We take a moment with Steve Vanuga, our firm’s Principal & Co-Owner, to learn more about how and why he started representing policyholders in the property insurance claims process.
How long have you been a Public Adjuster?
I have been a licensed public adjuster since 2003, and a licensed insurance professional since 1994.
Who do you help? And, along with homeowners, what kind of businesses do you help?
Our public adjusters at Adjusters International/Basloe, Levin, & Cuccaro (AI/BLC) help any property owner, either residential or commercial businesses, that suffer a covered insurance loss from fire, water, collapse, freezing, etc. Regarding businesses, it could be a mom-and-pop store to a larger corporation or even an entire county government. We help anybody who has experienced a sizable property loss, needs an experienced eye and the training in the insurance claims world to best obtain the correct claim amount and look at all recovery options.
Do you remember the first insurance claim you helped on?
The first insurance claim I helped on was a commercial loss in 2003 — an insightful experience. I was already in the business for nine years and thought I knew everything about insurance claims, but I had a lot to learn now that I was working as a public adjuster. It was a completely different viewpoint working for the policyholder versus the insurance company. It became very clear that policyholders needed someone on their side looking out for them - someone with a team of claim specialists who could help in special situations regarding the types of property damage and how that was accurately shown in the claim. I was fortunate to be learning from people who had been doing this for many years.
What’s been a memorable moment from an insurance claim you helped on?
One of the most memorable moments for me was while working with a homeowner and his family. They suffered a house fire and we worked hard and quickly to get them the correct settlement. On Christmas morning, he sent me a photo of his children next to the fireplace of their rented house that we negotiated for quick occupancy before the holidays. It was sent with a text message thanking me for helping them get back to normal and for helping them have a normal Christmas as a family. Our main role is to achieve the correct insurance claim settlement for our clients, but we do a whole lot more to get homeowners and businesses back to normal in the shortest time frame possible.
Any other public adjusting stories? Maybe from something other than a residential claim?
Yes, with a school district. An error by workers on site damaged the entire electrical panel and system for a school. Their original assessment made it out to be insignificant damage and the contractor was willing to pay $15,000, but when we were asked to look, we really did some digging and discovered there was much more to it. As a result, we got them over $500,000 by identifying and negotiating all the real damage. So, it initially looked like a smaller loss, but our trained eyes knew better. The school district thanked us for saving them the headache and were happy they took the advice of our past clients to bring us onboard.
How soon do you start helping homeowners and business owners with their claims?
Basically, the sooner the better. The day of the event is typically a little too quick, but the next day is optimal. We’re most effective when we’re hired right in the beginning because policyholders have many questions that they’ll need us to help answer. If it’s a house fire, it could be something as crucial as “Where are my family and I going to sleep tonight?” If it’s damage to your business, it could be “How am I going to make payroll this week?” We’re here to help you understand your coverage and true options and to guide you.
What’s been one significant change in the insurance claims process during your time as a Public Adjuster?
People from the insurance carriers are making decisions on the claim who has never been on-site at the damage. They may be five states away looking at pictures and reports, which doesn’t give them the full scope of what has happened. The insurance company may think of this as being more efficient and good for their business, but it’s not good for the policyholder. You must be there to truly access the real damage and situation.
What one piece of insight would you like policyholders to know immediately after suffering property damage?
First, get to a safe place away from the damage and take a deep breath. Nothing needs to be decided today. Also, it’s a normal reaction to begin cleaning and picking up after the damage, but that’s the worst thing you can do. Do not disturb the loss location before our team can see it — it’s all evidence for your claim. The insurance company is not going to stop you from doing that - so don’t touch anything. If you hire us soon after the event, we’ll advocate for you and guide you in the right direction for a quicker, fuller, and CORRECT recovery without the roadblocks from your insurance company.
How about one more piece of insight?
Take it day by day. Also, stay off the Internet and social media to keep your comments to yourself. Many entities are monitoring your actions after a claim and waiting for you to say something they can use to strengthen their position and weaken yours.
This is the time to rely on family and friends for direct support, so don’t be afraid to accept help from the people closest to you as you get your ducks in a row. That includes finding out what your coverage is and isn’t as quick as possible. We can help you get a copy of your policy as soon as possible. If not, the claims process will be like taking a trip without a map or directions - not wise.
The insurance company’s adjuster may show up and talk to you about your policy, but you need documentation. When I first meet with people and businesses, I make it a priority to get them a copy of their policy while I’m there — even if we never speak again. I want to make sure they have the information.
Why should someone hire you to handle their insurance claim?
Any sizable property loss — residential or commercial — has so many layers and complexities that it’s nearly impossible for a homeowner or business owner to correctly manage their claim on their own. As a policyholder, they are going to be deciding on things that they’ve never thought about. Also, “you don’t know what you don’t know,” and that’s the most dangerous thing that can happen in the claims process.
We make the claim process transparent, and help you make the smart decisions for your family or business. As emotional of an experience a larger property damage can cause, we’re there by your side as guides giving you the skills necessary to get you where you need to go. Your insurance claim really is a business transaction, but we never forget there are human beings involved here — families, business owners, and their livelihoods.