Claims Commandment Number V
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In this the fifth of Fifteen Claims Commandments we deal with the need for every insurance claims professional to work with the first party property insured.
Thou Shall Work With the First Party Insured
The key to resolving insurance claims amicably is constant and substantive communication between the insured and the adjuster. Communication about the claim on a regular basis allows the insured and the adjuster to build rapport.
Building rapport is a fundamental aspect of human communication. Being able to build rapport could be viewed as a basic element of social intelligence. The professional should first spend time establishing rapport and the confidence of the person being interviewed. there are four elements of building rapport.
People who wish to build rapport should strive to:
- build trust, such as demonstrating honesty, reliability, and fairness,
- understanding another person’s views, such as making statements that the professional understands how the other person feels,
- show respect, that is, be polite and express gratitude, and
- be the kind of person who others would like by stating a willingness to be empathetic and altruistic.
A claims situation where the adjuster fails to establish rapport with the insured is doomed to fail. Rapport is a relationship marked by harmony, conformity, accord, or affinity.
Rapport can be established by the professional complimenting the office decor, if possible, to do so honestly. However, if the insured is relegated to a drab cubicle, rapport can be established by the professional commiserating with the difficulty of working in less than comfortable surroundings. The adjuster can gain rapport with the insured might also explain that his employer also forces the adjuster to work in a similar situation.
The adjuster, to establish rapport, should delay questioning by trying to find mutual interests and concerns with the person to be interviewed. The task of establishing rapport can take minutes or hours. It is imperative that to complete a successful adjustment sufficient time must be expended establishing rapport before the serious and detailed part of the interview begins. Regardless of the skill of the adjuster, if rapport is not established, the goal of the adjustment will not be reached.
Once rapport is established it is essential that the adjuster maintains rapport with the insured by setting up an ability to communicate regularly with the insured. The insured should be provided with the adjuster’s office telephone number, the adjuster’s cell phone number, and an e-mail address where the insured can reach the adjuster to resolve any questions that might come to mind.
The adjuster, even if not asked a question by the insured after rapport is established, should mark a diary to communicate with the insured at least once every thirty days even if the communication is nothing more than a telephone call that simply asks how the insured is doing. If possible, the adjuster should also fill in the insured on the progress of the claims investigation and any events happening.
Contact in person is preferable but caseloads for most modern insurers does not allow for continuous personal contact. If such contact is not available the contact should be by telephone, mail, or e-mail.
For example, if the insured has been sued by a third party, the adjuster should explain what is happening and what will happen in the lawsuit including the appointment of counsel to defend the insured. When defense counsel files an answer to the suit the adjuster should deliver a copy of the answer to the insured, explain the meaning of the language in the answer, and what defense counsel expects to do next to protect the interests of the insured. Each communication should be noted in the file. At least every 30 days some communication must pass between the adjuster and the insured and noted in the adjuster’s file whether the communication is substantive or merely an effort to keep up the rapport between the insured and the adjuster.
For example, if the claim relates to a fire at the insured’s home, the adjuster, after establishing rapport should present to the insured a schedule of the time needed to determine the scope of damage, set a time for meeting with the insured, an independent contractor, and the insured’s contractor. The meeting should take place quickly with everyone ready to work.
The adjuster, the experts and the insured should then agree on the scope of loss and the adjuster should explain how long it will take the contractors to create an estimate of repair. When the estimates arrive, the adjuster should prepare a comparison of the estimates and meet with the insured to determine the differences between the two or more contractors.
The insured and the adjuster should then agree on the contractor whose estimate covers the entire loss and a contract should be agreed to repair the house. As repairs proceed the adjuster should inspect the work and regularly advise the insured of the progress of the repair regularly until the repair is completed.
The Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations set minimum, not maximum, standards. Adjusters should, and are expected to, exceed the minimum standards set by the Regulations. Insurers now find — in bad faith litigation — that trial lawyers will posit violation of the minimum standards set by the regulations as evidence of bad faith sufficient to allow a trier of fact to assess tort damages against the insurer. Since the Regulations are stated to be minimum claims handling standards, failure to comply will give a judge or jury the opportunity to contend that the failure to comply is evidence of tortious conduct sufficient to support a claim that the insurer committed the tort of bad faith.
The adjuster must be familiar with the Fair Claims Settlement Practices statutes and Regulations in his or her state with regard to communications to the insured and work to exceed the requirements.
The adjuster who establishes and maintains rapport with the insured will resolve more claims quickly and without difficulty and will never face the wrath of a supervisor or auditor from the state for failure to fulfill the minimum claims handling standards but will always exceed the minimum standards.
The adjuster that fails to communicate regularly and substantively with the insured will have difficulty reaching agreement with the insured and will find that he or she is accused of violating the fair claims settlement statutes requirements or the regulations created to enforce the statutes. That failure may also result in litigation between the insured and the insurer.
(c) 2022 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.
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 practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 54 years in the insurance business. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and email@example.com.Subscribe and receive videos limited to subscribers of Excellence in Claims Handling at locals.com
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