, contractors offering to estimate the damages are practicing public adjusting without a license which is also against the law. Our only advice here is to be careful. Always maintain control of your settlement check and keep the estimating and repair parties separate. Read and understand any work authorization form presented to you before signing it.
- The adjuster is offering to handle your claim for a small percentage. Of course the type, size and complexity of the loss will impact the cost. Smaller losses tend to get charged a higher percentage because the adjuster needs to cover their time commitment and it can take just as much effort to settle a small loss as a larger loss. Most reputable adjusters charge between 5% and 20%. Anything less should be a red flag that the adjuster will not put in the proper time or effort in handling your claim or that you don’t need an adjuster for this particular claim. Also be aware that in a declared state of emergency by an authorized government agency, public adjuster contracts are limited to the percentage that you can be charged.
- The adjuster pressures you to sign a contract on the spot. Don’t sign anything unless you have read it and understand it. Our life experience is that a good night sleep will often help resolve any conflicts, questions, thoughts or concerns you may have.
- Note how long your adjuster has been in the business. During the hurricanes of 2004-2005 the number of licensed public adjusters in Florida almost tripled. Unfortunately, many of these individuals were trying to make a quick buck on all the outstanding claims that occurred. Insurance companies like working with a reputable and ethical public adjuster. It makes their job easier and gets the claim settled faster. It also makes the process easier and less stressful for you.
Having a professional public adjuster on your side is extremely valuable and key to the success of your claim. Your insurance carrier has their representatives and adjusters working for them. Shouldn’t you?