This week I will cover the top ten warning signs of problems on the horizon with your insurer,
Warning Sign Number Ten: By phone or by form letter, the insurance company tells you something to the effect that “due to the large number of claims received,” the process of resolving your claim will be delayed. Here, remarkably, is something you can be absolutely sure your insurance company is telling the truth about. If they say your claim will be delayed, take it to the bank! Again, this is what usually happens in catastrophe situations. You will need professional guidance in this situation.
Warning Sign Number Nine: Someone from a call center tells you that say an adjuster “should be calling” within 24-48 hours. The tip-off here is the call center, not the adjuster, is the one actually calling you. I wouldn’t suggest taking off work to wait for that call. You are almost certainly in for a long wait. Use the time wisely.
Warning Sign Number Eight: The adjuster does not call when the call center indicated. Surprise, surprise. This seems harmless enough at the time, but it’s definitely not a good sign. You have now officially begun the process of risking your sanity. It’s simply not worth it. Get someone else to take on the process of tracking this person down.
Warning Sign Number Seven: The adjuster schedules the inspection of your home more than one week in advance. Most policyholders don’t realize that this is a clear indicator that they are not at the top of the list. No matter what you write down in the calendar, a time lag of more than one week before the inspection often translates as “You do not yet exist in my world.” This is not where you want to be!
Warning Sign Number Six: The adjuster cancels or misses the scheduled appointment. Alas, this is quite common. It may signal any number of problems: the adjuster’s lack of organization in the face of a surrealistically high workload, burnout, confusion, reassignment, firing, or even the adjuster’s decision to go AWOL for one or more personal reasons. Of all of these, reassignment is probably the most likely reason for the failure to appear.
In catastrophe situations, adjusters can be -- and are -- reassigned from area to area a number of times, creating high stress levels, epic burnout rates, and serious turnover. You very likely won’t get any advance notice ahead of time about this reassignment. You are now at the mercy of the system.
Warning Sign Number Five: After inspecting your property, the adjuster advises you that the estimate will take more than ten to fourteen days to complete. Big problems ahead. For a number of reasons, including but not limited to the inevitable failings of the human memory, estimates that are not completed within this time frame tend to feature significant mistakes. (Would you care to guess in whose favor those mistakes will probably lean?)
This kind of “open time frame” also suggests that the adjuster is taking on more and more inspections … rather than completing work on the claims that have already been seen. This kind of delay may improve the adjuster’s financial situation, thanks to the additional fees collected, but it probably won’t do much for your own bank balance.
Warning Sign Number Four: There are long time lapses between calls, inspections, and your receipt of the adjuster’s estimate. Not what you had in mind. This is still more evidence that the adjuster is overworked, disorganized, improperly trained, improperly compensated, or a combination of all of the above. Don’t try to fix these problems yourself; don’t try to bulldoze your way through them. You can’t.
Warning Sign Number Three: The adjuster tells you your file is being transferred to another adjuster or another unit. Somehow, this file transfer rarely seems to work out well for the policyholder. In most situations, you won’t like the new adjuster any more than you liked what was happening (or not happening) with the first adjuster.
Warning Sign Number Two: You receive voluminous requests for information. Attempting to fulfill these voluminous requests will take you quite a long time. Some of the requested information will be impossible for you to supply. Some of it will be a little easier for you to track down. Some of the information you do pass along will not satisfy the Powers That Be. (You get the idea.) This kind of request is an indicator that someone in the bureaucracy “smells something fishy.” You may not know what that something is, and, as a result, you almost certainly won’t know whether you are hurting or helping your cause as you track down all of this data.
And the Number One warning sign that your insurer is about to make your life miserable …You get letters with ominous language that you’ve never seen before, like “non-waiver” or “reservation of rights.” Most policyholders are confused and disoriented by this turn of events, and may even put off dealing with it because they don’t know what to do. This is what the insurer is hoping you will do. In fact, when this happens, you should be thinking “denial,” and you should be reaching out to a qualified public adjuster and preparing for battle.
If you’re like ninety-seven out of one hundred of the policyholders I run into, you’re simply not going to win this battle if you attempt to fight it on your own.
If even one of these things happens … contact someone immediately. Of course, you should also contact someone in the case of later “warning signs” that suggest a major collapse of the process, like the insurer denying all or part of your claim, the insurer suggesting fraud on your part, or the insurer demanding that you (or someone else) be examined under oath.
Again: You wouldn’t try to handle an important IRS, medical, or other significant issue without a professional, so you shouldn't try to handle a major insurance issue without a professional on your side!
Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.