Filing an insurance claim can be stressful. Most claims are handled by the adjusters employed by your insurance company, but there may be another option. In some cases, you might want to consider hiring a public adjuster. These professionals are independent adjusters who work on your behalf to help ensure your claim is justly evaluated, and the payout is fair. Bankrate’s insurance editorial team aims to help you understand the insurance claims process and decide if hiring a public claims adjuster is the right choice.

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What is a claims adjuster?

An insurance adjuster investigates home and car insurance claims and decides if the company needs to pay the loss. Adjusters are generally employed by your insurance provider. When you file a claim, an adjuster is assigned to the claim to find out the extent of the damage and exactly how much your insurer should pay, if anything, based on your coverage types. The investigation process typically involves talking to you, the other party or parties, and witnesses, as well as gathering evidence and inspecting records. After this, the adjuster verifies the claim and decides the amount of money that the insurance company is liable to pay.

Claims adjusters can be divided into three categories:

  • Staff adjusters: These adjusters are employees of a specific insurance company.
  • Independent adjusters: These adjusters are often hired by insurance companies during times of high claim volume, like after a catastrophic storm.
  • Public adjusters: These adjusters are not employed by an insurance carrier and work exclusively on behalf of the policyholder.

While insurance companies try to settle all claims in a fair manner, there may be times when you disagree with the settlement you receive or your claim is complicated enough to warrant outside assistance. These may be cases when a public claims adjuster could be useful.

Should you hire a public claims adjuster?

Most insurance claims will be settled by staff adjusters, the claims representatives who are employed by your insurance company. If a large influx of claims has happened at once — after a hurricane, for example — your claim might be handled by an independent adjuster who is still working on behalf of your insurance company but isn’t an employee.

If your claim is particularly large or complicated, if you do not agree with the settlement reached by your insurance adjuster or if you need assistance with managing the claims process, a public claims adjuster may be able to help. Remember, public adjusters work on your behalf, not on behalf of an insurance company.

It may be helpful to hire a public adjuster if:

  • You do not have the time or skills to handle your claim.
  • You have suffered a large or complicated loss.
  • You do not agree with the decision of your company’s staff adjuster and want an outside opinion of your damages.

However, hiring a public adjuster is not without its potential downsides:

  • Public adjusters can be expensive, and you will likely have to pay out of pocket.
  • You authorize a public adjuster to be your representative to the insurance company and may lose a degree of control over your claim.

The vast majority of claims are handled sufficiently by staff and independent adjusters. If you do feel the need to hire a public adjuster, you may want to reach out to your state’s department of insurance for questions and recommendations before pursuing a public adjuster.

How much does a public insurance adjuster cost?

If you decide to hire a public adjuster, you will have to pay a fee. There are no fixed fees for public insurance adjusters; prices vary from one professional to another. You may occasionally pay a flat fee to a public claims adjuster or the fee may be a percentage of the final claim settlement. If you are considering hiring a public adjuster, keep in mind that you will have to pay for their services; staff and independent adjusters provided by insurance companies do not charge fees to policyholders.

How to choose a public adjuster

Because public adjusters work on your behalf, it’ll be up to you to choose who to work with; your insurance company is not likely to have recommendations for public adjusters. You may want to consider the following steps when hiring a public adjuster.

Ask for recommendations

Friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances could be polled for recommendations and advice if they’ve used a public adjuster before. If none of them have ever used a public adjuster, you could ask them if they know someone who has.

Contact the NAPIA

The National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters (NAPIA) is an organization that has a database of professional claim adjusters with at least two years of experience. You can sort through a list of reputable adjusters and even filter the list by different experience levels. This organization also offers certifications for public adjusters that are highly regarded in the industry.

Contact the state insurance office

Some states regulate or license public insurance adjusters. If your state does, you may be able to find information on reputable public adjusters through the state’s department of insurance.

Shortlist candidates

Once you have narrowed down a few names, you might want to put them through a screening process. You could contact their references and past clients and ask if the person was timely, effective and credible. Also, you may want to make sure to verify their credentials by calling their accrediting body.

Alternatives to hiring a public claims adjuster

Policyholders usually hire their own claims adjuster when the proposed settlement seems unfair to them or when their claim is quite complicated. However, there may be other ways to resolve the issue without getting a public adjuster.

Work with your insurance agent

If you are not satisfied with the claims adjuster provided by your insurance company, you might consider talking to your agent or a customer service representative. Your agent may be able to talk with the claims team and figure out a way to help resolve your issue. You can also request to talk to your adjuster’s manager or have your case evaluated by another staff adjuster.

Appeal to your insurer

If your issue is not resolved by working with your carrier, you can appeal the claim decision. The process may differ from one company to another, but it may help to resolve claims issues without seeking outside help.

Consult an ombudsman

If your state’s department of insurance has an on-staff ombudsman or mediator, they may be of help to you. The role of an insurance ombudsman is to investigate complaints regarding claims, coverage, payments and other facets of insurance.

Contact your state insurance regulator

If all else fails, you can file a complaint with your state’s department of insurance. Just keep in mind that the process may be long, and your issue may not be resolved to your satisfaction if no insurance laws were broken.

Frequently asked questions

    • A public claims adjuster may be able to reopen an old insurance claim. However, whether they can reopen the claim depends on the circumstances of the claim, the terms of the policy and the state laws where the claim was filed. In addition, there may be a deadline for reopening the claim, known as the statute of limitations. If you are considering opening an old claim, you may want to first speak with a public claims adjuster or attorney specializing in insurance.
    • Depending on the public adjuster you contact, they may deal with multiple types of insurance. This is because public insurance adjusters handle a variety of insurance claims that aren’t limited to auto insurance. For instance, they also deal with homeowners insurance, commercial property insurance and disaster home insurance. You may want to ask a public adjuster about their areas of insurance expertise before hiring them.
    • No, hiring a public adjuster will not cause the cost of your car insurance to increase. However, your claim itself could have an impact on your premium. Insurance companies base premiums on risk, and if you file a claim, you are viewed as more likely to file more in the future. This makes you a higher risk, so your premium may increase at renewal.
    • Insurance companies strive to settle most claims in 30 to 45 days after filing. Keep in mind that every claim is a unique scenario, though, so the timing may vary. Your claim may be processed and closed much more quickly, or it might move a bit more slowly. In cases where a large amount of claims are filed at once, your settlement may take longer.