Mississippi has an answer. On April 16, 2020, the Mississippi Supreme Court recently ruled that an adjuster’s safety was not the homeowner’s responsibility, as the homeowner exercised no control over the adjuster.1
As a result of a storm, Mr. Peak’s home sustained damage to the roof. Mr. Peak filed a claim with his insurance carrier, Allstate Insurance Company (“Allstate”). Allstate contracted with Pilot Catastrophe Services, Inc., (“Pilot”), to inspect and evaluate the storm damage. Pilot assigned independent adjuster Michael Cohee (“Cohee”) to Mr. Peak’s claim. During the inspection of Mr. Peak’s roof, Cohee fell through a rotted area of the roof decking, partially into the attic. Cohee sustained injuries to his neck, back, right hip, right arm, and both rotator cuffs in each shoulder. Cohee was unable to work for more than a year as a result of his injuries. Though he filed a claim with Pilot and received workers’ compensation benefits, Cohee sued Mr. Peak for failing to make the premises safe and for not warning him about the roof’s condition. The trial court ruled in favor of Cohee on a motion for summary judgment. Mr. Peak then appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
In reversing the trial court, the supreme court found that Cohee was hired by Allstate to perform a specific task: “identify and distinguish preexisting roof damage from storm damage.”2 The court relied upon the well-established “intimately connected doctrine” and found that Mr. Peak did not exercise any control over the adjuster. The court held that,
[A]bsent some exercise of control over a contractor, Mississippi law does not impose liability on a property owner for injuries suffered by independent contractors arising from or intimately connected to the work they were contracted to perform.3
Adjusters face a lot of dangers and challenges when inspecting property damage. They must remain vigilant and observe best practices for safety. Safety education and training during property damage inspections is an area ripe for attention. Mr. Cohee’s life quickly change from one misstep.
Mr. Cohee had a “lengthy career in construction and thousands of storm-damage adjustment assignments.”4 He developed a procedure for inspecting roof damages, which he used in this case: obtain information from the insured; inspect the interior and check the ceiling for water-stains; and look at the porch and roof from the ground prior to going on the roof. He stated he saw the roof had rotted areas and would “typically avoid stepping on damaged areas, like the roof decking around the attic ridge vent.” But on that day, “he stepped over the ridge vent from the second-tier front slope to the back” and fell through the rotted area.
This scenario seems to happen often, and I am sure many of you adjusters have stories to tell. It is not only new adjusters, unaware and still learning about property damage, who step into the danger zones, but also the experienced adjusters. Sharing the knowledge of the hidden dangers found through experience may serve two purposes: educating newer adjusters of the typical dangers encountered during an inspection and reminding those who know the stories.
1 Peak v. Cohee, No. 2019-IA-00045-SCT, — So.3d —, 2020 WL 1887788 (Miss. Apr. 16, 2020).
3 Id., citing Magee v. Transcon. Gas Pipe Line Corp., 551 So. 2d 182, 185 (Miss. 1989); see also Vu v. Clayton, 765 So.2d 1253 (Miss. 2000).