A public adjuster represents insured property owners — not insurance agencies. A public adjuster is a skilled professional who should know how to investigate the scope of an insurance claim, and then negotiate a fair adjustment with the insurance company.
In Minnesota and Illinois public adjusters are licensed by the state. In Wisconsin, public adjusters are not licensed but must follow rules from the State. A public adjuster can owe a fiduciary duty to clients, and some states forbid a public adjuster from ever representing an insurance company.
Think of a public adjuster as a counterpart to an insurance company’s adjuster. Insurance companies have independent adjusters and staff adjusters; property owners have public adjusters. These adjusters work to negotiate the true amount of loss with the insurance company
What makes a good public adjuster?
Like any profession, there are mandatory minimums in competence required by state law. However, the minimums are just that: minimums. Nobody should go looking for a public adjuster of minimum competence. Here are a few things to look for to find a first-rate public adjuster:
- Is he or she persuasive? A public adjuster is an advocate. The more persuasive the person, the better the advocate, and that’s the public adjuster you need. Of course, you can’t hire someone who tells you what you want to hear either. When interviewing a public adjuster, listen to this person not as yourself, but as an insurance adjuster, or an appraiser. Then, ask yourself this: Is this person persuasive?
- Experience matters. Advocacy is a skill. Experience reading and understanding insurance policies matters. Knowledge of building trades is extremely helpful. The more experience a public adjuster brings to the table, the better.
- Look for thoroughness. Complex claims are going to involve a lot of detail: paperwork, items to value, and numbers. There is a lot to handle, and if your public adjuster gives you the sense he’s just “big picture” with no substance, that’s not the public adjuster for you. Look for someone detail oriented.
Frankly, the first and third points are not always easy to find. People who are good on their feet, with good verbal skills, are not always great at paperwork. Some who are good at paperwork are not good on their feet. Be thoughtful and seek a public adjuster that’s both. When it’s time to hire a public adjuster, find the right one. It will make a significant difference.
When should I hire a public adjuster?
It is important to carefully think through when the time is right to hire a public adjuster. I suggest this framework:
The amount at issue
First, there is a monetary threshold for hiring a public adjuster. When the insurance company refuses to pay a nominal amount, it’s difficult for a public adjuster, or any professional, to add value to recovery of a nominal amount. What one person sees as nominal will differ from another, but here’s the point: an insurer’s refusal to pay $2,000 for new gutters probably doesn’t warrant hiring a public adjuster. In that instance, a good contractor well versed in installing gutters can help.
Complexity of the damage
Second, I would ask this question: how difficult is it to value the loss? Public adjusters are terrific resources for valuing fire and water loses with large personal contents and alternative living expense claims. Public adjusters are skilled at valuing these claims, and it’s a skill usually not held by a contractor or attorney. It’s not easy to place a value on 10- or 20-year-old items, but public adjusters do it very well.
What kind of advocacy do I need?
Third, I would assess what type of advocacy will be required to push a claim forward. A dispute between the pricing of windows, for example, can be handled by contractors or public adjusters. However, if an insurance company says it will not cover window replacement under its policy no matter the price, in states like Minnesota a contractor may not argue how the policy reads. Public adjusters add significant value when the advocacy the property owner needs,is a blend of expertise in building trades, insurance policy and law.
Contact us if you need help deciding whether to hire a public adjuster.