By George Keys
President and founding member
Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters
Earlier this year, the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters (FAPIA) approached its 20th anniversary. The leadership took a deep look at our founding principals as an organization – namely, our commitment to protecting consumers while upholding the strength and integrity of public adjusting.
We realized that as much as property insurance has been discussed in Florida, there are still many property owners – and legislators deciding on insurance policy – who are unaware of the valuable role of public adjusters in helping policyholders through the claims process. Moreover, with the state continuing its focus on supporting small business, we want to raise awareness of the many small business owners who are FAPIA members.
This realization led to the recent launch of a statewide public awareness campaign to highlight the consumer advocacy and protections that public insurance adjusters provide to policyholders. The campaign, Who's Your Public Adjuster?, features the testimonials of policyholders who successfully secured their claims with help from FAPIA member adjusters. The campaign also includes a focus on educating members of the community and the Legislature about what public adjusters do.
I had the pleasure, along with immediate past FAPIA president Pat Cuccaro, of sitting down with Naples' Sen. Garrett Richter to talk about our association and our service to residents in his Southwest Florida district. We look forward to continue to work with Richter and other members of the Legislature in maintaining the professional standards of our industry and protecting the consumers.
FAPIA was founded in 1992 to protect residential and business policyholders in the wake of devastating Hurricane Andrew in South Florida. Today, we continue to help those who have suffered a property loss in a major storm. However, it is more often fires, water damage, sinkholes and other common events that trigger complicated and costly claims for commercial and residential policyholders.
Public adjusters handle the preparation, presentation and adjustment of the various claims — and are the only insurance professionals who legally prepare comprehensive building damage estimates and property inventories on behalf of policyholders.
In these cases, a public adjuster serves as an important consumer advocate to ensure that policyholders understand the claims process — including their obligations, and the obligations of the insurer. Yet, in so many cases, by the time a policyholder comes to one of FAPIA's member adjusters, they are months into a complicated claim and feel overwhelmed. They often lament: "I had no idea what a public adjuster was, or how they could help me. I wish I had called sooner."
The first 48 hours after any damaging event – be it a plumbing-related issue, flood or a fire – are the most critical in terms of documenting property loss or damage and meeting all obligations of the insurance policy. That is why we celebrated the recent unanimous Florida Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional the state law banning public insurance adjusters from soliciting policyholders within the first 48 hours after a damaging event as a win for our industry and consumers. The ruling will allow public adjusters to reach out to policyholders as soon as disaster strikes, so that they can – if they choose – engage the expertise of a public adjuster during those critical first 48 hours when pictures, inventory and other documentation must be completed.
FAPIA opposed the ban from the start because it provided no benefit to consumers or the small-business public adjusters seeking to help them.
The result: According to the Florida Legislature Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), laws and regulations governing public insurance adjusters are among the most restrictive in the country.
As we continue our dialogue with Richter and others, we will continue to look for ways to strengthen education and professional requirements for our more than 400 member public adjusters. We will work with lawmakers and FAPIA members to promote continuing education, apprenticeships, licensing requirements and other measures to strengthen the industry and those who are part of it. This will ensure our public adjusters continue serving policyholders in the best way possible, while contributing to the regional economy as small business owners.