Staking A Claim
Photo by Jeff
Douglas L. LaFaive & Associates work on your
behalf after a calamity.
Article written By Eileen Jenkins
Published on 2/12/2006 in The
Doug and Helen LaFaive help insurance customers get the most from claims
made with their insurance providers.
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
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
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
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 — www.claimshelp.com — 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
JUST THE FACTS
Name Douglas L. LaFaive & Associates, LLC
Phone 860-535-3777 or 1-800-501-8119
Web site: www.claimshelp.com