How NOT to Insure and Older Commercial Building

commercial building

It is probable that, at the time it was built, your older building met all of the building code requirements at the time it was originally constructed.  In the absence of any recent renovations requiring upgrades to current building standards, it is also probable that your older building does not meet modern building standards and will not be required to meet them until such time that major restoration or renovation are made or become necessary.

Unknown to many commercial building insurance policyholders is an exclusion in their property insurance policy that allows the insurance company to refuse to pay the additional costs associated with performing required building code upgrade requirements at the time of loss.

For example, should lightning strike the older building and cause damage to a small part of the original electrical system, local building code ordinances and regulations may demand that a repair to that damage requires complete electrical re-wiring of the entire building to bring it up to the current standard.  The exclusion in the business property insurance policy that denies coverage for complying with local ordinances and building codes would allow the insurance company to pay only for the repair of the damaged wiring and leave the more expensive code upgrade expenses to the policyholder.

If you own a commercial building that is twenty or more years old, I strongly suggest that you consult with your insurance agent or broker to determine if you have (or need to purchase) an endorsement to your policy that provides for the additional expense of enforced code upgrades to protect yourself from this added and significant expense to your loss.

Is Your Property Fully Insured?

 

 

After considering the adversarial posture of an insurance company toward its policyholder in the event of a claim and assuming the best – that you would be successful in recovering the most that your policy provides to restore your property after a catastrophic loss – did you buy enough insurance to actually restore your property?

Some people will negotiate a terrific deal when purchasing a commercial building or residential dwelling and then will insure that building for the amount of money they paid for it.  The mortgage lender is certainly happy with that amount of insurance for it fully protects their financial investment, but is the market value of a structure sufficient to rebuild it if it were destroyed?  Most likely, it would be significantly less, and it is probably not your plan after a major loss to simply pay off your loan, remove the rubble at your own expense, and live or conduct business on an empty lot.

Even before the current exponential increase in costs for building materials, the market value of a structure did not reflect the cost of replacing all or most of it which, in the event of a major fire or storm, would be the purpose of an insurance policy.

A general contractor or builder in your immediate area will be able to tell you what an average cost per square foot would be to replace all or most of your building today if it were significantly damaged.  Take that cost and multiply it by the square footage of the building you are insuring and then add a few dollars for next year’s inflation.  This will tell you whether or not your home or business structure is insured for a sufficient amount of money.

Until such time the costs of building materials begin to stabilize, this is probably something that you want to do prior to your renewal each year.

 

The Duties of the Insurance Company’s Adjuster and Your Claim

Duties of the insurance company adjuster and your claim

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 big 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 hail storm 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 or not 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 or not 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. This is why the carrier will hire an engineer or other expert to look at the damage. Policyholders who are in disagreement 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.

 

Do You Become the Enemy When You File an Insurance Claim?

Enemy for filing a claim

   “I have paid my premiums on time for twenty years and have never filed a claim.  Now, it is difficult for me to tell who has caused me more damage — the storm or my insurance carrier.”

     The above exclamation, or words similar to it, is something that I hear almost on a daily basis from Missourians who have had the misfortune of needing to file an insurance claim for damage to their homes and businesses.  Do you really become “the enemy” of your insurance carrier when you file a claim?  Do they really consider you more as an adversary than a customer?  

     I received an email today from an attorney representing an insurance carrier from out of state and who sells insurance policies in Missouri who provided a clear and convincing answer to those questions.

     My client, a commercial business, had incurred extensive and obvious hail damage to multiple buildings and filed an insurance claim.  Their insurance company hired an independent adjustment firm to inspect the damage who reported their observations to the carrier.  The carrier, after receiving their report and photographs, decided to hire an engineer who regularly assists insurance carriers in denying coverage for hail damage to properties in Missouri.

     With the hail damage being as obvious as it was, there was no legitimate reason to have an engineer look at the same dents, gouges, and tears that their independent adjuster had just seen and photographed.  I suspected that the independent adjuster had actually recommended that the claim be paid against the carrier’s wishes, and I requested a copy of his report.  Insurance companies almost always share their reports when their report supports a claim denial.  For some reason, the carrier did not want to share this one and I was suspicious of their intention.

     When I submitted a formal written request for a copy of the report from their independent adjuster that I believed supported my client’s claim for damages, I received a letter from the carrier’s attorney in response that confirmed my suspicions.  In part, it read as follows:

     “Under Missouri law, the relationship between an insured and the insurer with regard to first-party claims becomes adversarial when a claim is made on the policy.  Therefore, the insurer is entitled to assert work product privileges to prevent access to materials found in the claim or investigative file.”

     Because my client had filed a claim, he became an “adversary” to his insurance carrier and was not entitled to see documents in his file that might support his claim.  In return for his annual premiums exceeding $80,000.00 per year, this is what his money bought for him.  An adversarial relationship.

     Of course, we’re suing.  Soon, that report and all of the other documents in the file will be in the hands of his attorney.  He will recover all of the money owed to him by his insurance carrier along with (most likely) punitive damages and his attorney fees.  He is, indeed, an “adversary” to his insurance company – but not because he filed a claim.  Rather, it was the insurance carrier that decided to vexatiously withhold money that was due to him under his contract rather than to pay him what he was entitled to.  That action taken by them, and not his claim, is what made him an adversary … and a worthy one, at that.

Fighting the Good Fight

Fighting the good fight

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

 

     I recently read a touching and inspiring tribute written by an attorney who advocates for policyholders and who had recently lost a valuable partner and fellow advocate to cancer.  Together, they would fight the good fight. There are not enough fighters like them in this arena, and in his tribute to his partner, he described her drive and enthusiasm for battling with insurance companies on behalf of their clients.

     Being one who shares in the same fight (though not at such grand of a scale), I felt a great sense of personal loss.  Even though I did not know her, personally, I know her heart and I have shared similar pain with the clients who had purchased insurance for peace of mind but found, when disaster came to their door, that this peace was only a temporary illusion.

     Though Missouri law tasks an insurance company to provide prompt and fair assistance to its policyholders in exchange for payment of premiums, minimizing risk, and filing a claim only upon sustaining damage – some insurance companies, to protect their own financial interest, inflict more stress and financial harm upon their policyholders than the destructive event that prompted their claim, and at a time when the policyholder is most vulnerable with the least financial reserve.  Instead of providing the warm professional care and assistance projected by their televised mascots, the policyholder is frequently met with fierce opposition and obstruction intended to exasperate, wear down, and break the resolve of the most committed policyholder defending his own rights under the very insurance policy he bought for “peace of mind”.

     Fighting through a barrage of tactics used by insurance companies to delay, deny, and defend against the policyholder is certainly not an enjoyable experience for either the policyholder or his advocate.  It is, however, something that must be done in order to receive a dollar-for-dollar payment for the incurred loss.  That is the reality that is not shown on friendly and warm television commercials.

     We lost a fighter.  Who will take her place?

 

 

 

 

 

Are the Engineer Reports Purchased By Insurance Companies to Deny Claims Accurate and Truthful?

engineer report to deny claim

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     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 what he claimed they did, so I wrote to them and inquired as to where I could find the information from them that this engineer was quoting in his report used to support a denial of a cliam.  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 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 is 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.

Shareholders or Policyholders? Who matters most?

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

     

Shareholders or policyholders.  Who matters most?  Take this quiz:

The Board of Directors of my insurance company has a lawful duty to protect:

a.  the financial interests of the policyholders.

b. the financial interest of the stockholders.

c.  both of the above.

d.  none of the above.

The answer is (b).  The Board of Directors of an insurance company’s first (or fiduciary) duty is to the shareholders that elected them. 

This means that the financial interests of the shareholders come before those of the insured policyholder when that corporation is an insurance provider.  Profits come to a business from paying out less than what they take in.  Shareholders demand this in return for their investment.  Insurance companies comply.   Know this as you shop. 

The National Law Review has published a list of the “eleven worst insurance companies” and I encourage you to read it.  Before you take too much comfort in finding that your home insurance provider did not make the list, you should consider that many that made the list are providers of health insurance.  The factors that were used for the home and business insurers that made the list, however, are not unique to them but are commonly shared among smaller companies that would have at least made “dishonorable mention” if the list did not include other types of insurers.

     What this list should teach those of us who buy insurance is the need for us to carefully select an insurance provider based on something other than cute or funny television commercials.  Sweet talking lizards that collect your insurance premium can quickly become vicious and vexatious crocodiles defending the company against your valid claim.  If you can learn this before you become vulnerable as a result of catastrophic loss, the better off you will be.     

The Missouri Department of Insurance publishes a complaint index to help Missouri consumers determine how likely they may find displeasure with an insurance company’s claim handling process.  Considering how few unsatisfied policyholders will actually go through the red tape to file a complaint with the State government , when an insurance company exceeds the normal rate of complaints under such circumstances – it really says something.

Caveat emptor.

The Need for a Personal Contents Inventory

Need for a personal content inventory

Home destroyed by fire.

 

The most cumbersome task required of a homeowner by their insurance company when filing a claim after a catastrophic loss is the preparation of a personal contents inventory.  Test yourself right now.  Close your eyes and make a mental list of everything in the room you are in … then open your eyes and marvel at all you failed to include in your list. Think of doing this for every item in your home after a fire, tornado, or other tragic events then add to this overwhelming task your insurance carrier’s request that you also add to each item on your list the date you purchased it, its manufacturer, price, and more.

It’s hard.  It’s expensive to be wrong.  It seems unfair.  It will make you angry to be required to perform this task and it will upset you to be forced to revisit your loss and relive this tragedy each time you return to the task.  I’ve seen many of my clients experience this anguish time and time again.

There is something you can do TODAY, however, that will help you to minimize this daunting effort should you ever be faced with such loss.  That something is to create and maintain your inventory right NOW.  Remembering all of your items can make the difference of thousands of dollars in your insurance claim.  Imagine being paid a thousand dollars per minute to file your claim.

The Missouri Department of Insurance provides a handy booklet you can download to get started, but I recommend that any written list of your belongings you create be supplemented with a gallery of photographs and video.  When photographing your items for your inventory, including photographs of the data plates that record the serial numbers, manufacturer, and manufacturing date.  A digital recording of a slow span of a room, a drawer, a box of mementos, tools, and cupboards will assist you and your insurance company, as well.  There is also a phone app

It is important to keep your inventory and video/photographic record of your belongings in a safe place other than in your home where they could be destroyed along with the recorded belongings.  Keep it up to date when items are added or removed from the home … and may you never, ever have to use it.

 

 

This Blog/Web Site is made available by James H. Bushart, Public Adjuster LLC for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the work of a public adjuster, not to provide specific legal advice. The authors and/or site manager make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. By using this blog site you understand that there is no public adjuster/client relationship between you and James H. Bushart, Public Adjuster.  The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state, nor should it be used as a substitute for competent maintenance or repair advice from a qualified contractor licensed to perform work in your state.

The Insurance Appraisal Clause (Simplified)

     

Insurance appraisal clause simplified

     If you are a policyholder disputing a claim with your insurance company and you have given up the fight and are ready to lose, go ahead and invoke your right to the appraisal process that your insurance company has written into their policy. It will be over quickly and if you are paid anything as a result of it, at best it will be a figure reached through compromise from what someone other than you “estimates” your loss to be with no commitment to perform any of necessary the work for the amount the appraisers and umpire “estimate” it to cost.

     There is a reason why your insurance provider wrote this clause and chose to insert it into his contract with you.  Judging by his unwillingness to pay you up to this point, that reason is probably NOT because it is likely to result in a significantly higher payment to you.  

     If, on the other hand, you are growing weary of fighting with your insurance company over a legitimate claim and you want to be fully indemnified but don’t know how to proceed to make that happen, seek the advice of either your attorney or a public adjuster licensed to practice in your state.  

     After suffering a direct physical loss to your home or commercial building, the last thing in the world you need is three people you don’t really know (none of whom will be doing the work) “guess“timating what someone else will charge you to restore it.  

     Remember this important fact:  In exchange for your premium, your insurance policy directs your insurance company to pay you what it costs (not what anyone “estimates” it to cost) to restore your property to the way it was before the loss.

     As I stated, there is a reason why your insurance company wrote this into your policy and it is obvious that the reason was NOT to pay you more money.

 

 

 

This Blog/Web Site is made available by James H. Bushart, Public Adjuster LLC for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the work of a public adjuster, not to provide specific legal advice. The authors and/or site manager make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. By using this blog site you understand that there is no public adjuster/client relationship between you and James H. Bushart, Public Adjuster LLC.  The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state, nor should it be used as a substitute for competent maintenance or repair advice from a qualified contractor licensed to perform work in your state.

Computer Generated Estimates from Insurance Adjusters

computer generated estimates

Photo by Vitezslav Vylicil on Pexels.com

 

It may come as a surprise to you to learn that the overwhelming majority of insurance adjusters, no matter which insurance company they work for, use the same computer software to generate estimates from which they pay insurance claims.  The corporation that owns and manages the software that creates the computer-generated estimate that your adjuster is using to pay your claim is called Verisk Analytics, Inc.

When you visit this page of the website for Verisk Analytics, Inc. you will see something very interesting about its managers and Board of Directors.  Most of them, including the director that bears the title of “Lead Director” are from the insurance industry and/or have professional backgrounds in the very closely associated financial investment industry.  Very few, if any, have backgrounds or practical experience in the industries or trades associated with performing the restoration work or providing the materials that are represented in these computer-generated estimates.

This could lead a reasonable person to question whether the computer-generated estimate provided by the insurance adjuster represents the financial interests of the insurance industry managing and producing it … or the interests of the policyholder who is presumably expected to have enough money to fully restore his property from the amount estimated by the software program.

Prudent policyholders, however, will carefully read their policies and discover that their payments from their insurance companies are to be based upon the actual … and not the “estimated” … cost of restoration.  They will know that they are not limited to receive only the insurance adjuster’s home-grown estimate generated by his own industry’s managed computer software program but are entitled, instead, to the amounts that it will actually cost to replace or restore the property that is destroyed or damaged.

If they don’t know this and settle for what the computer-generated estimate guesses that their payment should be, they are likely to be underpaid for their loss.

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