On August 22, 2013, a fire destroyed an office building where one tenant, Bernstein Liebhard LLP, was a mass tort law practice. The firm’s mass tort practice was shut down for a year. The insured law firm sued Sentinel Insurance Company Limited for $27 million arising from lost income from several hundred mass tort clients who failed to retain the firm during the 12-month period after the fire.
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Public adjusters and policyholder attorneys were enamored with the possibility of filing class action lawsuits against contractors and roofers with contingent fee contracts or contracts that include public adjuster services. Contractors, roofers and their attorneys writing these types of contracts should be on Red Alert because those types of contracts are illegal and could result in huge disgorgements of payments to prior policyholder customers.


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A question lawyers representing insureds often must answer when preparing for trial in a first-party property insurance claim is, “In what capacity can I use the public adjuster as a witness?” In Pennsylvania, the Court of Common Pleas for Lycoming County has stated that a public adjuster on a contingent fee may not testify as an expert.


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Last week, I wrote about insurance coverage and bad faith cases where public adjusters may need to be designated as experts at trial. Accordingly, a public adjuster’s expertise must be thoroughly considered by the insured’s lawyer when it comes time for designation of experts. Problems may arise, however, if the public adjuster is to offer expert opinion and the public adjuster has a contingency fee contract with the insured.

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