A CLAIMS FORUM…via the ICA’s office!

Beginning Thursday, March 21st, 2013,  Florida’s Consumer Advocate, Robin Westcott and the DFS Director of Consumer Services, Tasha Carter, will conduct the first in a series of eight local forums to hear directly from consumers on how their Florida property claims are being handled.

Though kickoff is tomorrow in Orlando, there’s still time to register for one or more of the remaining seven. (See NOTE #1 below).

Trial lawyers and public adjusters, particularly those in sinkhole alley, are pushing the forums in a big way. Outside the offices of the Insurance Consumer Advocate (ICA) and the Division of Consumer Services, however, I’ve heard very little.

Don’t get me wrong, despite the obvious intent of a public gripe session, if it’s billing is accurate and it’s a means to better claims handling…that’s a good thing.

But, expect the usual–a litany of angry claimants sharing personal horror stories in exchange for 15 minutes of fame and expressions of sympathy from the state.

Also expect  comments from a handful of public adjuster’s prospecting for clients and exploiting a state provided opportunity for free advertising. Their trucks and vans will be outside. The media will be inside and, when there’s no scheduling conflict a few south Florida lawmakers may be there as well. In Tampa, Sean Shaw and Representative Mike Fasano wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Media reports, like the participants, will blame everything on insurance companies. No one will mention bad laws passed, frivolous claims filed, passive fraud, or intimidation of claimants by all manner of intermediary.

None the less, Advocate Westcott may be able to separate wheat from chaff, find common ground and help those whose claims may have slipped through the occasional crack.

One crack in need of repair would be requiring full disclosure of options for post loss representation– options that include something other than forfeiting 20% of what the claimant deserves to a public adjuster whose services “might” have been unnecessary.

Here’s what I mean.

Recently a small ember from my fireplace tumbled onto the carpet burning a silver dollar sized hole.  My insurer was willing to pay to replace the high-end carpet, but…only in the room where the burn was located and not in the rooms which adjoined it.  I understood, of course, but…

…my wife, an interior decorator, couldn’t tolerate different shades of carpet being visible by guests at the front door. The company wouldn’t yield. Cost to replace the whole carpet $7200.  Claim payment…$3,200 minus a $1,000 deductible.  I was about $4,000 short.

To me this is where the system breaks down.  There’s a choice many claimants are either not aware of or are persuaded not to make.

They don’t realize (as I did) that they can request “free” state sponsored mediation from the Department of Financial Services (DFS) instead of signing a contingency agreement with a public adjuster and forfeiting up to 20% of their claim payment; perhaps unnecessarily.

Florida law requires each claimant to receive notice from the carrier about state sponsored mediation and how to access it.  But, it does not require public adjuster’s or attorney’s to inform potential clients of this valuable option and the potential savings it provides; nor does it forbid a public adjuster from representing someone during the very simple mediation process and still getting 20% of the payout.  I personally  saved over $2,000 in PA fee’s!

For my claim it took one simple phone call to the number provided to me by my insurance company.  Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Atwater’s toll-free help number is accessed daily by those in need of advice on claims, including how to seek mediation.  (See Note #2 below)

Why can’t public adjusters and lawyers be required to provide this valuable information to claimants, and in the same form as, the insurer?

You know…just to make double sure claimants are fully informed.

Maybe the Consumer Advocate will ask the forum’s attendee’s if they would like to have this information.

Maybe any Public Adjusters could explain why they shouldn’t be required to provide it!

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NOTE #1–for complete location information and maps on each forum check here: Orlando- Thursday, March 21, 2013; Tampa- Tuesday, March 26, 2013; Jacksonville- Wednesday, March 27, 2013; Pensacola- Tuesday, April 23, 2013; West Palm Beach- Wednesday, May 22, 2013; Fort Lauderdale- Wednesday, May 22, 2013; Miami- Thursday, May 23, 2013; Fort Myers- Thursday, May 23, 2013

NOTE #2–For information on state sponsored mediation call The Department of Financial Services Helpline number: 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236).

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