Who is the “Public Adjuster”? What does he or she do? When do you need one for your property insurance claim?
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Public Adjusters
“When should I hire a public adjuster?”
“Am I required to get my insurance company’s approval regarding the public adjuster I’d like to hire?”
“How do I know if a particular public adjuster is the best choice for help after we’ve had a fire in our home or business?”
These are the types of questions about public adjusters that families sometimes ask themselves after unexpectedly suffering the devastating nature of something like a fire in one’s home or business.
In many situations, homeowners, renters, business owners, or people who manage or own property as an investment have insurance policies that provide very detailed and widely varied coverage in many different categories. For policyholders lucky enough to have insurance coverage at the time of loss, there are still many more questions that must be asked and answered.
A qualified public adjuster can manage the insurance claim on behalf of the policyholder and help address the most important issues from start to finish in the process of filing a claim and negotiating a settlement favorable to the insured. This can be quite a relief and a helpful resource to the family or business that must rebuild a home or livelihood as quickly as possible.
“What exactly is a public adjuster?”
Wikipedia describes a public adjuster as someone who “advocates for the policyholder in appraising and negotiating a claimant’s insurance claim”. Laws regulating public adjusters vary from state to state, however, most states require public insurance claims adjusters to be licensed and that license must be kept up-to-date. At this point, it’s helpful to be aware that there are a few different types of adjusters, so, we will provide some additional necessary definitions on this website so that you clearly understand the difference between a public adjuster and a claims adjuster, and, also so that you will understand the basic types of claims adjusters. The most important difference between a public adjuster and any other type of adjuster is that a public adjuster is the only insurance claims adjuster who represents the interests of the policyholder.
Understand that company adjusters, independent adjusters and your insurance agent typically work for the insurance company, and, no matter how nice these people are, they do not represent your interests once you are in a position to file a claim. A public adjuster negotiates on behalf of the policyholder and can help expedite favorable settlements following a loss. Public adjusters perform these services by charging policyholders a fee that it is usually 10 to fifteen percent of the total claim settlement.
In short, a public adjuster is your representative at the negotiating table for all matters regarding your insurance claim. Public adjusters can be quite useful for policyholders who do not have the experience, time or other necessary resources to handle and understand complicated either homeowner or commercial insurance policies. Good public adjusters regularly negotiate insurance claims that return significantly higher settlements favorable to policyholders.
Here in Connecticut, the Department of Insurance advises that public adjusters are “legitimate independent property insurance professionals who provide an important service, particularly where a claim is unusually complex.” As with contracting any professional to do work for you, you should not hesitate to shop for a public adjuster by asking for references from your personal network of friends and business colleagues, community officials, or other contacts past or present before you make your decision to hire.
“But my insurance company says that they’ve already assigned an adjuster to my claim and that I don’t have to pay an outside adjuster.”
Don’t be mistaken about what’s at stake when disaster hits and you need to file a claim. Let’s strip away all the nice pitches, and feel-good vibes you get from your insurance agent because you are a customer. The bottom line is this: your policy is a contract written by your insurance company, and, the adjuster who they tell you is working “for you” is paid by your insurance company.
Once again, any policyholder needs to remember that a public adjuster is the only insurance claims adjuster who represents the interests of the policyholder. The only way to be sure that any adjuster is truly looking out for your interests is to hire him or her. You can bet that your insurance company’s managers are sure that the adjusters they hire are looking out for their interests.
Policyholders have the same option for representation when a potentially costly claim is at hand. If you get the sense that your claim is going to be complicated and that there will be any areas where you may not agree with what your insurance company wants to pay to settle the claim, then a public adjuster can be quite useful in maximizing what you collect while you try to get your family’s or tenants’ lives back on track.
A good pubic adjuster can also be helpful in minimizing the amount of time required to get the best settlement possible. Don’t fall for the subtle play-on-words tactics some insurance company personnel use to help keep you from hiring a public adjuster if that’s what you are inclined to do. A qualified public adjuster is more than “an outside adjuster” – a public adjuster may be the only chance the interests of the policyholder have for representation.
“My damage claim looks pretty simple and I’m pretty sure I can handle this without a public adjuster.”
Great! Consider yourself lucky! Make the necessary phone calls to your insurance company, fill out the required forms, collect your fair settlement and get back to normal life!
However, if you’ve suffered structural damage or moderate to severe property loss as a result of your fire or catastrophe, you may be getting involved in a loss claim that’s much more expensive and complicated than you realize at first.
The trick is to figure out quickly whether you need help with this claim. If you need help, you most likely know it. Just realize that when a public adjuster helps you, your interests come first. A good public adjuster may be the only insurance a policyholder has that his or her claim will be handled fairly. Once an insurance company learns that someone who “speaks the lingo” and “knows the ropes”will be handling your claim, you can be sure your claim will be handled in a way that ultimately benefits you, the insured.
A good public adjuster can help assess costly damages related to cleaning up and rebuilding and can then help expedite the whole process of a fair settlement and a top quality restoration. If you get help from a claims adjuster hired by your insurance company, understand that the “help” will be on their terms. If you choose to get help from a public adjuster, you can at least know that assistance will be in your best interest.
Still don’t know whether you need to hire a public adjuster? Here are 10 questions that can help you decide:
If you are still undecided about hiring a public adjuster, ask yourself the following questions – the more you answer no, the more you need a public adjuster:
- Have you ever read your entire insurance policy?
- Can you find a copy of your insurance policy right now?
- Do you understand all the language in your policy?
- Are you familiar with the covered perils in your insurance policy?
- Honestly, have you ever signed a contract without really reading and fully understanding everything within the contract?
- Did you know that because insurance policies are contracts of adhesion, if there is any confusing or ambiguous language in your policy, any related disputes with the insurance company tend to be decided in favor of the policyholder should such a dispute be forced to go to mediation (f.y.i. in insurance terms this is called “appraisal”) between the insured and the insurance company?
- Do you have any recent experience with housebuilding, disaster cleanup and restoration, or the type of specialized contracting required to rebuild any part of a structure intended for housing or commercial operations?
- Do you really have the time to file a detailed insurance claim with an itemized damage repair cost estimate, and do you have the time to follow up on all aspects of your claim in a timely manner?
- Do you trust that your insurance company will not cut any corners in order to reduce the expense of your claim?
- Have you been able to avoid asking your broker or insurance agent for advice about your claim?
If you answered “no” to less than 3 of the above questions, you might be able to do fine without a public adjuster. If you answered no to more than 5 of the above questions you may want to seriously consider hiring a public adjuster to assist you and your family with your claim. If you answered “no” to more than 7 of the above questions, our advice is that you don’t ever try to file any sort of substantial claim without contracting the professional services of a good public adjuster.
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The insurance carrier said, “Use this cleaning and restoration company.” And then my clients got burned after their fire.
If you have never filed a large property insurance claim before, you could probably use some help.
“We’re so glad we called a public adjuster to help us with this claim,” was what my client said to me. “I can’t believe that they did this to us after we just had a fire. You see their commercials on TV all the time, so, you trust them. I’m shocked about what you showed me.”
Well, I won’t use my clients’ names, but they wanted me to share their story and show the world what happened to them. I’ll tell you that they are a middle-aged couple living here in Connecticut in a very nice suburban home and they recently had to file an insurance claim because of a bathroom fire. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but, typical of a fire, there was thousands of dollars’ worth of damage created in a very short time. The fire was contained in the first floor bathroom, but, there was smoke damage throughout the home and water damage had gotten down into a family room in their furnished basement below the bathroom where the fire occurred. I had met with these clients a few weeks before to discuss an unrelated issue, but, when their bathroom burned this past week and flooded their home with smoke, they called immediately and asked me for my services.
I’m going to show and tell you a lot about this particular insurance claim, but, I’ve also decided that I will not tell you the name of a very well-known corporation that’s involved. After all, I am just one public adjuster and they have many lawyers. But trust me, you know this company because they market themselves the way only a multimillion dollar corporation can. I’m pretty sure I remember that they ran an ad on Super Bowl Sunday a few weeks ago. However, this company’s repeated commercials and advertisements promise cleaning and restoration services to victims of fires and floods – constant visions of industry professionals who care about their customers and deliver high quality service. However, as a result of this repeated message and images, many of us have been conditioned to believe that their message is true. Others of us are more skeptical. Undoubtedly, of this national company’s franchises must be doing the right thing. However, earlier today I found evidence that one local franchise bearing this worldwide company’s name was responsible for some of the poorest service I’ve seen delivered to a fire victim since I’ve been working as a public adjuster. In my opinion, what makes matters worse is that this was the fire and flood cleaning and restoration company the very well-known insurance carrier recommended when my clients reported their claim.
This cleaning and restoration franchise’s dirty deed
In fact, this particular franchise’s service was such a disservice that I felt compelled to take pictures.
After the fire, the cleaning and restoration company that first responded came out to the scene of the small fire and placed a dehumidifier and an air-cleaning machine called an “HEPA 500 Air Scrubber” in the home. The dehumidifier was to help reduce the humidity (firefighters often use water to put out fires and houses need to be dried out later) and the air scrubber was to help eliminate the smoke odor. However, my client’s wife explained to me that she had to turn off and unplug the air scrubber that had been placed in the master bedroom adjacent to the bathroom where the fire had occurred. “It was very noisy and it was making me ill,” she said,”I have COPD and my asthma was bothering me because of the machine.” My clients weren’t even sleeping in the master bedroom, but she was experiencing breathing difficulty throughout the house as long as the air scrubber was running. I called in a friend who manages a privately-owned cleaning and restoration company that I know and trust and asked him to swing by the house to help me evaluate what was going on. As soon as he came by and heard about my client’s wife’s complaints, he went straight to the master bedroom and immediately examined the HEPA 500 Air Scrubber that was quietly sitting in the middle of the room. My friend, also an experienced technician who has more than 20 years of experience in the cleaning and restoration industry, opened the air scrubber’s filter compartment and found these (pictured on the left and below) air filters clogged with dirt and overloaded with debris.
It was quite apparent that these filters had either never been changed or had not been cleaned for a very long time. “We don’t know where this dirt came from, but it’s not from your house. The contaminants on the filter are from wherever this machine has been,” my technician told my client. “And,” he added, “these filters are so filthy that they have very likely been circulating contaminated air throughout your home for the past 3 days.”
Take a look at the close-up of the blue filter below and you can see the thick layers of dust, debris and Lord-knows-what-else matted on the air intake side of the filter. I never turned on this particular unit, but, I figured that this air scrubber must have been noisier than normal as it strained to push air through these clogged and dirty filters.
It gets worse…
But, sadly, I’m not finished. When we removed that blue exterior filter, we saw the HEPA filter behind it that was ever filthier. And if you thought those first pictures were bad, just look at what we found when we removed the blue filter and found the even dirtier HEPA filter behind that. To top it off, it looked damp. The first thought in my mind when I saw the gray HEPA filter was, “I wonder what the heck is growing in there?”
The interior HEPA filter was also so filthy that you actually could not see the filter at all. All you could see was the dust, dirt and debris that completely enveloped the filter. The “filter” was varying shades of clumpy gray and once again was an example of what was most likely a complete lack of any maintenance whatsoever.
How we helped an ugly situation
I had seen enough. As soon as I got back to my office, I called up the project manager for the cleaning and restoration franchise that owned this air scrubber and asked him to come pick it up. I also explained that we would no longer need their services at all. When he asked why, I told him what I found when opened the air scrubber that his workers had left running in my client’s home. After a short silence, he apologized.
In less than 24 hours, I helped my clients by finding another cleaning and restoration company. The new crew was on site working with properly maintained machinery. From years of experience in the industry, my staff and I regularly recommend various contractors and industry professionals who not only do great work, but who are also very familiar with insurance industry property claims process.
Take a look at how we made a difference for our customers
Remember those dirty HEPA 500 Air Scrubber filters I just showed you? Now take a look at what those HEPA 500 air scrubber filter should have looked look like when that air cleaner was placed in my customers’ home:
When I brought in the second cleaning and restoration company, this is the HEPA 500 Air Scrubber that they brought in to clear the air inside my clients’ home. Clearly, this unit is much better maintained and far less likely to cause problems for my customers. That’s because I expect nothing less when I advise a client as their Public Adjuster to use a company to do the necessary work on any claim that needs to be settled and completed properly.
An experienced Public adjuster can be a great resource following a disaster
As a public adjuster, I have had to remind customers that just because you’ve seen a commercial a million times, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore your gut feeling when a poorly mannered, sloppily dressed franchise worker shows up to clean your home after a catastrophe.
If you are going to let a company work in your home, check them out first. You must do your due diligence and make a few calls to someone you can trust. Just remember that a property insurance claim is a business transaction, and no matter how nice your agent has been over the years, it’s still probably makes the most sense to ask someone other than your agent what to do. Yes, most of the cleaning and restoration companies who are preferred vendors for insurance carriers do a great job. And then there are other operations that somehow manage to stay on the preferred vendor list because they constantly save money on claims for the carrier by cutting corners and getting away with delivering sub-standard service. Those are the insurance industry vendors that a good, experienced public adjuster can help you avoid.
Don’t overlook some of the smaller privately-owned operations that may be close by. For example, the cleaning and restoration company that replaced the slipshod franchise who first showed up at my clients home after their fire has nearly twenty-five years experience and a great track record – they just can’t afford to run TV commercials on Super Bowl Sunday.
Leon Collins, Public Adjuster Services
“Helping clients achieve fair settlements.”
This claim put French class back in action decades after school
I got the call from this particular client almost 2 months after Hurricane Sandy had stormed up the Connecticut coastline and wreaked havoc on thousands upon thousands of homes from Cos Cob to Stonington. Claude (not his real name) called my Branford office from Stamford one morning, and, the first thing I realized was that communication was going to be a challenge. My soon-to-be client had a heavy accent, and, from my years of “New York experience”, I recognized that I was speaking with someone who was most likely Haitian. In all honesty, Claude was the kind of client for whom I had been waiting: inexperienced with the insurance game, disadvantaged because of a language barrier, and desperately in need of a public adjuster. Interestingly, he said he found me on the internet.
I made the 45 minute drive down to Stamford and visited Claude the next day. He greeted me at the door of his modest home and graciously welcomed me. He introduced his wife and I did my best to understand his explanation of how and where the storm damage had occurred to his home. Sometimes, I could not understand Claude’s English very well at all, and I strongly suspected that he had delayed in filing his claim with his very well-known insurance company because he didn’t know or understand that as a policyholder he should do so as quickly as possible. I had not studied French since boarding school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts more than 30 years ago, but somehow, I managed to make my new client feel immediately more at ease when I managed to at least utter a cordial greeting or parting words in one of his native languages (my French teachers always said that I had a good accent “en français”). Claude spoke some English but obviously felt far more comfortable in French, Spanish or Creole. My client made it clear that he was hiring me to do all the talking to his homeowner’s policy insurance carrier.
Claude’s home had sustained some roof damage from the “Superstorm Sandy”, and, there was also water damage inside in two of his bathrooms. However, after further investigation, we learned that the interior water damage was not the result of the roof damage caused by the hurricane, even though the best I could understand at the time was that it appeared shortly after. I brought in a plumber who inspected the bathroom where the ceiling had collapsed, and after inspecting the two bathrooms, he surmised that the damage to the ceiling in the first floor bathroom had been caused by cracked leaky, deteriorating tile in the second floor bathroom. This being the case, Claude was going to most likely have coverage for the roof damage clearly caused by the hurricane, but unfortunately, it looked like he was not going to have coverage for the interior damage because that appeared not to have been caused by either a plumbing defect, or as a result of the Hurricane Sandy damage to the roof.
¿Se habla español, tambien? = You speak Spanish, too?
A few days later, after the “storm trooper” from the insurance carrier inspected the damaged roof, he agreed it would be a covered loss. Next, we scheduled an appointment with the company adjuster who was to inspect the interior damage. When that adjuster arrived at the home, I described the details of this claim again (i.e. the language barrier, the multiple occurrences and how they became two claims, etc.). We visited the tenant in the second floor apartment to inspect the cracked and broken tile that was visible in the bathroom shower. Once again, the language barrier was an issue: the tenants spoke more Spanish than English, but we did learn after speaking with Lorena (not her real name either), her husband and Claude all together, that water leaked into Claude’s bathroom downstairs when someone used the shower upstairs. After the short discussion and quick inspection of the second floor bathroom, the company adjuster from Claude’s “nameless” insurance company soon got that look on her face, and I knew what I was going to hear next,”I’m sorry, but it doesn’t sound like this is going to be a covered loss.” I had explained earlier to Claude that this might happen.
Three languages later: the “miracle” of coverage
Now, I had just begun to explain what this meant (and why) to my client, who by this time had brought in his 17-year-old son to help with the translation. I told Claude and his son, Antoine ( not his real name) that this second claim for the interior damage to the bathrooms was most likely not going to result any coverage from their insurance carrier, but, I asked them again to explain how the damage in the bathrooms had happened. I motioned to Antoine to step into the bathroom right next to the company adjuster and to explain everything, to all of us again, from the beginning. Antoine squeezed by me so he could start his “show and tell”. Then, shortly after he began his description of the chain of events in much better English than his father, he said something that instantly caught both my and the company adjuster’s attention. “Well, after the other plumber fixed the drain that was leaking, more of the ceiling fell and we saw more damage here and here,” as he pointed inside the shower. “Wait a minute,” I said, “There was a leaky drain?” I turned to the adjuster and said,”This the first I’ve heard that there was a leaky pipe here. This is news to me, and, it sounds like it might be good news.” After getting a few more details from Antoine about the leaky drain that had been fixed prior to my representing Claude as a public adjuster, the company adjuster, smiled and said, “Well, now it sounds like we have a covered loss.” I turned to Claude and said, “Claude, votre fils a fait tres bien ce matin” which meant, “Claude, your son did very well this morning”.
And then, the company adjuster started taking measurements to estimate the cost of repairing the interior damage.
I felt good, no, really good about what had just happened. I mean it was like the United Nations of Public Adjusting. OK, Leon, get a grip. Well, maybe it was more like a crowded subway car. However I choose to describe it, IT was what I have missed the most about my New York experience since I had left the “Big City” years ago. People who at first did not necessarily understand each other very well, coming together and working out a settlement or fair solution. This was not going to be the biggest claim I had ever settled, but it was one that I knew where I had really helped a client who needed it, and one I would never forget.
I spoke with Antoine as I left. I said, “I figured out how your father found me on the internet: he talks – while you type on the computer.” I had always noted how Claude’s emails were in perfect English. Antoine smiled and said, “Yes.”
“Helping clients achieve fair settlements.”
Burglars, Vandals, Thieves, Oh My!
It happens every day: home or business owners find that they’ve been hit by criminals who have destroyed, damaged or stolen property. The good news for policyholders is that in spite of the inconvenience and everything else that goes with being a crime victim, they at least have some recourse. However, when this kind of thing happens, it is often difficult to outline and execute an orderly plan of action to deal with such an experience. Sometimes, the emotions and typically chaotic scene can make it almost impossible to organize and respond to such an event effectively. Well, this is exactly the kind of situation in which a public adjuster can be most helpful.
What to do, step by step, to file the best claim
Here are some quick tips to help you file the best property insurance claim should you find yourself victim to theft or vandalism. If your do this stuff in the wrong order, it could cost you thousands of dollars.
- First things first, LOOK AROUND and decide whether a potentially criminal threat remains. If you are not sure and are not ready to handle that possible threat, make sure that you and others such as family, employees or tenants get to a safe place. As soon as you are sure you are safe, CALL THE POLICE. It’s so simple, but so many people fail to do this after they are convinced the threat is gone. Just remember, the local 9-1-1 dispatcher will send help and can be a source of great advice at a time when you will most likely be upset.
- Second, DO NOT CLEAN UP THE MESS. Resist the temptation to clean broken glass, tile, sheet rock, or other damaged items. The police will want to see what happened before you clean up, and if there is the chance of investigators getting any sort of useful evidence from the crime scene, you certainly wouldn’t want to destroy that. If wall outlets or fixtures have been ripped out or destroyed, this damage needs to be carefully recorded and documented for your claim before you start fixing anything. If you feel like you must do something, whip out your cell phone and start taking your own pictures of the scene and what happened. Also, start making a list of missing items if things have been stolen. Doing this will help you document the damage: the pictures will be date and time-stamped and can be used later if you need to prove what happened. Most property insurance policies cover clean up and restoration expense, so why do it yourself? In fact, here are some good reasons to avoid D-I-Y repairs when an insurance claim is involved.
- Third, CONSIDER GETTING A PUBLIC ADJUSTER TO HELP YOU WITH FILING YOUR INSURANCE CLAIM AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. It’s very simple: involve your public adjuster early in the process of filing your claim and you maximize the opportunities that public adjuster can serve you and your interests. Involve the public adjuster too late and you may waste time and money.
- Notify your insurance company. If they tell you they are sending either a company adjuster or an independent adjuster, read this useful information about different types of insurance adjusters.
Follow these simple steps above and you dramatically increase the chances of receiving a fair settlement for your property insurance claim after you’ve been the victim of theft or vandalism.
The City of New Haven has provided the public with results from a survey and analysis of the performance of Connecticut banks. New Haven worked with the Yale Law School to gather the stats and information. The Community Impact Report Card (or CIRC) measures bank performance in service areas ranging from home loan applications to fees.
City officials hope that consumer use of this new information will drive area banks to improve service for individuals and businesses.
New Haven mayor John DeStefano said, ““Financial literacy and access to traditional banking services are prerequisites for wealth creation today and are critical to a resurgent American economy. We cannot restore the nation’s middle class until all families, particularly minority families and those new to this country have access to and faith in the traditional banking system. We cannot grow our local economies until responsible small businesses, particularly minority-owned small businesses, have access to basic lines of credit that enable them to expand their services and hire local residents.”
The Community Impact Report Card surveyed banks within a 30 mile radius of New Haven, Connecticut. The report measured scores for area banks in two categories: home loans and banking products.
The Community Impact Report Card also considered banking services such as physical accessibility, ATM locations and features, personal savings and checking account features, small business account features, acceptance of the Elm City Resident Card, check cashing services and personal loan options.
Her are the scores for the top 10 banks in the CIRC survey:
1. First Niagara, 74 points
2. Bank of America, 73 points
3. People’s United Bank, 68 points
4. JPMorgan Chase Bank, 66 points
5. Bank of Southern Connecticut, 63 points
6. Webster Bank, 61 points
7. RBS Citizens, 59 points
8. TD Bank, 59 points
9. Citibank, 56 points
10. Sovereign Bank New England, 56 points
11. Wells Fargo Bank, 53 points
For more information, visit New Haven’s Community Impact Report (CIRC)