Q. …….Would you be willing to chat with him briefly about this? He just has a much better grip on the issues in this case and I think that it would be more helpful to him to talk directly to you.
A. Wow. I’m kind of torn here. I do this – I’m in this business because I like to see that people get every dime they’re entitled to and that’s what gives me satisfaction in this job. I think the companies screw over people regularly. On the other hand, I have had my neighbor suing me for four years on an easement that’s been in existence since 1920. I have been abused by a whole number of attorneys including the judge who likes to keep his docket padded and that’s why we’re in this situation.
Q. I understand.
A. So right now, I have really had my fill of attorneys and don’t care to help one out. I wouldn’t help one cross a busy street right now.
The litigants on the post katrina coast know exactly where State Farm adjuster Lorrie Beno is coming from with those remarks which were transcribed from the recording of the phone coversations she had with a private investigator hired by the Weatherly family in their fight against State Farm. We seen our fair share of judges (mostly former insurance defense lawyers) who don’t follow the law or abuse elderly policyholders like Magistrate Walker has Mrs Politz in her suit against Nationwide. We’ve seen lawyers with questionable ethics like Scot Spragins and his sidekick Lucky Tucker of Hickman, Goza and Spragins abuse the court system and flaunt court orders earning fees from State Farm. I could go on and on giving many other examples but let’s visit back with Miss Beno as she describes how State Farm adjusted flood claims:
A. I don’t know how it was handled on the wind at all.
A. The only thing I can tell him, which he probably already knows, is find out that adjustor has been an adjustor.
A. Because of the laws that are made that people are screaming to see their adjustor immediately, they hire off the street and give them some little short training course and make them an adjustor and get them a temporary license and send them out.
A. And these people may not, you know, may be flipping hamburgers one day and the next day they’re an adjustor evaluating the damage on your house.
This is a recurring theme I’ve heard from claims professionals. Besides flipping burgers my favorite story came from Earl Carr, a public adjuster in New Orleans who told me the story of a stripper turned insurance adjuster after Katrina as we continue:
A. And the carriers tell you what they’re going to pay for, and how they’re going to pay it, even though we use this Xactomate program that sets the cost on everything, they alter those numbers, they help us, oh no, we’re paying this amount for roofing and it includes everything, you’re not paying for ???, you’re not paying for drip edge, you’re not paying for this, which I think is wrong, but what is the alternative to this, have the government take over adjustors, I think that could be a really bad disaster, but some ?? think it should happen. Adjustors should be called in, should be independent which is what we are, supposed to be, we call ourselves independents, and we should go and we should do an honest estimate of the damages and the people should get that and the carrier should get that and then they can work it out between them, but at least the insured gets an honest estimate and that doesn’t happen, because the carrier tells you how to do it, and you’re working for them, you know.
Q. I work both sides of the street, I work for plaintiff attorneys and I also work for insurance companies, I even have a contract with the State of Louisiana to do some defense work on their behalf, so I do get a chance to look at both sides, and there are just, as you pointed out, there are problems on both sides of the issue, and it’s really hard to kind of figure where those two should meet, you know, and how that can be . . .
A. Because the insured never gets, never gets and estimate of what their damages are, never really finds out what the opinion was of the adjustor. What they find out is the opinion of the adjustor and the estimate that has been corrupted by the insurance carrier to suit their needs.
A. Well, if the carrier was saying this is a flood event, which is what they were saying to us too there, this is a flood event, then there isn’t wind damage, because they had asked me to take 100 claims and go on the field with it and when they said that to me, I said oh, and I said well how did the Superdome roof get blown off then, I mean that wasn’t flood that took that roof off, that was wind, there had to have been wind.
Q. What did State Farm tell you all about handling these claims?
A. I only did the flood and I didn’t go work for them in the field. You know, I didn’t like, State Farm treats even their own people really badly, and I didn’t want to work for them in the field, plus it was an unusual thing. We were 12 hour days, 7 days a week for 30 days
Claims professionals are human beings too however and there was a mental toll that had to be paid dealing with the aftermath of our nation’s failure to timely get help to the people stranded in New Orleans. Perhaps now our readers will better understand why State Farm has a preference for hiring anthropologists and sociologists in claims as we continue:
A. (continued from above) not unusual for us, but inside on the phone and people would tell you about, you know, staying waiting for the daughter to come home from the hospital because she worked there and she never came, and the grandmother doesn’t drive, but she tries and the water’s coming in, blah, blah, so she takes the 8 year old grandson and she stuffs him up in the attic and she climbs up there after him, they’re up there for days, finally somebody hacks a hole in the roof and she passes the grandson out and then she gets lifted up in a helicopter and they fly away and she’s realized that they have left the grandson on the roof because he is dead.
Q. Oh my God.
A. This is the stories you would hear every day, all day long and you would drive home at night crying, the guys were talking, a lot of people were talking about drinking, you know, because it was so hard, and they found a Dr. Feel Good and they were getting antidepressants and this was the hardest, emotionally hardest thing I have ever done was that 30 days and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. When I had done my 30, that was it, I was one of the first one out the door.
Q. And your 30 days was spent in Dallas?
A. It was horrendous, it really was and it’s kind of funny because you can talk to other people about it, but if you talk to another adjustor that was there, and I ran into one last June that was there with us in Dallas, and when you talk to each other about it, you start crying again, you get all – it’s just emotionally so difficult, the stories you were told.
The horror stories of homeless policyholders never stopped though after those 30 days Ms Beno served in the call center, in fact, they would get worse with the blanket denials of coverage in late 2005 and early 2006. Now for the most daming part of Ms Beno’s first conversation with the Weatherly’s PI.
Q. But State Farm, what instructions were you all given with regard to handling claims?
A. Well, that was it. Talk to the people, and run a total on it, and pay them off on their flood policies. That was our objective, was to pay them off. But you got to remember, it doesn’t come out of State Farm’s pocket, they made millions out of administering this, didn’t cost them a dime, so they didn’t – they weren’t being fussy about paying out flood policies, that comes from the government.
Q. That’s the NFI fee?
A. Yes. Give everybody all that money because it’s not ours and then we’ll call it a flood event and maybe not pay them much on wind, which it was, you know, it was flood damages, definitely. We’re having the same problem in Galveston now.
Q. Did State Farm want you guys to encourage folks to apply whatever damages they had to flood rather than wind?
A. No, we didn’t – yeah, we didn’t talk about wind. We didn’t deal with wind, we just were to pay them off. And this is odd too, but and insureds lie to you all the time, that’s kind of a joke, you know, oh an insured would lie to you, we all laugh, because they do that all the time, but I kept hearing the same thing from different people and I heard it so much that I believe it now, I really do and what they were saying was, their agent would say to them, okay, your house would probably cost 200,000 to rebuild it so we’ll put 50 on the flood and 150 on wind, that way you’ll be covered no matter what. Well, if your house takes 200,000 to rebuild, it should be 200,000 on wind and 200,000 on flood, but you only sell policies to people when they’re cheap. Because don’t look at what it’s covering, they just look at what they are going to have to pay out and I heard this so many times, so all these people, not all of them, but a lot of them, had small amounts on flood coverage, so you knew the house was worth $200,000.00, but they only had a $50,000.00 policy, so it was easy to get a total over $50,000.00 and pay them. And I actually talked to an agent and I was trying to pay him off on his flood policy, and he was saying we have to do this quick or you’ll have to call me back, the police are coming by, come back to gather some of my stuff and they’re going to give me the escort out of town, it was too dangerous for an agent to stay in town.
Q. I have heard stories that it was too dangerous for anybody to stay in town.
A. Oh, yeah there was that, but this was – the way he said it to me, was like they’re gunning for me because I was their agent that sold the policies and they’re not getting paid off.
A. Yeah. People on the phone were crushed, you know, and they’re going well you know thank you so much for paying off on my flood, but I can’t rebuild my house for $40,000.00 or you know, this kind of a thing, and you can’t.
Q. What were you all doing to decide what was flood and what was wind?
A. Nothing. We just paid off on the flood policy.
Q. So . . .
A. We didn’t make any distinction. We didn’t need to know how the house was damaged or anything, we never asked were your shingles blown off, we didn’t care, if they had a flood policy, they a lot of water, we paid them off on it. If it was a two story house and it had four feet of flood, we didn’t try to split it and pay them for the downstairs, we paid them the limit on the policy as flood. And in my mind a lot of that is because it didn’t come out of their pocket. In fact, they probably made money because they had to settle those claims, so they got to bill the government for handling them. ??? being paid to administer all those policies, all along.
A. And the word was they were making millions off of this…
To be continued.