The most hazardous tool for adjusters is the telephone.
Modern technology is wonderful, but it's hazardous. For professionals, the most dangerous hazard is unclear communication. The most hazardous method of communication is oral. Three little words an adjuster never wants to hear are, “But you said … .” These mean that one is going to be fed their own words!
We love to talk on the telephone or text gobbledygook on our smartphones. It's the 21st century's way of communicating. Snail mail? Never! First, one has to write or type it. Stenographers aren't around any more — “shorthand” is a lost art. If a letter is to be written, it is usually done on a computer. Word processors have standard letter forms — excess or reservation of rights — where all the adjuster needs to do is add the name, address and policy number and hit “send.” Using U.S. certified mail provides proof of sending and receipt. Both parties have a copy of what was stated.
E-mail is as hazardous as the telephone. In some companies the supervisor used to read each piece of correspondence the adjuster — especially new adjusters — would send out and make sure it was clearly written and accurate. As a supervisor, I can recall sitting at my typewriter at home until 2 a.m. rewriting one of my adjuster's reports because it was so garbled that there was no way it could be sent to a client. My wife would scold me, “Come to bed. You’re not an English teacher!” No, but many adjusters can't writer a coherent sentence. Unless reporting is “fill in the blanks,” the claims examiner won't know what the claim is about!
The hazardous mouth
When conducting Errors and Omissions seminars, I tell the true story of Mrs. Cadillac who called an insurer one morning to complain that she had just had just been hit by one of their insureds, and her nice new Cadillac was damaged. What was the insurance company going to do about it?
The call got referred to an adjuster who got the insured's name and policy number from Mrs. Cadillac and verified that there was a policy in force for that insured. “We’ll send you an accident report, Mrs. Cadillac. Just fill it out and send it back in the envelope. Take your car to a shop of your choice for repairs and they will assist you with getting a rental car while your car is being repaired. Your claim number will be S74482, and just give the shop that number.”
Wow! Wasn't that great service? Why this claim will settle in no time. The adjuster tried to reach the insured, but there was no answer, so she sent the insured an accident report to complete and ordered a police report. Five days later the body shop completed repairs and wanted payment. Mrs. Cadillac was still tooling around town in a rented Lincoln, and the three reports arrived. Mrs. Cadillac's description of the accident was, “Your insured hit my car in the intersection. He must have been speeding.” The insured's report read, “Mrs. Cadillac ran a red light. I slammed on the brakes but the front of my car hit her right front.” The police report said, “Two witnesses confirmed that Mrs. Cadillac ran the red light and was struck by Mr. Jones's auto. Mrs. Cadillac says she did not see the light and was struck by Mr. Jones.”
An hour later, Mrs. Cadillac called the adjuster wondering when they were going to pay the body shop and the rental car bill. “Well, we’re not going to pay, Mrs. Cadillac! You were the one at fault in the accident!” A verbal fist-fight ensued, and the adjuster hung up after a few nasty words.
There's a little legal factor known as “waiver and estoppel.” The adjuster implied that the insurer would pay — didn't really say that, but there was the implication: “Take your car to a shop … getting a rental …” — yep, the insurer was on the hook. They refused to pay, and Mrs. Cadillac took them to court. A Missouri court awarded her $25,000 on the basis of a “prima facie tort” by the adjuster. Like any tool, telephones can be hazardous, so hang up and think before you speak.
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