In Tampa, Super Bowl festivities abound. Parties, celebrities, and fancy dinners for all. My beautiful and too-good-for-me wife. should be with them, but she accompanied me to a quiet dinner with friends who took us to the Tampa Yacht Club.
My friend is a Harvard MBA who controls billions in commercial real estate. He asked me several questions regarding the insurance cases we handle. He seemed interested in the contingent fee structures, the chances of winning, the frustration of dealing with insurance companies and time frames for filing a lawsuit.
His wife then leaned over and quietly said that they should have called me several years ago because they were denied a substantial insurance claim in 2003. Apparently, they sustained a water loss to their home that resulted in a $350,000 repair bill. In response, my friend cancelled millions of dollars in premiums for other properties with the parent company. He never consulted an attorney. Amazing.
Qualified attorneys typically review insurance denial or delay cases for free. Only after such an initial review is made and discussed, is a legal fee arranged. Some firms, like ours, accept commercial and residential losses on a contingency fee basis and generally forward the costs of the case until the conclusion. I was amazed that an educated and sophisticated couple did not know this or even make inquiries. I kept thinking that if people like them are not fighting for benefits owed to them, what about others?
The truth is many businessmen have poor experiences with attorneys. Legal fees can get quite out of hand on relatively small commercial matters. My friend’s experiences lead him to assume the same thing could happen in an insurance dispute, and he did not want to make a bad situation worse.
Sometimes, I find risk managers, property managers and others do not call an attorney because they are afraid a legal dispute involving insurance is not big enough or they are embarrassed by it. Most good attorneys do not charge for a call or meeting during which they size up the situation to see if something can be done. While I enjoy the financial rewards from my complicated seven, eight, and nine figure cases, I also love our smaller homeowner or small business cases because it is not right for insurers to take advantage of people involved in smaller disputes. An amount an insurance company considers small can devastate or severely strain the average homeowner or small business.
One of my favorite stories was the time I filed a lawsuit against CNA for a little old lady. Her car was stolen, and when it was recovered, the muffler was damaged. CNA refused to pay $49.25 for the muffler repair, and the little old lady was upset. This was my conversation with the adjuster:
Chip: ‘I am going to sue you if you do not fix the muffler. Don’t you believe this lady?’
Adjuster: ‘Yes. But, the hole was caused by rust, and wear and tear which is not covered under the terms of the policy. You cannot be serious about filing suit over this amount–the filing fee is more than the cost of the muffler.’
Chip: ‘The hard driving during the theft caused an excess amount of force on the muffler, blowing out the worn areas. That is a covered event caused by theft. You do not know me, but I am going to help this nice lady prove her point no matter how much it costs me. You should do what is right, reconsider the situation, and pay the small amount right now.’
Adjuster: ‘Sorry. It is not covered.’
We filed the next day in Small Claims Court. I got an expert mechanic to do an exhaustive investigation of the car, looking for damage that was not so obvious. We went to trial. The little old lady got paid for the muffler and several hundred dollars more for other items she did not even think of before seeing me. The insurer paid all the filing fees, expert fees and my fees pursuant to consumer protection statutes which are still in place.
When you are not certain of your legal rights, call an attorney. This is what we do. Good attorneys love to help people. It is our calling.
Most people are not aware of how valuable an attorney can be when an adjuster says in a feigned empathetic voice, "I am so sorry, but we have to deny your claim."