March 26, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver

“It could be a storm or a car comes crashing through your home — families who prepare for the unexpected have better outcomes with the insurance claims process, and emotionally are in much better shape as well.”

Those comments are from Southern Florida-based independent insurance adjuster, Peter Crosa. A claims adjuster and seminar leader for over 35 years, he is quick to point out a weakness in the training of adjusters across the country which, “explains why claims adjusters do not receive Valentine cards.”

“What we do tends to make us hardened and not sensitive to the policyholder who has suffered a loss. Few people in claims receive any training on the emotional component of a claim,” Crosa observes.

With major property damage, such as a fire, their home washed away in a flood, or a tree crashing through the roof, “The entire family is often in a crisis situation where anxiety levels are high, revealed by worry, short temper, and at times, depression.

“It is essential to communicate feelings to your family and work with your claims adjuster. This could be a life changing event, that, when we look back, can say, ‘Yes, I know exactly where I was when that happened, and how mom and dad were fighting all the time,” Crosa maintains, adding, “Preparation for a loss you never want to suffer is the best assurance for a positive outcome.”

Assume the worst: your home is washed away in a flood or landslide. You’ll be asked to prove what was there and what you owned. This is not an easy task as Crosa explains:

“If you are hoping to remember after the event, then you are short-changing yourself as memory is often compromised due to stress, making a home inventory prepared in advance of a loss critically important evidence. So, grab a video camera or cellphone and:

  • Take video and still pictures of every significant thing in your home, hopefully with a family member in the photo. Model and serial numbers will help.
  • Describe the item, when purchased, how much was paid. Keep documentation which proves ownership, such as receipts and instruction manuals.
  • When asked, “Can you show me proof that you owned this?” the adjuster is not calling you a liar. Your answer: “I took a photo of it, and here you are,” is a helpful, positive response, a real win-win for you both. 

What not to do following a loss

If ever there is a time to slow down and be a good communicator, it’s after a major property loss or auto accident. “Attitude,” Crosa points out, “Sets the stage between you and your adjuster. For example, the worst thing is to move into a motel or get a rental car without advising the adjuster that you are doing this.

“Especially if you have the attitude, ‘My house burnt and you are going to pay for me staying in a hotel.’ Or, ‘My car is wrecked and you are going to pay for a rental!’ If you go out and get that rental, the rates are probably double what we pay, as we likely have accounts with the same rental car company and most hotels.

“What happens when an insurance company is out of state and they do not have local adjusters What should I do in that situation, after I’ve phoned in the claim?”

Agreeing that this can delay prompt handling of the claim, his advice is to “Go directly to your agent and the agent’s staff, keeping them informed verbally and via text or email of your needs. Politely state, ‘I need to check into a hotel. Is this covered by my policy? Please advise.’ ”

Insurance claims are paid according to the terms of the policy, and most require establishing that the item actually existed. If there are no photos or other evidence of ownership, and you house is filled with things that cannot be restored, there is one huge, costly mistake you do not want to make, as Crosa points out:

“Do not throw property away even if you know the item or items are not going to be restorable or recoverable. Adjusters need an opportunity to inspect and will likely agree with you. But if a claims adjuster is not permitted to see the item, and there is no other independent way of proving ownership, then it is impossible consider it for payment. Therefore, retain the evidence, even it is a corner of your yard.”

Like locust descending on crops, some of the first responders to major events are public adjusters. Next time: Why hiring one could be a costly mistake.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.