Soon after Megastorm Sandy struck New Jersey in October 2012, unsavory contractors and public adjusters began coming out of the woodwork to reap the riches from stricken homeowners and their insurance companies.
While most contractors and adjusters are honest and honorable, natural disasters tend to bring out the ethically challenged ones, even some that are unlicensed and from far-away states.
That’s a reality that resident Mike Kramer lived through for the last year or so as he battled a Texas-based public adjuster who showed up at his doorstep after the storm. The surge from Sandy brought two feet of water into Mike’s bay-front summer home in Harvey Cedars, N.J. An affable and convincing salesperson used the typical sales line that Mike was apt to get a lot more out of his insurance company by hiring a public adjuster.
Having neither the experience of a major loss nor working with a public adjuster, Mike signed on — even though his insurer already had given him a $12,000 check as a down payment on his claim.
Months passed, the water receded and soon the insurance company paid the remainder of the claim — a total of $80,000. Mike began to rebuild. Then a bill for $10,700 from the public adjuster showed up in Mike’s mailbox. He refused to pay.
“There was no evidence that the public adjuster did anything to help settle my claim,” Mike told me in a phone interview last week.
The public adjuster sued Mike, telling him that he’d better pay up because it would cost him more to hire a lawyer to fight the suit. Little did the public adjuster know that Mike had a good friend who was an ace attorney and who was just as outraged over the public adjuster’s arrogance. He took Mike’s case pro bono.
The drama played out last week in a New Jersey courtroom.The adjuster couldn’t produce any evidence that he did any work on Mike’s behalf. In fact, he apparently didn’t even send Mike’s insurer a letter of representation. Still, Mike did sign a legal contract to pay.
But that didn’t matter in the end. The jury decisively ruled against the adjuster, dismissing his suit. In effect, the jury said “Don’t come into our state, make promises and take advantage of people by failing to do any work.”
Mike also hopes others will learn from his experience. He’s posted a YouTube video, advising storm victims to:
• Don’t sign on with a public adjuster until after you’ve received a settlement offer from your insurer. Know that you have up to a year to negotiate a claim with the insurer.
• Give the insurer adequate time to fully respond to your claim. That could take months during a significant weather event. Hire a public adjuster if the insurer doesn’t respond to your claim.
• If you sign on with a public adjuster, request weekly updates with time sheets and e-mail logs to ensure the adjuster is working on your behalf.
Good advice — and a warning to would-be scammers.
Note: For more tips on avoiding scams by public adjuster, visit the consumer section of InsuranceFraud.org.
About the author: Dennis Jay is executive director of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.