I was discussing a property insurance claim with a colleague a few weeks ago when he mentioned a letter that was sent to an insured from the insurance carrier shortly after their public adjuster submitted his letter of representation. The letter suggested that the insured review the public adjuster’s contract and fee structure to make sure it complies with Florida Statute 626.854. It also paraphrased several provisions of this statute dealing with the duties of a licensed public adjuster practicing in Florida, such as how a public adjuster cannot prevent an insurer from reasonable access to the insured or the insured property, and that the public adjuster cannot dissuade an insured from privately speaking with the insurer regarding the settlement of their claim.
I’m sure the insurance company would claim that it was just innocently advising the insured merely of what a public adjuster in Florida can (or cannot) do when assisting with a claim. However, from the tone and context of the letter, it appeared – at least to me - that its intended effect was more of a warning to the homeowner aimed at causing the insured to second guess his or her decision to retain a public adjuster.
Since then, several public adjusters have commented to me that a number of their clients have received similar types of letters from the insurance carrier sent shortly after the public adjuster advised the carrier that they have been retained in a claim. Some even indicated that they have now come to expect these letters since they have apparently become common practice whenever a public adjuster becomes involved in a claim. As I had imagined, in some cases the carrier’s letter leads the insured to become worried as a result of the “warnings” stated in the letter, and to question whether they want to continue having a public adjuster assist them with their claim.
Even if the paraphrased provisions of Florida Statute 626.854 are technically accurate, depending on the particular language of the insurer’s letter and context in which it was submitted, sending such a letter to an insured may cross the line of between “good” and “bad” faith claims handling. Florida Administrative Code 69B-220.201(3)(h) explicitly prohibits an insurance adjuster from advising a claimant “against the retention of counsel or the employment of a public adjuster to protect the claimant’s interest.” A breach of this provision is considered an unfair claims settlement practice.1 Additionally, Florida Statute 626.9541 provides that misleading statements by insurance carriers are considered an unfair and deceptive practice under Florida law.
Whether you are a homeowner or a public adjuster, if you receive or have received a letter from an insurance carrier which appears to “warn” against the representation of a public adjuster, you may want to consider asking an attorney with experience in first-party property insurance claims to provide his or her opinion as to whether it crosses the line into a bad faith claims settlement practice.