The interests and needs of policyholders is why public adjusters get to make a living adjusting claims. The financial interests of the public adjuster are not paramount to the policyholder. The public interest is paramount over the public adjuster trade. So long as public adjusters properly serve policyholders, serve the public interest, and strive to raise the bar of those participating in their trade, they will be allowed to practice what used to be illegal in Florida, is limited in some states, and still illegal in a few states.

Last week, a great deal of discussion was generated from three posts:

When I wrote about a change of law in July 2017 post, Insurance Consultants and People Not Licensed as Public Adjusters Cannot Work on Property Insurance Claims, very few seemed to care.

I have always been concerned that if public adjusters do a poor job, get accused of insurance fraud or were perceived as being more concerned about lining their pockets at the expense of policyholders getting great service, the public adjuster profession would come under attack. Paul Cordish always warned that the victories of getting states to license public adjusters would always be subject to two powerful interests carefully monitoring how public adjusters performed: the insurance industry and the legal bar associations. I noted long ago these two organizations could turn and attack public adjusting:

The Texas Association of Public Insurance Adjusters (TAPIA) held its first meeting in Houston, Texas, yesterday. I was happy to see that the organization has dedicated itself to a mission of protecting policyholders. I was also happy that Mary Fortson, of our firm, was selected as its General Counsel.

Public adjusters can do a lot of good for policyholders. Their ability to do so can be highly controversial with the legal bar. Knowing insurance law is as important to a public adjuster as knowing criminal search and seizure law is to a police officer. However, neither may practice law.

* * * *

Today, Brian Goodman performs the same function as General Counsel to NAPIA and does a wonderful job eloquently expressing many of the same messages to the general membership as Paul Cordish. In my view, NAPIA has been blessed by these two attorneys providing terrific counsel to a profession often under attack by the insurance industry and then by the legal bar.1

Public adjusters should always have as their paramount concern policyholders and do everything they can to create regulations which demand that everybody in their trade do the same. In 2010, I wrote the following in, Insurance Agents Should Not Adjust Claims and Public Adjusters are Not Insurance Agents — But They Need to Listen to One Another:

1. Should we reduce policyholder benefits by removing consumer protection statutes?

2. Should there be stronger oversight of public insurance adjusters?

From the policyholder’s viewpoint, I think the answers are:

1. No

2. Yes

I will understandably catch grief from insurers and public adjusters for these answers. Yet, when I helped form the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters eighteen years ago, I told those in attendance that they would succeed so long as they always looked at their vocation as first serving policyholders. If so, they would always be “on the side of angels.” I suggest that the same should hold true for those managing insurance companies, insurance agencies and those making laws for Florida citizens.

* * * *

Can you better serve policyholders by raising the professional bar of what is expected of you and your peers?

* * * *

I have been very up-front when people ask me what changes I would suggest could be made. Keeping it simple, I suggest a significant raise in the public adjuster licensing fee so that more market conduct studies of public adjuster files would routinely be conducted by the Office of Insurance Regulation. The law is already in place to do so, but it is rarely done regarding public insurance adjuster files. Knowing that regulators will periodically be looking at files and talking with clients is one sure way of raising the professional bar of public insurance adjusters.

Could you imagine how honest all Americans would be regarding income tax if there were no audits? This simple regulatory step would be significant if used with significant penalties for non-compliance. Hardworking, honest and professional public adjusters would support this change as well because it would show either their industry has significant problems, as suggested by the insurers, and help clean it up, or, alternatively, it would help prevent wrongful conduct by adding a significant risk that otherwise honest public adjusters would be caught. Maybe we can come together and make some win-win laws and regulations.

I have never stopped trying to enhance the reputation of public adjusters. I have encouraged public adjuster leaders to take a long-term view of protecting their members and always putting the interests of policyholders above their own short-term pecuniary concerns. I have looked at public adjusting as a profession.

Adjusting requires time with the policyholder. Estimates of loss cannot be properly made without taking sufficient time with the client. A complete investigation of facts and evaluation of facts regarding valuation requires intimate work with the policyholder.

Many public adjusters now send to unlicensed third-parties these paramount aspects of what public adjusters are supposed to do. Many leaders in the field see the same thing—so does the insurance industry. They are concerned those given the license are delegating those duties and obligations to unlicensed people, and that is wrong.

It was never the intent to allow the delegation of significant duties to unlicensed people. It cheapens the license and questions whether public adjusters should have such a license and privilege in the first place.

We should be big fans of policyholders being treated right following a loss. As far as I know, I have been advocating for professional public adjusting longer than any other lawyer. We all should be fans of public adjusters that are true professionals. We should certainly be fans and grateful for licensed restoration contractors who are committed to and provide quality work. We should applaud insurance companies paying fully and promptly for losses to their customers—I just wish it happened more often. The bottom line is how do we make this a reality, and we can certainly have different views about how to do it and how much we will demand to make it a reality.

Thought For The Day

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”
—Jessica Jackley
_________________________________
1 TAPIA is Formed and the Unauthorized Practice of Law is Discussed (https://www.propertyinsurancecoveragelaw.com/2009/10/articles/insurance/tapia-is-formed-and-the-unauthorized-practice-of-law-is-discussed/)

  • Kyle Larson

    Chip,
    I truly believe the solution is to allow PA’s to work for the public. By public I mean anyone who is not associated with the insurance companies, and that has an interest in the proceeds from an insurance claim.

    I know Merlin Law successfully represented a contractor in Omaha, and I am sure said contractor obtained post loss AOB’s from each one of the homeowners, so why couldn’t a contractor get an AOB from the get go, and then either hire a PA directly, or even have a PA on staff who could handle all of the claims said contractor became involved with? This way the PA would benefit from working directly with the people who were going to do the work. No more speculation, or theories, or elevated estimates because PA, “had to prepare estimate based on possible incurred costs”, that no one has ever incurred.

    By acknowledging that for the vast majority of insurance claims a contractor is, in reality, the one taking on the costs, and risks, associated with the repairs, we could then begin to re-define who could use representation. In addition, contractors are the only ones in the transaction who are licensed to do the work, and that have actual, get your hands dirty, knowledge of what is going to be required to complete the repairs.

    By doing things this way wouldn’t you then create a path for either the insured’s, or the insurer’s, to pursue bad actors? If said contractor did not perform work per the estimate they submitted, either the homeowner, or the insurance company who paid based on the contractors, PA prepared, estimate would have some form of legal recourse correct?

    It seems to me this would force everyone to raise their game, or stay out of the game altogether.

    • Kyle,

      I am certain that many contractors feel the same way as you do. I am also certain a that the insurance industry feels exactly the opposite.

      Your issue is not the point of my recent blogs.

      My point is with the public adjuster community. I am an advocate for them and what
      they do. I hope people will be able to have representation by them and by really good public adjusters. My opinion is that great public adjusters help in many ways with policyholders after the loss and public adjusters should safeguard their ability to do so in the future.

      I can and will write more on contractors. But, contractors have an inherent
      conflict with owners when it comes to construction. This is the traditional view taught in construction school and is the reason why the architect is the “owners representative” in a construction project while the engineer and contractor have other roles.

      Restoration contractors play a vital role following a loss.

      But those points and that discussion is for another day.

  • Frank Chimento

    Gotta be honest, I’m surprised by this. The tone and inference of this post and a few others like it suggest the profession of Public Adjusters is riddled with fraudsters, charlatans, and every other low-life vulture that feeds on the suffering. I’m sure the P.A. industry has its share of undesirables but by comparison to insurance company practices, lawyers, real estate agents, and auto mechanics, are the Public Adjusters and their trade a fair target for such inequitable and opportunistic scathing?

    It also seems to be conveniently overlooked that Public Adjusters wouldn’t be needed at all if insurance companies were held to higher standards and investigated or audited more and (maybe most importantly) not protected by government for acting in bad faith or when they use predatory practices against their customers in times of catastrophe and great need (see Citizens.)

    Your post mentions, “Adjusting requires time with the policyholder. Estimates of loss cannot be properly made without taking sufficient time with the client. A complete investigation of facts and evaluation of facts regarding valuation requires intimate work with the policyholder.”

    How much time does the insurance company spend with the policyholders in times of mass casualty? Is it really a time thing, because I’ve worked with property and casualty attorneys and the top three overwhelming complaints against them by their clients are that they: #1 take on too many clients, #2 don’t return calls or spend enough time on their file, and #3 don’t communicate enough. You know this. You also know that some of the complaints are without merit because all customers want/expect more than may be reasonable at times.

    When I worked in this industry I used to jokingly accuse some guys (friends) of wearing golf shoes on the roof while doing an inspection. From reading this post, I’m left thinking that Public Adjusters are now handing out free golf shoes to anyone that can fog a mirror and climb a ladder while holding their clipboard filled with company letterhead.

    I think the Public Adjusters and their trade deserve a little more respect, reverence, and encouragement. At least as much as the condemnation, accusations, fear-mongering and constructive criticism.

    • Frank,

      Thanks for commenting.

      I must have missed the implied message. It is pretty clear:

      If unlicensed people are allowed to work on claims doing the work that public adjusters are supposed to do, why do we even have public adjusters licensed? Why do we license public adjusters in the first place?

      I have been the champion for public adjusters. I helped keep them licensed
      when numerous people wanted to do away with the license altogether. So, I am
      making a suggestion that public adjusters should stop allowing others to do
      what they are supposed to be doing or they will risk their license and trade in
      the future.

      • Frank Chimento

        I know you have supported the Public Adjusters and possibly more than any other law firm. You employed me and made it very clear to me that supporting, helping, encouraging, and educating P.A.s was a paramount mission for your entire firm and your colleagues shared in that mission and belief. That’s why I wrote that I was surprised. Admittedly, I’ve been out of the insurance loop a bit but have always been fascinated by it and while I may have misunderstood the premise of the posts it felt heavy-handed. Perhaps times are dire and heavy handedness is needed to protect your friends and business colleagues you’ve grown with and helped grow over so many successful years.

        Most importantly, I know for certain, the legislators in Tallahassee on both sides of the aisle have been conditioned to mostly despise Public Adjusters and agree 100% that if Public Adjusters allow their opportunistic desires to cut corners and hurt consumers, they will get slaughtered. Even the appearance of taking advantage of consumers will bring down fire from the heavens on the Public Adjuster trade. I have no doubt their industry is being setup in one of the most strategically devious and brilliant ways ever imagined. I hope the Public Adjusters avoid being baited.

        • Frank,

          Thanks for your comments.

          There are so many good public adjusters. There are many very good restoration contractors as well. They have very important roles helping people recover from catastrophe.

          Most insurance companies are in a battle with each other for market share. Costs are trying to be reduced and those include claims costs—they also include amounts paid to their customers.

          While the insurance companies certainly should raise questions about exorbitant bills, some techniques to cut costs simply lead to shoddy and illegal workmanship of construction. Public adjusters and restoration companies are in the front lines observing and calling out these wrongful techniques.

          The insurance industry has an army of lobbyists. They will try to attack people in these two industries because public adjusters and restoration contractors can call out insurance companies with facts about the wrongful actions and techniques insurers use on a systematic basis to underpay their own customers.

          So, I am trying to strongly suggest to leaders of these two industries that they need to keep their house in order the best they can. God knows we all have issues and problems at times. But, the insurance industry has a lot of money trying to show each issue and problem as the new “Insurance crisis” of the day to make laws that harm policyholders and the public under the guise of “insurance reform.”

          Again, thanks and my best wishes for your success.

  • shirley heflin

    Dear Chip:

    Touche’ to Messrs. Chimento and Larson!! I can certainly see why and empathize with why some P.A.’s feel as if their profession is being biased against and/or cheapened.

    You write above:

    “….Many public adjusters now send to unlicensed third-parties these
    paramount aspects of what public adjusters are supposed to do…
    They are concerned those given the license are delegating those duties
    and obligations to unlicensed people, and that is wrong…

    …It was never the intent to allow the delegation of significant duties
    to unlicensed people. It cheapens the license and questions whether
    public adjusters should have such a license and privilege in the first
    place.”

    As an (insurance) Paralegal, I can state that there is nothing more fulfilling than receiving a competent Public Adjuster’s file to (A) assemble and understand a new client’s file, (B) having the insurance policy in hand, (C) having the Contents/Inventory form(s) completed, (D) reading e-mails and correspondence to date, etc. All of this information is critical.

    Finally, as pointed out by you, Chip, and Mr. Chimento, there are “third-parties” and/or “…other lower life vulture[s]…” that work on insurance files besides Attorneys and Public Adjusters.” Indeed, as a Paralegal for 30 years, I’ve prepared thousands of documents, lawsuits, discovery responses, etc., for the Attorney’s review and signature – that doesn’t make me an Attorney though does it? Of course not. It is in the best interest of the Insured though. Same as the Public Adjuster. They may have an Estimator, Engineer, etc., assist in claims presentation…..all for the benefit of the Insured.

    Respectfully,
    SHIRLEY HEFLIN
    Tampa, FL

  • shirley heflin

    Dear Chip:

    After re-reading my two (2) day old comment below, I’d like to clarify some of my comments. Just as you didn’t mean to “pound” the Public Adjuster industry and/or any other industry, I didn’t mean to attack the legal profession.

    I believe the meanings behind these topics are equal, to wit: the Insured should receive competent advice and quality workmanship in an expedient manner after a loss. They shouldn’t have to worry about a vendor coming from out-of-state just for Hurricane Michael losses (for example), only to have their roof, home, etc., repaired, re-built and/or replaced. Indeed, if the work is sub-standard, shoddy and/or not up to code, the Insured should not be burdened with having to locate an out-of-state vendor once they have left Florida and gone “home.” Some may find themselves in the unique position of (A) not being able to afford and retain counsel for help and (B) not being able to help themselves because they have signed their rights away, don’t know what to do, etc.

    Indeed, we don’t question the motives of “out-of-state” First Responders (i.e.,Firemen, Policemen, National Guard, Electricians, phone men, etc.) because they aren’t involved in a post-loss catastrophe for profit. They’re there because their employer sent them there. Let’s not forget the kindness of various charities and fellow Americans that help out just because they can and want to.

    Now – turning to the “bad apples” of all professions, albeit Attorneys, Public Adjusters, Contractors, Roofers, Estimators, etc., it’s apparent that there is an influx of out-of-state vendors following Hurricanes Maria and Michael (just using these two as examples). I’m not hearing about the in-flux as I can see it all over Facebook, advertisements, etc. There are Facebook Pages devoted to Roofers, Public Adjusters, Contractors, etc. On some pages, I note that they don’t have a Florida branch and/or location and silently wonder “How are you going to help me in Panama City, FL if you are in New Jersey?”. There’s nothing wrong with that and there’s nothing wrong with free market enterprise. There is something wrong, however, when one tries to circumvent and outsmart the system where rules and laws are already established. For example, problems arise when non-licensed, out-of-state professions of any kind seek to “ride the coat tail” of someone already licensed in Florida. If they are successful in finding a “professional” of this caliber, their request for a Florida license is expedited, apprenticeship requirements begin rapidly, etc. It also speaks volumes about the ethics of professionals allowing this practice.

    In closing, these are hot topics that need to be addressed and I’m sure you’re on top of it.

    Respectfully,