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Staking A Claim


Photo by Jeff Evans

Douglas L. LaFaive & Associates work on your behalf after a calamity.

Article written By Eileen Jenkins

Published on 2/12/2006 in The Marketplace Magazine

Doug and Helen LaFaive help insurance customers get the most from claims made with their insurance providers.

When you make a claim on your insurance policy — after a fire, theft, natural or other disaster — the person assigned to handle the claim at the insurance company is called an adjuster. He or she inspects the damage and determines how much money you will receive from the insurance company to repair or replace the damaged items.

Doug and Helen LaFaive are public adjusters, hired by the person making the claim — the person who has been paying the premiums on the insurance policy — to assess the damage.

Why would a person want to pay a public adjuster when the insurance company will send one out for free? Doug LaFaive explains with an example.

“If you were selling your home, you wouldn't let the buyer set the price.”

In other words, why would you expect the insurance company to give you the maximum amount to cover your loss? It's business, after all, and business is about money. Even your agent, the person who sold you the policy, can't really be an unbiased advocate for you.

Says Doug, “All the people involved with an insurance company have a vested interest in minimizing loss to the company.”

A public adjuster, however, is your own personal advocate, someone who will take over all aspects of your claim in order to fully assess what you lost and, therefore, what you are owed. The LaFaives, through their business, Douglas L. LaFaive & Associates, LLC, have been such advocates since 1992. At that point, Doug had been working for 10 years managing the claims department at Liberty Mutual Insurance. He decided to go out on his own, using the knowledge he had gained while working on the other side of the claims fence.

Now both he and Helen are certified as public adjusters by the Connecticut Insurance Department and the insurance departments of Rhode Island, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Florida. They handle only real estate property damage, either commercial or residential — not injury, worker's comp or other types of insurance claims.

Once contracted by a claimant, Doug pours over every item in the damaged house or building as well as the structure itself, determining what is salvageable and what cannot be saved. Then he and Helen work together to determine the value of each item and the structure, and Helen creates a spreadsheet that lists all of that information. A few pages of spreadsheet from a recent project show items ranging in value from $659 (a glass hutch/bookcase) to an 89-cent manila file folder.

That detail is their strength. Where Helen researches every item in detail, an insurance company's adjuster may use a database that doesn't take everything into account, such as if the item is an antique or was handmade by a craftsman. Or the database may allow $100 for a silk dress, not taking into consideration that it was made by Versace or Dior.

“The result of using a public adjuster,” says Doug, “is a more thorough claim analysis, which maximizes the claim payment.”

You may think that the insured would best be able to document his or her own possessions and fight for the maximum settlement, but that's not necessarily the case. For one thing, the insured may not want to sift through the cold, wet remains of his or her home. For another, he or she may not be comfortable in negotiations.

“A homeowner can be their own worst enemy,” says Doug. “They might say, 'Oh, that's only a small stain on the hardwoods. I'm not going to worry about it.' But when you go to sell the house, that's going to be a problem. Or if they have plaster walls, they may tell the insurance company, 'We might go back to sheetrock.' Do you know what you've just done to yourself? You should get the value of a like-quality replacement.”

In addition to maintaining a hard line with the insurance company, the LaFaives are also going to peer into the walls and under the flooring to see if there has been hidden damage, from things like smoke or water. They can order air quality tests and other services an insurance company's adjuster might not because, again, it's in that person's best interest not to find as much damage, as he or she works for the company that will pay for it. And it's often less expensive to have a damaged item cleaned or repaired instead of replaced, but that may not be in the best interest of the insured.

Says Doug, “If you've had a puff back,” (an explosion in your heating unit), “that oily soot is going to go everywhere, like the toaster. Who wants to be the first person to eat a piece of toast after it's been 'cleaned'? I have to go in and say it can't be cleaned.”

Adds Helen, “You have a lawyer if you have a legal issue, a real estate agent if you're selling your house, a doctor if you have an illness. Why not a professional representative for insurance claims? A lot of people are baffled by the whole process.”

“And it's something they've purchased that's worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says Doug.

The LaFaives, like most public adjusters, are paid a percentage of the claim, in their case 10 percent.

“They don't feel it,” says Helen of their clients.

“It's the thoroughness that pays my fee,” adds Doug.

Case in point: The LaFaives were once hired by the owners of a building who were offered a $120,000 fire claim settlement by their insurance company. The LaFaives did their usual thorough job and negotiated a $200,000 settlement. Their fee was $20,000, which still netted the owners a $60,000 increase over the insurance company's initial offer.

The LaFaives maintain a Web site — — on which they offer valuable advice for people dealing with claims, a book by Doug on handling automobile injury claims and an Excel-based spreadsheet program that people can use to monitor their own possessions. But even a detailed list may not be enough to help a person fight for his rights when it comes to a claim. That's why the LaFaives are ready to step in.

Says Doug, “It's your loss, not the insurance company's loss. It's their cost. If they would pay what the claims are worth, they'd put us out of business.”


Name Douglas L. LaFaive & Associates, LLC

Phone 860-535-3777 or 1-800-501-8119

Web site:     End.

 Article written By Eileen Jenkins

Published on 2/12/2006 in The Marketplace Magazine, Marketplace Marketplace Weekly


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The information provided is meant to inform the consumer. It is not meant to provide Professional Legal Advice. Please read our disclaimer.

Should your property sustain damages from Fire, Lighting, Wind, Water or any other cause we strongly suggest that you consider and contact Douglas L. LaFaive & Associates Licensed Public Adjusters.

Should you suffer a personal injury of any kind we suggest that you consider and contact a Professional Attorney to review your options in pursuing a recovery from the responsible party.



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