Property damage to your home or business can have devastating consequences. If you're insured, that's good news. But it's just the start of the recovery process. Whether the loss results from a common natural disaster, like a hurricane, earthquake, or tornado, or a fire or other peril, the first step after you file a claim is adjustment of the loss.
If you don't get this process right you may not be fully compensated for the loss. It's important to know the people you'll be dealing with, and who they represent.
Not All Adjusters Are Created Equal
Adjusters determine the extent and value of the loss. Adjusters come in four main types:
- Company adjuster
- Independent adjuster
- Public adjuster
- Temporary catastrophic adjuster
It's important to know that anyone can become an insurance adjuster. There are no specific educational requirements to qualify.
Your insurance company may have adjusters on the payroll. These are employees of the insurance company. Their services don't cost you anything. Because they work for the insurance company you shouldn't expect them to give you the benefit of the doubt in adjusting your claim.
An independent adjuster also represents the insurance company. The company hires this adjuster from an outside firm. You also shouldn't expect an independent adjuster to go the extra mile for you in adjusting the loss.
You may hire a public adjuster to estimate the loss on your behalf. A public adjuster doesn't work for the insurance company, but works for you instead. Public adjusters are skilled in interpreting insurance policies and handling claims.
Public adjusters are licensed by state departments of insurance. You can check the qualifications of anyone claiming to be a public adjuster by checking with the state insurance department. Be wary of persons who solicit adjustment business door-to-door after a major disaster. Make sure to confirm they are qualified as public adjusters.
Public adjusters work for you and you pay their fees. A public adjuster will charge a percentage of the total value of your insurance settlement. This percentage may be as high as 20 percent. Public adjusters may not accept any fee or compensation until your claim is settled. Your contract with a public adjuster usually has a "free-look" period. This lets you cancel your contract within a set period after entering into it.
Temporary Catastrophic Adjuster
A catastrophe may present too many claims to process quickly. Some states will allow temporary adjusters to operate in these circumstances. You must be very careful in employing these individuals for your claim. Their expertise in adjusting can vary greatly. They can come from any walk of life and their experience and training in adjusting losses may be limited.
Building Contractors and Remediation Companies
Construction contractors and remediation companies can sometimes be helpful when trying to assess and value your loss. Not all of them are created equal also. You must confirm that any contractor you deal with is licensed and reputable. Sources to check with include the Better Business Bureau and your state's corporation commission.
Lawyers and the Adjustment Process
For a significant loss, or in any case where your insurer denies or limits your recovery, a lawyer with experience in insurance practice can be invaluable. A lawyer can mean the difference between collecting all, some or none of the money you're entitled to. A seasoned lawyer has dealt with insurers on many occasions and has seen all of the usual types of contract disputes.
Lawyers receive extensive, specialized training in contracts and insurance. A good lawyer understands policy forms, coverage and exclusions as well or better than your insurer. The lawyer you select should have a good reputation. You can should always check your prospective lawyer's references and Martindale-Hubbell rating.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Will the recovery I get using a public adjuster justify paying the adjuster's fee?
- My insurance company was very prompt in offering a settlement on my claim. How do I know it will fully compensate me for the loss?
- My insurance company is stalling and making low-ball offers. What can I do to get a better resolution to my claim?