In search of an expert to provide them with a reason to deny a claim, many insurance companies will turn to the engineering profession.
There are highly respected and valued professional licensed engineers who design and build bridges and skyscrapers, who safely and efficiently channel waterways through and around large cities, who design and test the durability of aircraft and automobiles, who meet and overcome construction and building challenges around the globe – and then there are those who market themselves to insurance carriers for the purpose of providing written reports for them to use to deny insurance claims for wind and hail damage to homes and businesses. There is money in it. Insurance companies will pay them upwards of $2,500.00 per report. Most of these reports provide little more than boilerplate narratives regarding simple roofing materials and most of them contain little or no scientific or engineering data – but aside from their apparent lack of relevance, how accurate is the information that is provided?
As a public adjuster representing business and homeowner policyholders with their insurance claims, I read many of these reports and too often find errors, misrepresentations, and ambiguities salted among information intended to present a “scientific” spin on what are usually simple, routine observations that virtually anyone can make.
Much of what you will find in these reports, sometimes as much as two-thirds or more of the entire report, is a boilerplate filler of generic information that could be (but not always) relevant to their observations. It looks impressive at first glance, just as it is intended to, but is it even correct? Not always.
An engineer in several of his recent reports used by various insurance companies to deny claims includes the following language: “According to the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), the lifespan of a roof is 20 years.” His report was peer-reviewed and stamped by another engineer with his firm – an engineering firm widely used by insurance carriers throughout the country. This claim by the engineer caught my attention because he was writing about a certain type of roofing material that carried a 30-year warranty and, as most people familiar with roofing materials know, various roofing materials have various lifespans – some as high as over 50 years.
I did not believe that the National Roofing Contractor’s Association would be so uninformed as to publish this, so I wrote to them and inquired as to where I could find the information from them that this engineer was quoting. The Vice President of Technical Services for the NRCA responded to me, as follows: “The 20-year figure is not from the NRCA. Lifespans vary greatly.” Thus, the engineer was not only factually wrong in his peer-reviewed statement of fact regarding the lifespan of a roof, but he also misrepresented the source for his errant facts.
Some engineers will provide comments and conclusions about the density or speed of hailstones as being less than required to damage roofing material and provide absolutely no information as to how they were able to measure the density or speed of the hailstone that melted away months or years before their observation. We are to simply take their word for it, like the quotations from the NRCA, perhaps.
The engineer paid by the insurance company might use ambiguous language that appears to say something but doesn’t. For instance, did the engineer say that large hailstones did not strike your roof, or did he simply say that he did not observe evidence of large hail strikes? There is a difference. Could there be evidence that he did not “see”, such as bruised indentations on weathered asphalt composite material that are soft to the touch? Did he say this, or did he leave it to the insurance company to use in the manner of their own choosing?
Insurance carriers, being corporations who have a fiduciary duty to protect the financial interests of their shareholders as well as a contractual duty to fulfill their promises to their policyholders, will often find this conflict of interest resulting in their wrongful actions of grossly underpaying or wrongfully denying their policyholders’ claims. The misuse of engineer reports is one of the ways they do this.
Often, insurance companies will knowingly allow the engineer’s errant attempts to interject policy interpretations into his report to be used to deny a policyholder’s claim. I have personally reversed an attempt by an insurer to deny an insurance claim because the engineer reported that the damage to the roof “could not be seen from the ground” when there was nothing in the policy to exclude damage for that reason, as one of many examples.
An expert witness in court must present his credentials, provide his testimony under oath, and be subjected to cross-examination, but insurance companies present biased hired guns as experts in the claims process and deprive vulnerable policyholders of necessary funds to restore their homes and businesses, with impunity.
The advice to not believe everything you read should be extended to engineer reports paid for by your insurance company to deny your insurance claim. Have them closely reviewed by your own expert for accuracy, relevancy, and truth before accepting that your claim should be denied as a result of an engineer’s report. Whatever you do, do NOT let the insurance company’s engineer be the final word on the validity of your claim.