Filing an insurance claim is one of the most time-consuming and frustrating processes anyone can go through, says Richard P. “Rick’' Tutwiler. That’s why many policyholders turn to a public insurance adjuster for help in getting the money to repair or replace property damaged by leaking pipes, hurricane winds, fires and other such miseries, he says.
Tutwiler, 39, is president of Tutwiler & Associates, a Tampa-based company his father started in 1984. Tutwiler is licensed in 15 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He’s a past member of the board of directors of the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters and is past president of the Windstorm Insurance Network, the only association whose members include both public insurance adjusters and adjusters who work for insurance companies.
He talked with the Tampa Bay Times about home disasters and the difficult process of getting reimbursed for the damages.
What percentage of people call a public adjuster before filing a claim with the insurance company?
I’m not certain that I’ve seen a statistic showing that. I can tell you this: for those consumers that have had to file insurance claims and have been through the process before, typically they’re going to call us back right away if they ever have another claim again. A lot of people have endured the claims process themselves and then it got to a point where they started searching on the internet and found us or got to us based on a recommendation. …
By and large … most people don’t know that our profession exists.
Why is there a disparity in what the insurance company offers and what you and the policyholder seek?
Here’s the thing, as with any business, insurance companies are a for-profit business, and they have an obligation to their shareholders and their CEOs and all the executives that work for them. They’re in business to try to make money. The side of the company, the claims department, is where they lose money when they have to pay claims. So, if I can put it so politely, the insurance companies try to pay as little as they can possibly get away with. … Most people just don’t understand that they have a burden to prove their own claim, their own damages (and) submit inventories to the insurance company to prove their claim. What did you pay for the couch and all your stuff? Insurance companies generally are not going to tell you that, but they will offer a repair estimate, but it’s going to be a very nominal amount and that’s for a multitude of reasons. But overall, to get to your question, they’re a for-profit business and the end game is to make sure that that bottom line is not too far into the red.
Some companies advertise that policyholders get three, four or more times than the insurance company’s offer when they use a public insurance adjuster. Is that true?
It is my practice to never promise anybody that calls me any some certain amount. I do believe that a lot of what these companies have published … (is from) the OPPAGA study – (Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability). … Citizens (Property Insurance Corp.) essentially sought to do a study on public adjusters and their impact on the marketplace following the busy hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 here in Florida. What the study concluded was that, yes, public adjusters --- I think the goal of the study was to try to find issues and fraud and all that type of stuff with public adjusters – but the end result was that policyholders who used a public adjuster did obtain settlements that were I think in excess of 747 percent (of the company offer). … The range in the report was 574 percent to 747.
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What is your fee and how do you arrive at it?
Public adjuster fees are heavily regulated by the state of Florida. It depends on the type of claim, but overall, public adjusters can charge anywhere from one percent of the claim to 20 percent of the claim. … It depends on the loss. If we’re handling a multi-million dollar loss, we may only charge 1 or 2 percent. …
During a declared state of emergency, for example when a hurricane hits, the department of insurance will then impose a 10-percent fee cap for public adjusters.
When you settle with the insurance company, presumably the company is paying the cost of repairing the damage. Does your fee come out of that?
The consumer has no upfront fees or costs. We get paid when they get paid and if we don’t get them any money, they don’t owe us anything. ...
A lot of times public adjusters are typically able to negotiate final settlements that cover their fees.
What happens when you and the insurance company can’ t reach an agreement?
Many of these insurance policies have two different ways that you can resolve disputes. One is you can go through the state of Florida’s mediation program and try to resolve any outstanding differences there. Or the second one… if there is a dispute on the scope of the repairs and the amount of the repairs, it can be resolved in the appraisal process. ... I’m a big fan of the appraisal process because you have two appraisers, one that works for the consumer and one that works for the insurance company. … Should those two not be able to reach agreements, then there is a neutral umpire and the decision of two out of three (appraisal panel members) will make the settlement binding.
You say the Florida legislature continues to allow insurance companies to restrict what they cover and the amount of coverage they provide.
This year the whole goal of the legislature was to try to find solutions to stabilize the marketplace. …
This is the same argument that we hear year after year. …
The simple solution is, if you want to stabilize the market, focus on the policyholder first. And empower all the players in the claim process to do their job on behalf of the policyholder. If you put the policyholder’s best interest first and foremost, you can never go wrong. …
Insurance companies are making money. They just know how to shift around and make these arguments every year for the sake of passing laws.
Go to www.publicadjuster.com for more information.