We are preparing for the August 13 Public Insurance Adjusters Ethics Seminar that I announced in Merlin Law Group Hosting Public Adjuster Ethics Seminar Followed by a Political Fundraiser for a Public Adjuster Running for Public Office. A draft of the presentation makes for some fairly informative reading regarding the limitations and ethical considerations of adjusting in Florida.
I noted in the introduction that:
“It is incredibly important for a public adjuster to understand ethical issues that can arise in presenting claims. In order to ethically represent policyholders when they are at their most vulnerable it is important for a public adjuster to appreciate and abide by the ethical rules and obligations under Florida Law. The ethical representation of policyholders is the foundation upon which the system of insurance is designed to operate. Without the system’s ethical foundation it cannot achieve its purpose to protect the policyholder.”
One of the most difficult ethical aspects of public adjusting is to not practice law. Many non-lawyers do this everyday. When representing an individual as a public adjuster, it is easy to overstep adjusting duties and provide advice or take an advocate position on legal rights. This is clearly practicing law. Regarding the the unauthorized practice of law in Florida, the Florida Supreme Court has explained:
In determining whether the giving of advice and counsel and the performance of services in legal matters for compensation constitute the practice of law, it is safe to follow the rule that if the giving of such advice and performance of such services affect important rights of a person under the law, and if the reasonable protection of the rights and property of those advised and served requires that the persons giving such advice possess legal skill and a knowledge of the law greater that that possessed by the average citizen, then the giving of such advice and the performance of such services by one for another as a course of conduct constitutes the practice of law.
Florida Bar v. Sperry, 140 So. 2d 587, 591 (Fla. 1962). Additionally:
The preparation of legal documents by a nonlawyer, beyond taking down and filling in information to complete a form approved by the Florida Supreme Court, is the unauthorized practice of law. Florida Bar v. Smania, 702 So. 2d 184 (Fla. 1997); Florida Bar v. American Senior Citizens Alliance, Inc., 689 So. 2d 255 (Fla. 1997); Florida Bar v. Schramek, 616 So. 2d 979 (Fla. 1993).
The rendering of services, which could reasonably cause members of the public to rely upon those services to properly prepare legal documents, is the unauthorized practice of law. Florida Bar v. Miravalle, 761 So. 2d 1049 (Fla. 2000).
The use of a business name that may mislead the public and give the expectation that the company has expertise in the field of law is the unlicensed practice of law. Florida Bar v. Davide, 702 So. 2d 184 (Fla. 1997).“
Frankly, many public adjusters know far more law and practical suggestions involving legal aspects of property insurance policies than most attorneys. I find it humorous that a Houston personal injury firm that just started doing property insurance coverage cases is going to provide a seminar to public insurance adjusters. Most public adjusters we deal with have years of experience and could give seminars to attorneys in this field of work. You do not become really good in this field without experience. I have been doing this for twenty-five years, and I learn from some of the most brilliant minds in the insurance claims recovery business everyday—public insurance adjusters.
Everybody has certain obligations to the public. Agents, adjusters and attorneys all play important and distinct roles. I think that many outside the industry do not appreciate how complicated being a property insurance adjuster can be, especially when the public adjuster is trying to accomplish the best result for the policyholder. If you want to be one of those public adjusters, I look forward to seeing you on August 13 and at other NAPIA and FAPIA events in the future.