Common Questions About Working With a Public Adjuster
Many homeowners in California are familiar with insurance adjusters, but have never heard of public adjusters. If you have questions about working with a public adjuster after suffering damage to your property, you are in the right place.
When you file a homeowners insurance claim for a covered event, such as water damage, your insurance company will appoint an insurance adjuster. Your insurer will cover the costs of the adjuster and require them to act in their best interests, not yours.
Your insurance company expects their insurance adjuster to mitigate their liability. As such, the adjuster will not do you any favors or leave money on the table at the cost of your insurer.
A public adjuster looks after YOUR best interests, not those of your insurance company.
By hiring a public adjuster, you even the playing field by having someone on your side who can fight for what you’re entitled to receive.
Avner Gat, Inc. has over 17 years of experience as a public adjuster in Southern California. We specialize in water damage insurance claims.
Read on to find answers to the following common questions about working with a public adjuster:
- What are the pros and cons of working with a public adjuster?
- When should I hire a public adjuster?
- Is a public adjuster the same as an independent adjuster?
- Isn’t it better to hire an attorney instead of a public adjuster?
- Can a public adjuster also be a contractor?
- Must public adjusters be licensed in California?
In addition, we also share tips on choosing the right public adjuster and how they will guide you throughout the insurance claims process.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to frequently asked questions about working with a public adjuster.
What are the pros and cons of working with a public adjuster?
If you are undecided about whether or not you should hire a public adjuster, here are some pros and cons worth considering.
– Makes the claims process less stressful
Suffering damages to your property and personal belongings during a covered event can be frustrating and sometimes even traumatic.
And dealing with your insurer might further exacerbate an already unpleasant experience – it involves doing something you are probably not familiar with that takes you out of your comfort zone.
By working with a reputable, experienced public adjuster, you can save yourself a lot of headaches.
– Helps you fight a lowball offer
You do not have to accept the first settlement offer you receive from your insurance company. If you have received a bad settlement offer, a public adjuster can help to secure a better offer for you.
– Saves you time
Managing a large or complex insurance claim might feel like a full-time job. Filing paperwork, attending meetings, and dealing with contractors are time-consuming and labor-intensive.
Hiring a public adjuster to manage the process can free up a lot of time!
– Cheaper than hiring an attorney
Homeowners often think hiring an attorney is the best solution when an insurance claim does not go according to plan. However, hiring an attorney is an expensive option!
Most attorneys charge a contingency fee of 33 to 40 percent of the settlement amount. It is significantly higher than what you can expect to pay for the services of a public adjuster.
– Negotiates on your behalf
Negotiating with insurance adjusters is no easy task. They typically know the ins and outs of insurance claims and have years of experience. You do not stand a chance to negotiate with an expert unless you are also an expert.
An experienced public adjuster deals with insurance companies or their adjusters daily. Your public adjuster is in a much stronger position to negotiate with an insurance adjuster than you are.
– Helps resolve claims faster
Working with an efficient public adjuster can speed up the claim settlement process – they know what to do and how to do it right the first time.
– Likelihood of a higher settlement offer
One of the main advantages of using a public adjuster is the likelihood of a higher settlement offer.
Public adjusters understand the fine print in your insurance policy. And they have the skills, knowledge, and experience to negotiate a fair settlement offer on your behalf.
– No upfront payment is required
Public adjusters do not require an upfront payment. They only have to be paid once you receive payment from your insurance company. If you do not get paid, they do not get paid.
– Do not generally accept denied claims
Public adjusters seldom get involved if your insurance company rejects your claim, such as when your claim is not the result of a covered event.
– Do not generally accept small claims
Managing an insurance claim can take a lot of time and effort. It’s sometimes not viable for a public adjuster to commit their time and resources to manage a small, straightforward claim.
For example, if you are only claiming a couple of hundred dollars, they might not be able to add much value.
When should I hire a public adjuster?
As a rule of thumb, small and straightforward insurance claims are usually filed and managed by the homeowner. However, hiring a public adjuster might be in your best interests for large or complex water damage claims.
Here are four signs you might need to hire a public adjuster:
#1. Your claim requires extensive documentation
The bigger your claim, the more likely your insurer will require more information and documentation.
Your insurance provider understands your policy best because they wrote it. And they deal with insurance claims daily. It can be difficult when the people who know your policy best are looking out for their bottom line.
For example, like many homeowners, you might not have a complete inventory of your possessions. And as the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Compiling a list of items from memory is extremely difficult.
Public adjusters know what documentation insurance companies need and can help you submit the correct documentation to support your claim.
#2. You are not sure if your insurance company will cover your claim
The goal of any reputable public adjuster is to ensure you receive the maximum settlement amount you are entitled to under your policy.
Public adjusters understand the fine print of homeowners insurance policies. And they can help you understand your policy by explaining the meaning of complex provisions, clauses, and legal terminology.
They can quickly determine the validity of your claim and act on your behalf to ensure your insurer does not blindside you into accepting a lowball settlement offer.
#3. You cannot devote sufficient time to managing your claim
Most homeowners do not have the time or expertise to manage large or complex insurance claims. And if you have a full-time job, you cannot drop everything to deal with your insurer, their insurance adjuster, and contractors.
In addition, depending on the damage to your home, you may need to relocate, take time off work, or even care for injured loved ones!
Hiring a public adjuster to manage your claim on your behalf frees up your time and gives you peace of mind knowing your claim is in expert hands.
#4. Your insurance provider is delaying your claim or providing incorrect evaluations
If you feel your insurance company is dragging its feet, not taking your claim seriously, or playing games by making lowball offers, it might be in your best interests to call a public adjuster.
An experienced public adjuster can determine and resolve the reasons why your insurance company is not giving you the service you deserve. And insurance companies often take public adjusters more seriously than homeowners since they know they cannot play games with a public adjuster.
Is a public adjuster the same as an independent adjuster?
The short answer is there are three main differences between public adjusters and independent adjusters, namely:
- Homeowners can hire public adjusters, whereas insurance companies appoint independent adjusters.
- A public adjuster looks after the best interests of the policyholder. Independent adjusters look after the best interests of the insurance company.
- Public adjusters receive remuneration from the policyholder – typically a percentage of the settlement amount. Independent adjusters receive payment from the insurance company.
Here is a more detailed overview:
Many states use different terms to classify adjusters. It includes “Property & Casualty Adjuster,” “General Lines Adjuster,” and “All Lines Adjuster.” These are all insurance adjusters who work for or on behalf of insurance companies.
California Insurance Code (Cal. Ins. Code) Section 14021 reads, in part:
“An insurance adjuster within the meaning of this chapter is a person other than a private investigator as defined in Section 7521 of the Business and Professions Code who, for any consideration whatsoever, engages in business or accepts employment to furnish, or agrees to make, or makes, any investigation for the purpose of obtaining, information in the course of adjusting or otherwise participating in the disposal of, any claim under or in connection with a policy of insurance on behalf of an insurer.”
To summarize it in plain English:
An insurance adjuster investigates an insurance claim to obtain the necessary information to adjust the claim for or on behalf of an insurance company.
Insurance adjusters typically fall into one of two categories, namely:
Company or “Staff” Adjuster
A company or staff adjuster is a full-time employee of an insurance company. Their job function is to investigate and adjust insurance claims for their employer. They act in the best interests of your insurer by helping to minimize their liability.
The term independent adjuster is a bit of a misnomer or inaccurate description. Though the word “independent” would imply otherwise, insurers pay independent adjusters as their contracted representatives to investigate and adjust claims on their behalf.
An independent insurance adjuster can work on a contract basis for multiple insurance companies. Insurance companies typically hire them when:
- Their staff can’t handle the volume of claims they need to process.
- They need a highly specialized adjuster to manage a specific claim.
- They don’t have the staff or sufficient staff in certain areas.
Many people have never heard of public adjusters (often called private adjusters).
It’s often only when policyholders receive lowball settlement offers and suspect their insurance company is playing games that they discover they can hire a public adjuster to manage the claim on their behalf.
Public insurance adjusters are similar in many ways to company or independent insurance adjusters in that they also investigate and adjust insurance claims.
However, they work for the policyholder, not the insurance company. They act in the best interests of policyholders by helping to maximize settlement offers.
Isn’t it better to hire an attorney instead of a public adjuster?
Both an attorney and a public adjuster can assist you in getting the compensation you are entitled to under your insurance policy. But should you hire an attorney or a public adjuster?
Factors to consider include:
Both attorneys and public adjusters typically charge a contingency fee for homeowners insurance claims. It means they only get paid if they recover damages on your behalf.
The main difference is that attorneys typically charge between 30% – 40% of the total settlement, whereas public adjusters charge less.
Winner: Public Adjuster
2. Specialization and Expertise
In a state like California, you must comply with several requirements and pass an exam before applying for a public adjuster license.
One of the requirements is an experience requirement:
You must have two years of certified experience in the insurance adjusting field – 2,000 hours of compensated time in the adjusting field is equal to one year of experience. However, if you have an Apprentice Public Adjuster license for 12 months, it will satisfy the two-year experience requirement.
Public adjusters are typically experts at handling homeowners insurance claims.
Attorneys usually do not exclusively specialize in homeowners insurance claims. They may mention it as one of the services they offer, but it is just one of many functions they can perform.
It is not a coincidence that attorneys often hire a public adjuster when dealing with homeowners insurance claims, as they frequently don’t have in-house experience and expertise.
Winner: Public Adjuster
In rare cases, a public adjuster might not be able to negotiate a fair settlement agreement or might reach a stalemate with your insurance company. On such occasions, litigation may be the only way forward.
Should this be the case, you might have to hire an attorney to break the deadlock through litigation.
4. Claim Management
Managing a large or complicated homeowners insurance claim can be challenging and time-consuming. An experienced public adjuster can manage the process on your behalf, including dealing with contractors.
Attorneys are typically not equipped to manage the claim process and only get involved if there is a dispute between you and your insurer or a contractor.
Winner: Public Adjuster
5. Time to Resolve Claim
Public adjusters know what insurance companies want and need before they can make a settlement offer. And they are skilled at negotiating with insurance companies to ensure you get the best possible settlement offer in the shortest time.
The wheels of justice often turn slowly. Hiring an attorney to file a lawsuit against your insurance company can be a slow and protracted approach to resolving a claim.
Working with an attorney is more adversarial than working with a public adjuster. And should your insurance company lose the case, they might appeal the court’s decision, causing further delays.
Winner: Public Adjuster
6. Determining the Value of the Damage
Public adjusters are skilled at determining the value of damage, such as water damage you suffered after a covered event.
They are typically as good, or even better, at establishing the value of the damage than the insurance adjuster appointed by your insurer.
Attorneys seldom get directly involved in determining the value of the damage you suffered. They will usually appoint a third party to investigate the cost of the damage on their behalf. And those estimates are frequently less accurate than those provided by a public adjuster.
Winner: Public Adjuster
Hiring an attorney can be costly but might be your best bet if the only way forward is to pursue litigation. In all other cases, the benefits of hiring a public adjuster far outweigh the benefits of hiring an attorney.
Can a public adjuster also be a contractor?
The short answer is NO.
An insurance adjuster, even an independent one, may not fulfill the roles of adjuster and contractor as it creates a conflict of interest. It would make them judge and jury.
Besides the fact that no insurance company would allow it, it’s also not permissible by law.
In California, Insurance Code – Section 14039 states:
“No person licensed as an insurance adjuster shall do any of the following:
(a) Fail to disclose his or her full financial interest in a contract or agreement executed by him or her for the adjustment of a claim prior to the execution thereof.
(b) Use any misrepresentation to solicit a contract or agreement to adjust a claim.
(c) Solicit or accept remuneration from, or have a financial interest exceeding 3 percent in, any salvage, repair, or other firm, which obtains business in connection with any claim which he or she has a contract or agreement to adjust.”
Based on Section 14039 (c), an insurance adjuster may not receive payment from a contractor who obtains a contract for any claim they are adjusting. And they may not own more than 3% of the said contractor.
In addition to the above, in case you are wondering, contractors cannot file, manage, or help settle claims on your behalf. It would constitute the unauthorized practice of public adjusting.
Must public adjusters be licensed in California?
Your state’s insurance department should be able to advise you if you’re dealing with a licensed public adjuster.
The easiest way to check if someone is a licensed public adjuster in California is to visit the California Department of Insurance site. Using an insurance license number or name, you can check a license.
The 2019 California Insurance Code (Division 5, Chapter 2) contains the Public Adjusters Act 15000 – 15062.
Article 1 – General Provisions (15000 – 15002)
Article 2 – Administration (15003 – 15005)
Article 3 – Regulation, Licensing, and Registration (15006 – 15032)
Article 4 – Bonds (15033 – 15037)
Article 5 – Disciplinary Proceedings (15038 – 15043)
Article 6 – Nonresidents (15044 – 15052)
Article 7 – Penal Provisions (15053)
Article 8 – Expiration and Renewal of Licenses and Cards (15054 – 15062)
Note that a public adjuster may appoint someone to investigate losses on their behalf and employ an apprentice.
Section 15016 of the California Insurance Code makes provision for apprentices:
“An Apprentice Public Insurance Adjuster licensee is a person employed by a Public Insurance Adjuster for the purpose of training.”
In California, anyone who acts or assumes to act or represent themselves as a licensed public adjuster while they are not is liable for up to $10,000, or if that violation is willful, up to $25,000 in a civil action.
How to Choose the Right Public Adjuster
Not all public adjusters are the same – some are better than others.
Asking pertinent questions before hiring a public adjuster can help you find the right one.
5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Public Adjuster
1. Are you a licensed public adjuster?
States like California, and many other states, require public adjusters to be licensed. If a public adjuster does not have a license to operate in your state, walk away.
2. Are you a resident of this state?
Many states, including California, do not require a public adjuster to be a resident in that state.
Be careful when dealing with a public adjuster that does not reside in your state. They may not be able to provide you with the service you expect.
3. How many years of experience do you have?
As in most professions, experience plays an important role.
A newly qualified public adjuster should be able to manage your insurance claim on your behalf. But if you have a large or complex insurance claim, it’s advisable to deal with a public adjuster that has experience in dealing with similar claims.
More experience doesn’t always equal more expertise, but it can make a huge difference.
4. Can you provide me with references?
All public adjusters try to create a good, professional impression. Many of them will provide references or point you toward their reviews. We recommend you read them and learn about your future public adjuster.
Note: At Avner Gat, Inc., we are proud to share our glowing testimonials with new clients.
5. Where are you located?
Some public adjusters accept jobs outside their area and then find it difficult to service those claims.
Note: Avner Gat, Inc. covers Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and San Diego counties.
How Will Your Public Adjuster Guide You Throughout the Process?
A reputable public adjuster will not make pre-emptive promises to raise your expectations regarding the outcome of your claim before reviewing your policy and damage to your home and personal belongings.
They will explain the claims process, how they can assist you after you hire them and sign a written contract, and answer any questions you might have.
Standard services include:
- Helping you understand your policy
- Evaluating damages and repair/replacement costs
- Filing documents on your behalf
- Meeting deadlines
- Negotiating with the insurance adjuster
- Tracking the claim
Your public adjuster will inform you of their progress throughout the entire process. It includes pointing out money you are entitled to that you might not even be aware you can claim.
In addition, they will guide you on what to do or what not to do to ensure you comply with the terms and conditions of your insurance policy.
That’s a Wrap
Not every homeowner’s insurance claim requires the intervention of a public adjuster. Small and straightforward insurance claims can usually be filed and managed directly by the homeowner.
However, large insurance claims are often complex and hard to manage!
If you have a large or complicated water damage claim, we recommend you contact a reputable public adjuster.
Avner Gat has over 17 years of experience as a public adjuster in Southern California. We have helped countless clients get the best settlement offer from their insurance companies, and we want to help you too.
And if you have a question we didn’t get to in this section, please do not hesitate to contact us. We stand ready to assist you!
Call us at (818) 917-5256 for a free, no-strings-attached consultation.