Note: This is a guest blog written by Charles R. Tutwiler of Tutwiler & Associates. Mr. Tutwiler has been assisting policyholders with his own firm since 1984. Mr. Tutwiler posts on his blog, On Property, is a contributing writer to Anderson Kill’s The Loss Advisor, and a contributor to United Policyholders as a featured expert. His complete bio is available here.
A policyholder in South Carolina recently wrote us about a fire claim turned nightmare. When notified of a claim, insurance companies will sometimes send out their preferred vendor as a way to provide fast service but this also is an attempt to control costs and possibly prevent the policyholder from hiring their own vendors or contractors. Insurance companies have agreements where the preferred vendor charges the company reduced rates.
In this case the restoration company seems to be controlling the claim, deciding what is and is not covered and how personal property should be repaired. The policyholder informed us that the restoration company cleaned carpets that were on hardwood floors, ruining them, removed contents and brought them back broken, recommended that burned cabinetry be repaired rather than replaced, left furniture outside where it was rained upon and left windows and doors open causing the property to be vandalized. In the meantime, the insurance company never arranged alternative living conditions for this family. Now the restoration company is demanding money for the cleaning, causing a stalemate.
When I read this client’s story, I couldn’t help but think how it mirrored three other fairly significant (six figure) homeowner claims our public adjusters have been involved in this year. The common thread seems to be that the insurance industry is using their preferred restoration companies as their “adjusters” to fix or attempt to settle losses. I suspect the reasons may be financial. By sending out a restoration company it may seem cost effective to lower overhead as compared to having to pay adequately trained in-house claim adjusters or licensed independent adjusters to go out and render aid and assistance to the policyholder. By rendering aid and assistance, I mean hands on daily contact, to give advice, adjust the loss, instruct and help manage the claim for the policyholders’ benefit. This service should continue until the very end when the home and contents are repaired and/or restored based on the insurance contract and the applicable laws that may affect the adjusting rules and regulations in the state where the loss occurred. In this case it sounds like the ALE claim was also mishandled or not addressed.
In this matter I did note the carrier sent out an adjuster, but it seems the restoration company is calling a lot of the shots. Clearly, when a policyholder has this type of loss they need and should expect the same treatment the adjuster would want if his or her home experienced the same type of loss. Unfortunately few insurance companies provide personnel to provide this level of service u although there are few carriers out there who still set high standards for customer service.
Now there is nothing wrong with the insurance industry bringing out restoration firms who are experienced and qualified at fire, water, restoration, etc. However, they should not be relied on to run the claim and attempt to settle the matter for an insurance company. They should be looked on as a tool to help the insurer and the insured understand the scope and potential cost of a loss and render emergency mitigation services. Of course these issues can be very subjective and subject to negotiations and discussions for final settlement. The policyholder needs to have a clear understanding of the adjusting process, their coverage and procedures before any work begins – especially work by a preferred insurance company restoration contractor. Any benefit of the doubt on scope or price should be resolved in the policyholder’s favor.
Questions can be directed directly to the CEO and founder of Tutwiler & Associates, Charles R. Tutwiler or start the discussion by posting a comment below.