Successfully navigating through the insurance claims process can be challenging for a home or business owner who has suffered loss or damage to their property. Knowing the process and its boundaries and setting reasonable expectations will play a key role in achieving success with the minimum amount of frustration. Knowing what to expect (and what not to expect) from your insurance company’s adjuster is important.
Once an insurance carrier has been notified that a loss has occurred to the property that it insures, the insurer will assign one of its employees or an independent adjuster to investigate and gather information about the claim.
Many policyholders begin this process under the mistaken impression that the adjuster’s job is to assist the policyholder with their claim, but quickly learn that this is not true. It is the burden of the policyholder (not the insurance company’s adjuster) to prove that his loss was caused by a covered peril. The adjuster assigned to the claim is tasked to protect the rights and interests of the insurance carrier and assist the carrier in obtaining and presenting evidence of a policy’s exclusion when it exists.
While it is the burden of the policyholder to prove his loss was caused by a covered peril, it is the burden of the insurance carrier to prove that coverage is excluded under the policy. Presumably, both sides are prepared or preparing to meet their burdens of proof. How does the insurance company’s adjuster go about doing this for his employer?
First, he confirms that the damaged property is the property described in the policy and was at the location described in the policy. If you are claiming an item that you did not insure, or if the insured item was not on the insured property when it was damaged, you might not have a valid claim.
Next, he confirms that the loss occurred during the time period when the policy was in effect. If your roof was damaged by hail and the last hailstorm in your area occurred two months prior to the beginning of your coverage, his job is to discover and record that fact.
He will then determine whether the loss was caused by a peril covered by your policy. There are many causes for damage that are specifically excluded from an insurance policy.
The adjuster will then determine the extent of the ownership interest of the policyholder in the insured property and the extent of the ownership interest of others in the insured property. If the policyholder shares ownership of the property with others, how much of the damage is his loss and how much might be shared with others?
He will investigate to confirm that the policyholder did not commit fraud or material misrepresentation to procure the insurance policy. If the policyholder withheld material information in his application used to determine risk, for example, coverage under the policy may be rescinded.
The adjuster will confirm whether the premises were occupied as permitted or required by the policy. Certain policies negate coverage for loss when the property had been vacant for more than 60 days during the term of the policy.
He will also confirm that, at the time of the loss, there were no conditions that would cause suspension of the coverage.
This is the investigation that the adjuster conducts at the same time he is taking his measurements and photographs of the damage to determine the value of the loss, should it be paid. These are the purposes behind his questions as he conducts his investigation to first determine IF the insurance company will pay before determining how much money the carrier might offer.
It is imperative and required by the insurance contract that the policyholder fully cooperate with this investigation and be precise, accurate, and truthful when responding to these inquiries. Fraud and/or misrepresentation of the smallest degree can result in complete denial of the entire claim.
When the adjuster believes that there is a possibility of the existence of an exclusion to the peril that you have reported a loss from, he is likely to seek the assistance of someone the carrier can use as an expert (should you sue) to support their use of that exclusion. Therefore, the carrier will hire an engineer or other expert to look at the damage. Policyholders who disagree with the carrier’s decision regarding coverage of their claim and do not understand how and why insurance companies use experts will sometimes demand on their own that the insurer pays for an engineer to evaluate the damage that they believe should be paid. In doing so, they are unwittingly providing the carrier with ammunition to use against them instead of meeting their own burden to prove their loss – since the insurance company’s engineer is not going to be paid by the carrier to assist the policyholder to defend against them.
Understand the process, be fully prepared to prove that your loss or damage was caused by a covered peril when you file your claim and seek the advice of an attorney or public adjuster if you are not fully confident in handling the claim on your own or at the first sign of trouble with your insurance carrier.