Practice Perspective: Fire Scene Etiquette

– By Leslie L. Knox, SPPA

Assume that you and a number of competing public adjusters are at a fire scene the morning after a devastating fire destroys a residential property. The homeowner’s family has escaped unscathed but are visibly upset and standing in the front yard of a neighbor’s property. You are anxiously waiting to solicit the homeowner along with several other public adjusters.

Here are some common sense do’s and don’ts to consider before approaching the homeowner and soliciting the loss:

  • Always consider the “Golden Rule” – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. In other words treat the grieving family with the same respect, empathy and consideration that you would like to experience if it were your home and belongings that were just destroyed.
  • Don’t solicit the homeowner before 8:00 AM in the 24 hour period immediately following the loss. To do so is a violation of the law licensing public adjusters in New Jersey.
  • Don’t interrupt or interfere with the investigating authorities. Wait patiently until the authorities have completed the investigative interview process with the homeowner.
  • Do have an understanding with other public adjusters regarding who will solicit the homeowner first and who will follow. Generally, in many areas, those that arrive on scene first solicit first.
  • Don’t stand in a group with other public adjusters making jokes, laughing and making loud comment.
  • Do wait until your turn to solicit the homeowner. Act like a professional and do not interrupt others while they are giving their presentation.
  • Don’t stand in the near proximity of your competition when they are giving their sales presentation. This creates an awkward situation that impairs a professional approach to solicitation. You would not want others to do this to you.
  • Do strive to educate the homeowner. This is very likely the first time they have ever had to deal with a situation of this magnitude. They need to know their rights and responsibilities following the loss.
  • Don’t inordinately “bad mouth” or criticize the insurance company, agent or your competition when speaking to the homeowner. This will reflect poorly on you and the profession. Sell yourself and your firm on your merits and strengths not the weaknesses of others.
  • Don’t makes guarantees of recovery or misrepresent your abilities.
  • Don’t misrepresent the insurance policy terms and conditions. If you don’t know, don’t comment until you have had a chance to review the policy.
  • Do be courteous and thoughtful. The homeowner needs information that is succinct and appropriate to the situation. They do not need a rambling diatribe that wastes their time and detracts from the homeowners’ immediate concerns.

These are examples of some of the things to keep in mind when soliciting a loss. They are by no means a comprehensive examination of all of the factors that make a loss solicitation professional or appropriate. Remember that the insured is in a stressful, highly emotional situation that demands that you present yourself in a competent, professional manner to best educate the homeowner concerning his rights and responsibilities following a loss, and how utilizing the services of a public adjuster benefits the insured in the loss adjustment and settlement process.

Need more Practice Perspective?  Check out our article on Documenting Claim Files.