Business

State Considering New Rules on 'Public' Adjusters

By: Jim Saunders News Service of Florida | Posted: March 23, 2012 3:55 AM
Revisiting an issue that has drawn heavy debate in the insurance industry, state officials on Thursday heard arguments about new regulations on adjusters who are hired by property owners to handle claims.

The proposed rules deal with "public" adjusters and insurance-company adjusters. They delve into issues such as advertising, advice that adjusters can give to property owners and even how adjusters should deal with seniors.

But a workshop Thursday held by the state Department of Financial Services also gave glimpses of longstanding tension within the insurance industry about "public" adjusters, who say they play an important role in representing consumers and helping claims get paid by carriers.

For example, attorney Wilbur Brewton, who represented public adjusters during the workshop, asked at one point whether a proposed regulation would treat the group differently from adjusters who represent insurance companies.

"It looks like everybody is still after public adjusters, and we hope you're not,'' Brewton said.

Lisa Miller, a former deputy insurance commissioner who works as a lobbyist and consultant for insurers, said there are good public adjusters who help customers. But she said attention often focuses on some "unscrupulous" public adjusters who do such things to take advantage of seniors.

"We have to keep working on this,'' Miller said.

Public adjusters drew increased attention after a series of hurricanes bombarded the state in 2004 and 2005. Claims continued to surface for years, which critics said resulted from public adjusters soliciting business from homeowners.

Eric Purvis, a Department of Financial Services official who is leading efforts to draft the proposed regulations, said lawmakers have made a series of changes in recent years to laws dealing with adjusters, which has helped spur the need to update the rules. After listening to testimony Thursday and taking written comments, the department could revise the proposal.

Brewton raised a series of questions, such as objecting to a proposal that would place new limits on advertising of public-adjuster services. He said the proposal, in part, would prevent groups such as the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters from running ads.

"I don't think you can do that,'' he said. "I think it violates commercial free speech.''

Purvis said the proposal is aimed at addressing problems such as contractors improperly advertising public-adjuster services.

Brewton and Chip Merlin, an attorney who represents property owners in insurance disputes, also raised questions about a change that they said would eliminate a requirement for adjusters to advise property owners about legal rights. That requirement would affect all types of adjusters.

Merlin said most property owners don't understand their insurance policies and that some carriers don't fully explain benefits if they are not asked.

"They need to be told,'' Merlin said

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