To my Louisiana friends, I am a local general contractor and private claims adjuster. I am an expert in contracting and insurance claims with thirty years in business. I also operate a non-profit called “UpSkill Educate.” The purpose of Upskill Educate is to teach policyholders to deal with their insurance claims and damages.
As a policyholder who has filed a claim, you are now a target who will be preyed on for your insurance money. Between bad insurance companies, who do not want to pay on your claim, and abusive service providers, such as plaintiff attorneys, contractors, roofers, public adjusters, who can you trust? What do you do?
First, I have to mention my FREE e-book, “A Claim Manual.” Please take a few minutes to read it and pass it on to everyone you know. The E-book is a must-read! Do not sign with anyone until you understand your coverages and damages. You only get one shot at getting paid. This free book I wrote contains many helpful tips for handling your claim on your own. I made it free so the average policyholder stands a chance against their insurance company during what is already a difficult time.
I am also actively looking for sites to offer free speaking events for an interactive question and answer session. If you are connected to a church, business, or community organization, I am offering to speak and offer instruction and advice to help the recovery efforts at no charge.
Generally, a good rule of thumb in dealing with your insurance claim is if it is not in writing, it didn’t happen. Whatever you are told by your adjuster, recite that back to them in a follow-up email. Phone calls are NOT enough. You can use these emails as a reference or trail in the future. Otherwise, everything is just talk, and there is a lot of room for word games! Keep in mind, insurer fraud is real, insurance companies commit insurance fraud often, but NO insurance fraud is ok! Never lie or falsely present damages that you do not qualify for.
If your home is uninhabitable:
If your home is uninhabitable, send daily, written emails to your adjuster/insurer asking for additional living expense money. You can ask for an advance of $5K, $10K from either your “additional living expenses” or “contents” coverages. Keep your receipts and submit them weekly for reimbursement.
Additional living expenses are known as ALE. This coverage pays for any amount you pay in addition to or on top of your normal bills. An example of ALE coverage is if you would normally spend $100.00 on groceries, but as a result of the hurricane you now have to spend $150.00, your insurance will cover and reimburse you for that additional $50 cost. Another example is if you now have to do your laundry at a laundromat, the cost is covered minus the soap. You can ask in writing for advances of money in ALE or contents coverages. Either way, ALWAYS track your expenses.
The Insurance Company’s Adjuster
The adjusters from the insurance company sent to visit your home are licensed to represent the insurance company’s interests, not yours! You should know that insurance adjusters are not required by law to know anything about construction or estimating. They are tested and licensed in policy language and interpretation.
If your insurance company hires an engineer, service provider, or any other person to give an estimate, it is to limit or deny your claim. No one they associate with is there to help you!
Insurance in Louisiana
Louisiana laws require a first money offer 60 days from the day of the reporting. It will likely be a low offer. New Louisiana insurance laws were legislated in 2007. In large part, they were crafted by attorneys and insurance industry machines. The current laws restrict a public adjuster to only assisting loss victims, not representing them. They have forced the public adjuster to charge hourly or by flat rate. Any interaction by a public adjuster directly with an insurance company is considered the unlicensed practice of law. A public adjuster can write an estimate and hand it to a policyholder, but the policyholder is to turn it in to the insurance company. If a policy holder is uncomfortable speaking to their insurance company, they are forced to hire an attorney.
If You Need an Attorney
Louisiana has the highest per capita of attorneys in the country. They will all be interested in “helping” you for a fraction of the action! Be careful! You are the best person to handle this stage of the claim. Attorneys should come last, if at all. Creating a paper trail on your own, such as putting everything in writing via email, will limit the need for an attorney.
It is very common to see attorneys who advertise their help for a fee but do little to fight for everything you are owed. If you need any attorney, the questions I would ask any attorney before hiring them to help with my claim are:
1. How many times have you been to trial on a property casually claim?
2. How many bad faith awards has the person acquired?
3. What experts will you hire on my behalf?
4. What will be the cost for the additional experts you plan to hire?
Let their answers guide you. Know that attorneys are not necessarily experts in construction or estimating. They will build teams around them to do the work- or at least they should.
What Can You Do by Yourself?
You are the best person to create claim material. You are better off hiring the few service providers and experts you need and working directly with them. This will save you in unnecessary legal fees. You have limited insurance money, so the more you do, the better your results will be with huge savings.
Pictures and Contents Lists:
You will need to create contents lists, the more detail the better. I’m talking turning over junk drawers and having a huge garage sale with your insurance company being the only buyer paying full replacement price on every single thing you take a picture of. Put everything on a list!
This is huge! Do not cheat yourself. Everything has a value. If you bought it, they will too. Take thousands of pictures. Take pictures in broad shots. Take up close pictures. Count clothes hangers. Count dental floss. Months from now, your claim will settle in a high rise building with thousands of pictures. Are you getting the picture? Take and overtake pictures. Pictures prove ownership, like a receipt!
You should record all inspections and conversations you have with any insurance person. They will misrepresent information in the future. The recording you create will be your only proof that conversations or agreements happened. Even if they are nice, record them. Insurance claims are not personable like the TV commercials lead you to believe. Insurance is a for-profit industry. Insurance companies make money when you pay premiums, and they lose money when they pay out on a claim. They will train low-level adjusters to say things that are not true. Don’t shoot the messenger, just record it.
Do not wait for or on your insurance company. They will, by design, slow you down! Get estimates for as much as you can. Try and get estimates fast. Estimates do not need to be fancy. Napkin estimates are fine! The sooner you turn in estimates, the sooner your claim will move, so DO NOT WAIT! When you have them, turn them in accompanied with a proof of loss. A proof of loss is the formal way to submit a claim, always overlooked by policyholders.
Proof of Loss
Proof of Loss is a sworn, notarized document “stating your claim.” When you submit it, it starts a process that requires your insurer to provide you with an answer of coverage within thirty days, which leads to payments. Turning in claim material without a Proof of Loss will slow down your claim.
More on Estimates
To my contractor friends, and to you policyholders, a contractor should write the estimate. The contractor has to understand his exposures and liabilities. It is not cheap to be in business. Don’t be the cheapest contractor. The contractor should offer maintenance bonds and purchase builders’ risk. Your contractor should charge for preparing interior contents, moving furniture, and prepping attic space. The contractor should have zero regard to anything insurance.
If you do this right, your claim gets paid, and the contractor is protected. Get away from software pricing. If you even just bid the work on scratch paper, you’re good. You need to do the work right, pull permits, have bookkeeping, and take lots of pictures. Have the public adjuster or policyholder collect all the papers, wrap it in a Proof of Loss, and calendar the timeline.
Contractors, you should have interest rate terms of 18% on any outstanding balances. Do not be afraid to place a lien and add costs to your job. Keep your client posted and explain to them your actions are just business and a way to get the bill paid by the insurer. Should a contractor sue its client, the public adjuster, or owner, there is a second claim for duty to defend. In ninety to hundred days, the contractor gets paid plus interest. This is how to stifle all the delays insurance companies have created, to lessen what they pay out by delaying a conclusion.
Public Insurance Adjusters
With the exception of a few states, public insurance adjusters are licensed by the state insurance commissioner’s office. They represent policyholders and are supposed to be experts in policy language and interpretation of the policy and its fine print. They are not necessarily good at writing estimates. Adjusters are not trained or educated in estimating and building methods.
In most states they charge a percentage contingency fee, like an attorney but less. Only an attorney and public adjuster can represent loss victims in a claim. Public adjusters are specialized in first party claims and tort law. Adjusters handle insurance claims daily and are generally better in dealing with property damage. Like with any trade, there are bad apples.
Many out-of-state people will pretend or mask some variation of a “like” public adjuster service to skirt licensing laws. Others will not work in the confine of the Louisiana laws. Both are a problem to and for you. When looking to hire a public insurance adjuster, ask about background experiences and for a resume. Know the history of the people you are doing business with. A one-year public adjuster who worked as a restaurant manager for 10 years will offer different services than a general contractor with 30 years of experience who went on to be an adjuster. Be careful, everyone wants your insurance money, but it is limited, so guard it!
I am willing to offer group meetings at no cost through my nonprofit, UpSkill Educate. If anyone has a location, parking lot, building, Zoom group, or community group, I am willing to speak for free and want to share this critical claim information to the masses. Again, I cannot stress enough the need to read my free E-book.