Why Policyholders Need to Exercise Diligence When Hiring an Expert for a Homeowner’s Claims

J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo
Founder of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A.

When homeowners experience damage to their residence caused by a severe storm or other perils, they will look to their homeowner’s insurance company to repair or replace the property.  Many legitimate claims for damage to a policyholder’s home or personal property are initially denied by the insurer.  When a homeowner deals with his or her insurance company, it is often prudent to retain a contractor, engineer or other expert to provide an independent estimate of the cost of repair or replacement.

When homeowners have an independent inspection conducted, they benefit in a number of ways.  First, the insured will have an objective basis to negotiate with the insurance company.  The expert can inspect the property and provide a more appropriate estimate.  Second, the expert can help craft a response to claims that a particular peril or form of damage is not covered.  Third, the expert can be a vital source of evidence if you must pursue a breach of contract and/or bad faith lawsuit.

However, the value of the person you use to conduct an independent investigation is directly related to the skill, education, expertise and training of the person who serves as your expert.  The value of having someone who conducts an inspection and independent evaluation of a claim will be substantially diminished if you do not select someone with the background and expertise that a court will consider an expert.

The case of Falcon v. State Farm Lloyds demonstrates the importance of working with a legitimate expert.  The court evaluated one of the insured’s smoke experts following a wildfire by analyzing the purported expert’s credentials.  The curriculum vitae of the witness indicated only a high school degree along with five years of night school in unrelated subjects.    After attending college, he worked at a string of jobs that included bank purchasing agent, sales manager, bank teller and grocery store manager.  He also claimed he was the Director of Real Estate for a large “unnamed developer.”

The court noted that the policyholder’s so-called expert had no training or experience prior to the outbreak of wildfires that triggered the claim.  The court clearly rejected the notion that someone who starts a business a few months prior to testifying with no education, training or experience prior to founding the business is qualified to be recognized as an expert.

This case demonstrates the importance of checking out the credentials, experience and competence of any expert you plan to hire.  When you are evaluating potential contractors or other experts, you should at least inquire into the following:

  • Examine the curriculum vitae or resume of the individual before hiring the expert
  • Confirm the business has been in operation long enough to establish legitimacy
  • Review the website for the business to determine the expert’s experience, knowledge and credentials
  • Inquire whether the individual has been accepted as an expert witness in prior court cases

If you have questions about evaluating the proposed settlement of a claim or hiring an expert to provide an estimate of the cost of repairs.  If you think you might need an insurance attorney for your claim or you have questions about your rights, my law firm represents policyholders in claims disputes in Miami and throughout Florida.  The Law Firm of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A. offers free case evaluations.  No Recovery, No Lawyer Fees.  Call 305-461-1095 or Toll Free 1-866-71-CLAIM.

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