In the United States today, you can hire a licensed public adjuster with a “contingent” fee (percentage) who will handle your insurance claim. Many people describe their experience with an insurance claim after a big loss as a full-time job. The claims process involves preliminary work, paperwork, mathematics, insurance rules, and negotiation. Listing, describing and evaluating everything that was damaged or destroyed, meeting with adjusters, inspectors and contractors, and reviewing reports and estimates takes a lot of time and labor.
On top of that, negotiating a fair claim settlement can be very difficult, especially after an emotionally devastating catastrophe. The insurance protection you paid for includes good claims service, but insurance is big business and you're not on equal terms with a big insurance company. You may find that learning the jargon, doing the math, and ensuring that your claim is thoroughly investigated and paid fairly is too much for you to manage on your own. Depending on your situation: work commitments, health, car-sharing tasks, an uncooperative insurance company, etc., everyone's experience and situation are a little different.
When it comes to deciding whether or not to hire a professional to handle insurance claims, the only “right” option is the one that best suits your personal situation. If you have problems with your insurer or if your personal or professional situation makes it difficult for you to manage all the details, you can hire a professional to help with claims. A public adjuster is a claims assistance professional that you can hire to represent you in the documentation and negotiation of your insurance claim. A public adjuster works only for the insured, not for the insurers.
Once you decide that you want to hire help to process claims, the key is to find an experienced public adjuster with good references who will hire you as a customer for a fair price. The larger your claim, the easier it will be to find someone who meets that requirement. Many of the most experienced public adjusters prefer to process commercial and large claims because they generate higher fees. Be very careful to check references before hiring a public adjuster for a minor loss of money.
Smaller losses can take as much time as larger losses, so you need to make sure that the person you hire doesn't sign you up and then spend their time on bigger losses and leave you in suspense. As with all professionals, it's important to check references carefully and hire someone you trust and feel comfortable working with. You can use the United Policyholder's “Find Help” directory to locate professionals in your area. Your insurance company may assign one or more different adjusters to your claim over time.
Everyone can have a different approach and level of experience. One may have very little experience and be difficult to communicate with; another may be very friendly and have a lot of experience. Many people tell United policyholders that their first appraiser offered them a settlement amount; then they left the company or were reassigned; and when a new adjuster arrived, that new adjuster either cancelled the offer or made them start from scratch with the claim - we refer to this problem as “swivel adjusters”. United Policyholders has helped pass laws that require insurers to provide reports on the status of claims to protect consumers from frustration, delays and confusion due to the turnover of appraisers.
When you file a claim, you may be fine on your own or you may be better off hiring help - it's an individual decision that you must make based on your own circumstances. A licensed public adjuster can be your representative and advocate in the process of “adjusting (processing) your claim” and “liquidating” it (paid). As with any professional, some public adjusters are better than others. The last thing you need when you've suffered a major loss are additional problems; so check carefully before hiring.
Resist high-pressure sales pitches and don't hire prematurely. Documenting and managing a catastrophic loss of property is time consuming and burdensome for even the most sophisticated policyholders. It's difficult for you - the insured - to know if you're getting everything you owe under your insurance policy; in fact, your policy may give you extended coverage beyond the dollar limits set out in the policy and much more than what the insurer offers you. An experienced claims lawyer on your side can be a strong voice for you in the process and provide you with much more information and negotiating influence in your final insurance agreement than you would have on your own.
Rather than relying on the insurance company to decide how much you'll receive to rebuild your home, hiring a good public adjuster can help you receive the best possible settlement. It is essential to check references and agree on rates and conditions before entering into a contract with a public adjuster. Once the contract is executed, you are obliged to pay for the services provided during the term of the contract; visit United's policyholder claims help library; read your policy and endorsements (extras); and be sure to review the policy with any public adjuster you're considering hiring before hiring them. The above tip sheet was prepared by Amy Bach - co-founder of United Policyholders - and Robert Crown - UP volunteer and licensed public adjuster based in San Francisco Bay Area with Crown Adjusting LLC.
Some public adjustment firms send one appraiser to make an estimate and another to follow up and thoroughly analyze a claim; as a policyholder, you may prefer to work personally with a single adjuster but having a company send more than one person can be beneficial too - each particular appraiser might take over their own part of the process.