I decided to write about perseverance this week, because I have been reminded lately that perseverance plays a major role in insurance claims, and in what we do as public insurance adjusters (advocates for insurance consumers).
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For the second time in my career (one should have been enough), I heard of a woman who lost her home to a fire. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she also lost her husband in the fire. To make it even worse, she was there with him at the time of the fire. She got out just ahead of him before he collapsed, very close to the front door. The fire department was there right away, but the heat was simply too intense. They could hear the husband calling out, but they just couldn’t reach him. They even grabbed a rake from a neighbor to extend their reach, all to no avail.
That was two months ago. Her homeowners insurance company has not paid her anything. Instead, they have taken multiple statements from her, made numerous requests for information, including cellphone records so they can see if she was plotting this fire herself. She feels they have treated her like a criminal, instead of like the victim. The same is true of the life insurance company. Her husband only had $10,000 in life insurance, and nearly all of that will go to pay for funeral costs, but the life insurance company is still waiting for the medical examiner’s office to complete their report listing the official cause of death.
People in these difficult circumstances often lose hope and give up. Between the financial stress of not knowing how you will be able to pay your everyday expenses, added to the anger of being treated like a criminal by the very people you paid to give you peace of mind should something like this happen is enough to make even the strongest of us want to quit and walk away from the entire process.
As a public adjuster, part of my job is to help the insurance victims stay strong, understand their rights, and build resolve to see the process through to the finish. We do this by educating, as well as by sharing our experiences, offering hope, and just by being there with them throughout the claim. Sometimes we literally hold their hand, or give them a hug. We are confident if they can just outlast the insurance company, they will almost always recover what they are owed. Our confidence helps to bolster their confidence, which is often shaken, or even broken, following this type of ordeal.
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Thinking about perseverance quickly reminded me of a scene from an old Clint Eastwood movie, “The Outlaw Josey Wales”. In this particular scene, Chief Dan George plays the character of Lone Watie, an aging Native American Indian who teams up with Eastwood’s Wales character. Lone Watie recalls a time before the Civil War when he and other leaders of Indian tribes went to Washington to complain about their treatment.
“I wore this frock coat to Washington before The War. We wore them because we belonged to the five civilized tribes. We dressed ourselves up like Abraham Lincoln. You know, we got to see the Secretary of the Interior. And he said, "Boy, you boys sure look civilized." He congratulated us and he gave us medals for looking so civilized. We told him about how our land had been stolen and how our people were dying. When we finished he shook our hands and said, "endeavor to persevere!" They stood us in a line: John Jumper, Chili McIntosh, Buffalo Hump, Jim Buckmark, and me – I am Lone Watie. They took our pictures. And the newspapers said, "Indians vow to endeavor to persevere." We thought about it for a long time. "Endeavor to persevere." And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.”
In other words, they got the message that the politician was just trying to placate them, maybe even mock them, and that their treatment was not going to change for the better. While he told them to persevere, he meant it in the way of maintaining the status quo. That is not what I mean by persevering. By persevere, I mean to be tenacious, stop at nothing, stand one’s ground, and not take “no” for an answer. Same words, but very different meaning.
When I hear all the personal stories of people losing their homes to fire, flood, or other calamity, and losing their personal effects like photographs, records of achievement, and other sentimental mementos that simply cannot be replaced, I think about the pompous politician from the movie saying, in a condescending tone, “Endeavor to persevere.” These are real people, with real families, and real feelings. They didn’t ask for their homes to be destroyed and their lives to be turned upside down. They deserve better than that. They paid their premiums, often year after year, for decades sometimes, without ever submitting a claim. They deserve better – and that’s what we offer – a better listener, a better understanding, a better response, and a much better result.
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This is why no matter what insurance company representatives might say about me, my business, or my industry, or what they can convince state insurance officials and even legislators about us, I know in my heart we are doing what is right. We will endeavor to persevere, not by standing around “looking civilized”, but by declaring war on insurance companies and their representatives. And by using our knowledge, skills, experience, and other strategic weapons, we will win the war.
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.