MOORE — Mercy isn't part of most business plans, but there is more grace — in the form of options — in the adjustment phase of a property insurance claim than most people know.
Moore-based Brown O'Haver Public Adjusters is taking that reminder to the public and directly to friends and neighbors in storm-raked Moore. The company office itself, at 220 SE 19th, just missed major damage, losing only its mailbox out front.
Property owners do not have to deal only with adjusters working for their insurance companies. Public adjusters are licensed by the state to sell their services to work for insurance customers as they negotiate claims on policies.
Three public adjuster companies have offices in Oklahoma: Brown O'Haver, Lewis & Associates, 6116 NW 63 in Oklahoma City, and Claim Help Public Adjusters, which has a P.O. Box in Arcadia.
Brown O'Haver had representatives at the National Tornado Summit in March at Oklahoma City's Cox Convention Center. Thursday, they were at Community Christian Church in Moore — along with state Insurance Commissioner John Doak and Emily Cabral, program coordinator for the nonprofit United Policyholders, which advocates for disaster survivors.
Survivors turned out to learn how to thread their way through the complex world of property insurance and claims adjustment.
Nearly 30 of the 40 or so attendees raised their hands when Doak asked who had lost everything of their home in the May 20 tornado.
Valerie Carter lost nearly everything at 1512 Penn Lane, a three-bedroom, two-bath house built in 1979, where she'd lived since 1995. It was northeast of SW 19th and Santa Fe Avenue, about 500 feet southwest of Plaza Towers Elementary School.
She and her husband, Robert, were home. They headed for an inside closet when they heard “the roar.”
“It was getting louder — like a jet engine sound,” she said.
The Carters hunkered down with Bandit, their Pomeranian. Beewee, their blue point siamese cat, didn't make it into the closet.
The tornado hit the house. It blasted the school, leaving seven third-graders dead.
It was over in a few minutes. Walls were down and belongings were scattered at the Carter residence. The roof was gone. A neighbor's boat rested inside what had been the house.
Her 2003 Isuzu Ascender? Severely damaged, probably totaled. His 1995 Chevy pickup? Not a scratch.
It was much later, only after buzzing helicopters finally left the sky quiet enough in Moore to hear a kitty crying, that Beewee was rescued. Someone there to help detected Beewee, then picked through the rubble and emerged with the feline.
“I was so sad. It was four days,” Carter said. Then, “It was almost like it was OK. I mean, you could deal with it.”
The church was full of stories, but the people came to listen, not talk.
They heard Alice Young of Brown O'Haver explain the difference in types of adjusters.
“A public insurance adjuster works for the insured, not the insurance company,” Young said. “A staff adjuster (works for) an insurance company to adjust claims on their behalf. An independent adjuster is hired by an insurance company to adjust the claims on their behalf — they just don't work directly for the insurance company.
“A public adjuster only works for the insured, so we are advocates for the insured. The state of Oklahoma sees it necessary to license public adjusters to make sure that all insureds have the right to be able to hire their adjusters on their behalf.”
Young said that on average public adjusters help insurance customers get 30-percent to 40-percent larger settlements than if they dealt with a company-hired adjuster.
That's not counting the public adjuster's fee, which is negotiated case by case.
Cabral, the representative from United Policyholders, ticked off several things to do immediately when a property is damaged: Get a complete copy of the insurance policy; ask for a cash advance; clear up ALE — insurance-ese for additional living expenses; take notes of every conversation and communication with anyone involved; keep all receipts; and go online to www.uphelp.org.
Levels of damage
John Whitson of Brown & O'Haver talked details. High points included the basics of what to expect at three general levels of damage:
• Destroyed and uninhabitable? Get policy limits from the company immediately. Remember that an extended coverage provision kicks in if a homeowner decided to rebuild and when work is complete.
• Walls are still standing, with some roof support but with other major damage? Note that people in this situation are mostly at risk for undervalued settlements from insurance companies. Be ready to hire an engineer and other experts. Feel free to challenge an initial settlement offer.
• Damaged but habitable? Use trusted and researched local roofers and contractors to get estimates before filing a claim. File only if certain that damage exceeds the deductible. Get multiple bids to complete work.
About contractors and restoration companies: Use of an insurance companies' preferred providers is not required. Don't let contractors adjust a claim; they are not licensed to do so. Do not authorize direct payment to contractors. Research companies, check references, try to stay local.
A public insurance adjuster works for the insured, not the insurance company. A staff adjuster (works for) an insurance company to adjust claims on their behalf. An independent adjuster is hired by an insurance company to adjust the claims on their behalf — they just don't work directly for the insurance company. A public adjuster only works for the insured, so we are advocates for the insured. The state of Oklahoma sees it necessary to license public adjusters to make sure that all insureds have the right to be able to hire their adjusters on their behalf.”