Choosing a Public Adjuster: What to Know & What to Ask

There are some important questions to ask!

When a homeowner suffers a loss from a tragedy such as a fire, winter storm, flood, or tornado, the loss can feel crippling. The insurance company will send out an adjuster to investigate the damage. Many times, homeowners grow worried that their lack of knowledge or that of the insurance company adjuster can result in a lower settlement. Policyholders such as home or business owners have the option to hire a public adjuster. Before you put your trust in a public adjuster, there are some important questions to ask.

Is the public adjuster licensed?

Make sure the license applies to the state you are living in. Some adjusters may work for a licensed firm instead of being licensed individually.

Who will physically be working on the case?

Some companies have a sales force who solicit for clients. Yet, this doesn’t mean they are experienced adjusters. It’s important to know the experience level of, and exactly, who will be on your case. Your adjuster should have experience in your type of claim and associated damage.

Have they clarified the compensation?

If a homeowner has already received some money from the insurance company, they can still hire a public adjuster or demand appraisal if they feel the compensation is inadequate or unfair. As the policyholder, make sure to be clear that fees assessed can only come from newly obtained monies from the insurance company. Since the Public Adjuster contract wording is regulated by the State the contract should clearly show the fees as a percentage, tell you of any mandated fee caps, and should mention that you have 3 days to cancel – instructions on how to do so are included.

Remember, Public Adjuster fees are negotiable and should reflect the level of valuable service they will provide.

Appraisal contracts are different and fees should reflect an hourly rate. Appraisers may NOT take a commission or percentage of a claim settlement. Often, Appraisers (Bell Operations included) cap their appraisal fees as not to overburden the claim with unrecoverable expenses.

Do you feel comfortable around the adjuster?

Beware a Public Adjuster that is soliciting 24/7. While the legality of the practice can be questionable, public adjusters should only be contacting you within time frames set by your state insurance departments. Sometimes it can seem that public adjusters are showing up along with the fire department, it can sure feel that way! So, stay calm and trust your gut! Choose someone who can communicate clearly and in a way that you can understand, as you and your adjuster will be in frequent contact.

The Professionals at Bell Operations Systems and its associated firms can fight for the compensation that you as a policyholder deserve. Our adjusters are fully licensed and ready to work with you for you! To learn more visit or to speak to an adjuster, appraiser, or insurance claims consultant, give us a call at (845) 704-7727 today.

Ring The Bell!

Insurance Appraisals & Fair Settlements

Insurance revolves around a system of calculated risk taken by insurance companies. Policyholders purchase an insurance contract that guarantees they are returned to their prior financial position in the event they suffer a covered loss. If your home or business is damaged by a fire, tropical storm, earthquake, or hail you should be able to rely on your insurance company to, in essence, eliminate the financial blow as per that contract. Sometimes things don’t work out as smoothly as advertised by the insurance companies.

When you submit a claim, the insurance company will send out an adjuster to assess the damage and calculate what the repairs will cost.

This claims adjuster is sent by the insurance company and works for the insurance company. Most policyholders don’t realize that the dollar amounts provided by the insurance company’s adjusters or their representatives are open to negotiation and repair costs can be disputed. You can (and should) dispute the claim if it the amounts fall short of reality or you feel you are being treated unfairly. This is where a hiring a Public Adjuster can be beneficial.

A Public Adjuster works for you, as the policyholder.

Most insurance policies also contain a clause that allows you to formally dispute a claim amount. This third-party opinion on the damage can be set in what is called an appraisal. The appraisal is conducted by an independent disinterested panel. This is indicated in your policy’s appraisal clause.

This is a faster and lower cost option than litigation and is often used successfully by the policyholder to obtain a fair settlement. Once a disagreement occurs between a policyholder and the insurance company, the appraisal clause can be invoked by either party.

You as the policyholder would appoint a claims professional such as a Public Adjuster or Insurance Broker as your “appraiser” – the insurance company will appoint their own appraiser. The policyholder appraiser and an insurance company appraiser will select an umpire. One may be appointed by the court if the two cannot agree on a candidate. Both appraisers will inspect the property and review the claim line by line. Any disputes between the appraisers in their damage valuations are sent to the umpire who then reviews the materials and breaks ties. This panel of three helps ensure that an accurate dollar amount is awarded. Any two of the three agreeing will bind the appraisal award with their signature. The disputing parties pay their appraisers and the split the fee of the umpire accordingly.

The award is binding on both parties. Find a more detailed description of this process here.

Do you need the assistance of a Public Adjuster or Appraiser? With over 25 years of experience, Bell Operations Systems can help! We will make sure you receive the correct compensation in a timely manner ! Find out more by visiting our other pages. To speak to an adjuster, appraiser, or insurance claims consultant, give us a call at (845) 704-7727 today. Ring the Bell!

COURT RULING AFFIRMS THAT SCOPE OF LOSS IS APPRAISABLE

NYPAA-SUPPORTED SUIT UPHELD BY NEW YORK STATE SUPREME COUNT

New York, December 19, 2016 – The New York State Supreme Court in Rockland County has ruled in favor of policyholders in a suit to compel resolution of an insurance claim through appraisal.

On December 2, 2016, Judge Gerald E. Loehr ordered New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance Company to submit to an appraisal on the scope of the loss incurred by policyholders Robert E. Zinn II and Leah D. Farrar.

The New York State Public Adjusters Association (NYPAA) provided legal support to the policyholders in this litigation. NYPAA President Bob D’Amore explains: “In 2014, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a revision of the NY State insurance statutes containing an important protection for NY insurance policyholders. This law confirmed that issues such as the proper scope or “extent of loss” are allowable as part of the insurance appraisal process because the courts historically had favored litigation. Now we have case law that recognizes this in support of policyholder rights. The NYPAA supported this litigation because we have seen continued reluctance from insurance carriers to follow the law.”

Wilkofsky Friedman Karel & Cummins, and Jonathan Wilkofsky – who is General Counsel to the NYPAA, represented Zinn and Ferrar before the Court. Zinn and Ferrar’s loss was being guided through the appraisal process by NYPAA member and consultant Paul Bellenchia of Bell Operations Systems, Inc. as the named Appraiser for the Insured.

Appraisal is a clause in most property insurance policies that allows a disputed claim to be settled by a three-person independent panel consisting of two “Appraisers” and an “Umpire.” This process is designed to be a less costly and time-consuming alternative to litigation. Either the policyholder or the carrier has the right to put the claim into appraisal if there is disagreement on the amount of the loss.

Bell Operations Systems is representative of emerging hybrid Appraisal and Consulting / Estimating firms that assist policyholders in sorting out difficult property claims. Bell Operations Systems employs both Public Adjusters and Insurance Brokers in its efforts. “This was an important victory for policyholders as it should serve as notice to carriers that they need to follow the new law. We have seen many cases of carriers continuing to employ tactics designed to delay or circumvent implementations of certain provisions in the policy,” Mr. Bellenchia said.

According to Upheld.org, “a clear and complete scope of loss helps a property owner get a fair, full and prompt insurance claim settlement.” D’Amore noted that “the insurance company did not dispute that the damage was covered, and in fact, paid the policyholder for portions of the damage. Thus, the dispute centered on the scope of the loss and fell within the law, as the court ruling confirmed.”

Mr. Bellenchia concluded: “The NYPAA has played a crucial role in protecting policyholder rights, first by supporting the development of the revised statute, and now by helping to ensure that both the letter and spirit of the law are obeyed.”

For more information, please contact us

Snow And Ice DAMN!

The great blizzard of 2016 has exited the northeast, and the great dig out has begun. While much of the shoveling, snow blowing and bulldozing will concentrate on the white stuff on the ground, homeowners need to look skyward, or rather, roofward as well and tend to the stuff piled high on their roofs. In many homes, snow = ice dams = trouble = insurance claims.

Ice dams form when the snow that has fallen on a roof melts and flows down the roof until it meets freezing air, usually at the overhangs (eaves) and then refreezes solid. We’ve all seen the pictures of huge icicles hanging from the eaves and often marvel at how beautiful they can be. (Dangerous, too!)

But don’t be fooled by the beauty: each year, ice dams cause millions of dollars of water damage and homeowners insurance claims. In addition to the visible: stained ceilings, collapsed gutters, and damaged shingles, ice dams can ruin insulation and leading to heat loss, and a vicious cycle of freezing and thawing.

There are many ways to prevent ice dams, including:

  • Prevention: proper insulation and venting
  • Snow removal: Using a snow rake to pull or push snow off your roof
  • Equipment: Ice cables, which heat the roof and can prevent ice formation

For more on preventing ice dams, Wikipedia covers them well here. So does This Old House, with pictures…be sure check out their panty hose idea!

Unfortunately, even the best intentions and prevention doesn’t work and damage occurs. In any event, you should never take any steps that could expose you or your family to potential injury.

Most homeowner insurance policies will cover the losses caused by ice dams, If you have a potential claim, call your insurance agent immediately and follow their instructions.

Have problems with an existing claim? Or have questions before you file a claim? Ring the Bell to chat about how we can help.

Snow Day or Snowmageddon

Be prepared for either!

Winter has been relatively kind to us in the Northeast so far this year, but that may change over the next 48 hours or so. Hopefully it will just be a nice snow day for our friends and neighbors, and not a snowpocalypse.

It wasn’t that long ago that residents in NY and NJ were without power for several days, even weeks, as a result of severe weather. You need more than the proverbial milk and bread (or wine!) to manage through that!

Our friends at Gander Mountain have this terrific winter storm preparedness checklist. You should download and print a copy today.

It is pretty comprehensive in covering food, clothing and emergency necessities as well as many items that may be overlooked by homeowners, including having up-to-date photos of your property for potential insurance claims, gathering and putting important documents in waterproof storage.

Have questions? Need help? Ring the Bell!

What are Insurance Appraisals?

What are they good for?

Most insurance policies carry an Insurance Appraisal Clause. This allows both the policyholder and insurance company to hire independent appraisers to determine the damages. But for years, the appraisal clause was not always an effective path for homeowners to contest unfair claims.

New York insurance policyholders scored a big victory with the passage in 2014 of a bill that allows disputes on losses to be settled without litigation. Either party in a dispute may demand an appraisal.

The new law has expanded the authority of the “appraisal panel” to include the extent of repair and extent of damage (also known as scope of loss.) Prior to passage of the NY law, insurance companies could flat out deny requests for appraisals because no scope of loss had been agreed to, and in fact, barred its discussion during appraisal. Read about the insurance appraisal process.

Despite this landmark legislation, which took ten years to pass both the NY Assembly and Senate, thanks to pushback (we’re being polite!) by the insurance lobby, many NY policyholders with disputed insurance claims still do not know their rights or how the appraisal process works.

Do you know what your policy says, how to invoke your rights, and who to turn to for counsel? If you need counsel or advice, Ring The Bell for a free confidential review of your policy and claim.

For more information on insurance appraisals and the appraisal process, here are some other helpful links:

https://www.propertyinsurancecoveragelaw.com/2014/07/articles/insurance/new-york-passes-legislation-allowing-appraisal-to-determine-scope-of-loss/

https://www.insuranceappraisalprocess.com/

Preparing For An Insurance Claim

Getting in the know

There’s nothing like the threat of a hurricane or major weather event to focus one’s attention on the potential for significant property damage. The truth is though, that disaster can strike at any time, and doesn’t always involve mother nature.

There are a number of concepts that every policyholder should be familiar with in order to be properly prepared before disaster strikes.

Over the next few weeks, we will explore each of these topics in detail, and include commentary and information from top industry experts.

  1. Your insurance company is not your friend.
  2. Prepare for a claim before you ever file one: What to do RIGHT NOW.
  3. Understanding your policy (or finding someone who does.)
  4. The secret: those with the best documents win.
  5. Full and fair settlements: What are my rights?
  6. When and how do I dispute my settlement offer?
  7. What is an appraisal and do I need one?
  8. Do I need a contractor, an attorney, a public adjuster?
  9. Time is money. Calculating cost versus investment.
  10. How to hire the best experts and advisors.

Next Up: Your insurance company is not your friend. Unsettling tales from the field.

Leveling the Playing Field in Appraisal

When appointed as appraiser for a policy holder, I often worry about how deep the ties the opposing appraiser has to the carrier. We as appraisers cannot have an interest in the outcome of the claim.

Does advancing their reputation with a given carrier constitute interest?

How much work does the carrier appraiser accept from the insurance company? Is that disqualifying?

Is that interest in the outcome? Is the opposing appraiser truly independent?

What about the umpire? How can you vet the other members of the panel?

Our friends at Merlin Law Group provide some common sense questions and advice on getting some qualifying information. Click here to read their article.

If you have any questions about your claim as a policy holder, “Ring The Bell” and contact Bell Operations for more information!

The “State” of Insurance Appraisals in New York State

In November 2014, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law an important revision of the State Insurance statutes.

This law was a benefit to New York State insurance policyholders because it confirmed that the “scope of damage” of a claim was an allowable part of the insurance appraisal process.

Unfortunately, the passage of this law did not keep the insurance industry from trying to circumvent both the letter and spirit of the legislation. The New York Public Adjusters Association has been leading the fight against the insurance industry’s tactics to prevent policyholders from obtaining full and fair settlements.

Insurance appraisals have long been the go-to method of insurance claim disputes for both public adjusters and policyholders in New York State. An insurance appraisal effectively takes the claim settlement out of the hands of the insurance carrier and into the hands of an independent panel of 3.

Indeed, appraisals have been so effective for the policy holder that the carriers are now responding by taking certain steps to avoid appraisal and limit access to this amazingly effective method of dispute. Some examples:

  • We have seen insurance companies refuse an appraisal on the basis of coverage issues (which can only be settled by a court). Indeed, we have seen the rejection of the appraisal demand claiming coverage issues right in the same envelope with a check paying for the covered claim.
  • Carriers have also taken to issuing denials of reasonable and customary repair methods on a line by line basis to have those items removed from the appraisal process. (This is noteworthy because denials cannot be overturned by the appraisal panel).

The New York Public Adjusters Association has taken firm steps to counteract these practices. On a recent case the association and its president Bob D’Amore of D’Amore Adjusters put the weight of the organization into compelling an appraisal to establish some case law in addition to making the petition to compel an appraisal more simplified. Noted Insurance appraisal expert and NY attorney Jonathan Wilkofsky is moving these types of petitions into the courts to deflect these new tactics by the insurance carriers.

“We continue to move to keep the insurance appraisal process professional and transparent by keeping some of the required court petitions simple and accessible for the policy holders, even on smaller claims,” says D’Amore. “We hope in the coming year these court cases will begin to begin to have an impact on these carriers who try to employ these tactics in avoidance of an impartial appraisal.”

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