ZALMA’S INSURANCE FRAUD LETTER JANUARY 15, 2021
Professional Insurance Adjusting and Insurance Fraud
At the turn of the century, insurers, in a search for profit, decimated their professional claims staff. They laid off experienced personnel and replaced them with young, untrained and unprepared people.
A virtual clerk replaced the old professional claims handler. Process and computers replaced skill and judgment.
Insurers intentionally forgot that the promises made by an insurance policy are kept by the professional claims person. A professional claims staff is a cost-effective method to avoid litigation.
The professional claims person is an important part of the insurer’s defense to litigation against insurers for breach of contract and to detect and defeat attempts at insurance fraud.
A staff of claims professionals dedicated to excellence in claims handling are a profit center for an insurance company. Experience establishes that claims professionals resolve more claims for less money without the need for either party to involve counsel. A happy insured or claimant satisfied with the results of his or her claim will never sue the insurer.
Incompetent or inadequate claims personnel force insureds and claimants to lawyers. Every study performed on claims establish that claims with an insured or claimant represented by counsel cost more than those where counsel is not involved.
Excellence in Claims Handling
Excellence in claims handling is a program that can help insurers avoid charges of bad faith in both first and third party claims.
An insurer must understand that it cannot adequately fulfill the promises it makes to it insured and the Fair Claims Practices Act which exist in almost every state, when dealing with claimants without excellence in claims handling. An insurer must work intelligently and with vigor to create a professional claims department.
Insurance claims professionals are:
- People who can read and understand the insurance policies issued by the insurer.
- They understand the promises made by the policy and their obligation, as an insurer’s claims staff, to fulfill the promises made.
- They are all competent investigators.
- They have empathy and recognize the difference between empathy and sympathy.
- They understand medicine relating to traumatic injuries and are sufficiently versed in tort law to deal with lawyers as equals.
- They understand how to repair damage to real and personal property and the value of the repairs or the property.
- An insurer whose claims staff is made up of people who are less than Insurance Claims Professionals will be destroyed by expensive and counter-productive litigation.
A Proposal to Create Claims Professionals
To avoid claims of bad faith; to avoid punitive damages; to avoid losses; and to make a profit insurers must maintain claim staffs who are dedicated to excellence in claims handling. That means they will make sure every promise made in every policy is satisfied.
What Sources Are Available to Obtain Training?
Insurance training is available across the country by correspondence, in local colleges and universities and from law firms that will provide the training as a marketing tool. None of these sources are directed to producing insurance claims professionals. They do provide the basic background information necessary to begin the process of becoming an insurance claims professional. In that regard, I have created electronic training programs on professional claims handling that are available from experfy.com and a different set of courses from illumeo.com.
An excellence in claims handling program can include a series of web-based lectures supported by text materials like my claims books available at amazon.com and over the insurance claims library at my web site at https://zalma.com .
The web lectures must be supplemented by meetings between supervisors and claims staff on a regular basis to reinforce the information learned in the lectures.
In addition, the insurer must institute a regular program of auditing claims files to establish compliance with the subjects studied. There is no quick and easy solution. The training takes time. Learning takes longer. The insurer’s management must support and reinforce the training regularly.
It Takes Courage to Fight Insurance Fraud
The legislatures of the various states, the United States Congress, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, The National Insurance Crime Bureau and insurance industry groups have finally decided that the war against insurance fraud is worth fighting.
Until the states, the local police agencies, the district attorneys, the United States Attorneys, and the Attorneys General of the various states join in the battle it will be fought to a stalemate. The insurance industry cannot successfully fight insurance fraud alone.
Insurance industry sources estimate insurance fraud from lows of $80,000,000,000 ($80 billion) a year to highs of $300,000,000,000 ($300 billion) a year. Regardless of which, if any, estimate is accurate the amount of money going to insurance criminals is staggering and approaches no less than 3% to 10% of premium collected.
Insurance fraud is not a local problem. It is a depletion of the wealth of the entire country. The lawyer for the Department of Insurance of each state is the State Attorney General. A special unit could be established in the office of the Attorney General, funded with the monies taken from the insurance industry to support the war against insurance fraud. This unit should be given a simple mandate: File and prosecute every insurance fraud brought to the unit by the Fraud Division that has a better than 50% chance of success.
Single counts should be prosecuted. When prosecutors file multiple charges against individual defendants the case becomes a major action requiring a great deal of time to prosecute. Judges and juries do not want to be involved in a prosecution that takes months to prosecute.
If there are multiple counts available, the prosecutor should charge only the one where the evidence of fraud is overwhelming. If the jury finds for the defendant the prosecutor can charge the next count continuously until the statute of limitation runs.
Sentences across the state must be consistent and true punishment. I have seen such inconsistency where cases, after conviction, the criminals received sentences that ranged from 24 hours to 24 years.
It is not enough for the state to say that the insurance companies must investigate and work to fight fraud. The state must also aggressively and vigorously fight insurance fraud.
If the legislatures really want insurers to fight insurance fraud; if the legislatures wish to keep strong and viable this important industry; if the legislatures want to reduce the insurance premiums paid by their constituents, they must make practical the war on insurance fraud. As long as the tort of bad faith and the exposure of punitive damages hangs over insurance companies, the war will be one of attrition where no one will win.
The stories I have fictionalized in my book “It’s Time to Abolish The Tort of Bad Faith were written to show how insurance fraud is taking money out of the pockets of innocent and honest people who buy insurance. For every dollar taken by a fraud an insurer must collect two dollars in premiums. Every person in the US who does not commit fraud is paying to support those who do. A minimum of $20.00 for every $100.00 every person insured pays in premiums goes into the pockets of insurance criminals. If the stories in this book make the reader angry, write to your local District Attorney, States Attorney, Attorney General or US Attorney and let them know of your anger. Consider the digest of the case that follows as an example of how difficult it is to effectively fight insurance fraud when a fraud proved with overwhelming evidence still needed to go through trial and appeal before the insurance criminal was sent to jail.
© 2020 – Barry Zalma
Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He also serves as an arbitrator or mediator for insurance related disputes. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 52 years in the insurance business. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and email@example.com.
Mr. Zalma is the first recipient of the first annual Claims Magazine/ACE Legend Award.
Over the last 53 years Barry Zalma has dedicated his life to insurance, insurance claims and the need to defeat insurance fraud. He has created the following library of books and other materials to make it possible for insurers and their claims staff to become insurance claims professionals.
Go to Barry Zalma videos at Rumble.com at https://rumble.com/c/c-262921
Read posts from Barry Zalma at https://parler.com/profile/Zalma/posts
Listen to the Podcast: Zalma on Insurance https://anchor.fm/dashboard/episodes Zalma on Insurance
Go to Barry Zalma on YouTube- https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCysiZklEtxZsSF9DfC0Expg/
Go to the Insurance Claims Library –https://zalma.com/blog/insurance-claims-library/