Documenting Insurance Claims - A Very Good Idea

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"The insured is our enemy, depreciation is our friend." This phrase was written on the blackboard by a student on the first day of one of my classes at the most prestigious insurance school in the country. The instructor erased everything at the end of every day, except that phrase. Too many honest and unsuspecting insurance holders with legitimate claims have found that their insurance company doesn't want to pay out when the time comes - and most, though they may try to fight the insurance company, end up with the short end of the stick. After all, insurance companies are out to make money, and sometimes, the bottom line means that they will try to deny a legitimate claim. Even if you have "good insurance", you should still use caution when involved in a dispute over a claim.

As a public adjuster, the number one complaint I hear from policy holders with a claims dispute is, "the adjuster lied to us." What's my advice? Never believe what an insurance adjuster promises or tells you until you see it in writing or have it tape recorded. Plan as though you are being set up (because you may well be). An insurance agent's strategy is often to delay giving you any "bad news" until he has his own file documented.

Keeping a written record is crucial. Pay close attention to adjusters, especially in the beginning while you build your file. Get everything in writing and fax your letters. Even a hand written note on notebook paper is better than nothing. Now there is a record and the adjuster is legally bound to answer your questions or concerns.

In California, an adjuster has 14 days to respond. Most states have the same regulations. Do a Google search like "[your state] Fair or Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations. You can also go to or your own state insurance department website). You can have your faxes sent to an office supply store and they will hold them for you. The bottom line? You are less likely to be cheated if the adjuster has to put his denial in writing.

When in the midst of a dispute, force yourself to screen your calls. Get an answering machine. Never pick up the phone until you know who it is. Never answer the phone when an adjuster calls, especially if you are expecting a big decision. Let him leave a message on your answering machine and copy the tape recording if it is important, such as a promise to do something. A clever adjuster may prefer to respond by calling you instead of putting it in writing. Now, you have a legal tape recording that can be used later to either bring pressure to bear during the claim, or as evidence in court. You can't tape him if you are on the phone unless you ask his permission first. I have never had an adjuster or supervisor agree to let me turn the recorder on. Adjusters don't mind tape recording you, but pull out a tape recorder or video camera when they show up to inspect your house and many will turn around and leave if you don't put it away. It is important to build a file in case you have to play hard ball later. Putting your requests in writing can also make an adjuster think twice before sticking it to you. In the words of my mentor, "Give an adjuster enough rope, and he will hang himself."

If you have an important conversation where the adjuster promises to do something and you fear he may not keep the promise or put it in writing, follow it up with a letter stating "Per our conversation on [date], you said ...". If the adjuster fails to respond, it can be construed in court that since he did not object, he must have made the promise.

These tips will help you in the event that an insurance company tries to deny your legitimate claim - which happens more often than you may think.

This article is an excerpt is from one of many insurance claim guides written by Ron Cercone and available at his official site, UClaim Insurance Claim Advice. Ron is also a contributor to the free information site Insurance Claim Help.

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