If Adjusters are from Mars then Investigators must be from Venus
Part 2 of 2
David M. Brani, P.E., Ph.D.
David Brani Engineering, LLC
Part I of this article, published in the March 2019 newsletter, spoke the language of Martian to forensic investigators. This article is for those adjusters from Venus that would like to better understand their Martian counterparts.
As with both articles, the intention is to bring both planets closer together for a more positive working relationship.
Insights from Investigators
Despite the many healthy working relationships, we all have our challenging moments when working with adjusters. The first article focused on what adjusters look for in a forensic investigation. Whether you are working with a rookie or seasoned business partner, there is always room for improvement.
This article turns the spotlight on the adjuster. The forensic investigators who contributed to this article are seasoned veterans I have worked with, or opposite of, for many years. They enjoy a positive working relationship with the majority of adjusters that retain their services. Yet, as a group we also have our “don’t get me started about adjusters” moments.
A common theme from the contributing investigators was negative experiences regarding the cost of an investigation. Adjusters, like any consumer, want to ensure value. Open and frank communication keeps everyone on the same page. Healthy, and often lively, discussions vetting out the scope of work and perceived cost benefits are part of the process. Setting a budget when you engage a forensic consultant, engineer, or accountant always sets expectations and limits on the anticipated expense of an investigation.
However, investigators, including myself, have encountered adjusters that, from our perspective, presented an overly aggressive posture. In its most extreme form, every aspect of our work is scrutinized with the inference that at every turn our sole motivation is to pad the invoice. There is no formula or equation to compute the tipping point when the actions are penny wise but pound foolish. There are tell-tale signs that serve as red flags.
One red flag is placing too much emphasis on choosing an expert with the lowest hourly rate. A competent investigator is well versed in matters including evidence handling, orchestrating joint studies, arriving at well thought out conclusions, and providing court worthy testimony. But these are acquired skills, the result of a formal college education with additional technical training in our area of expertise, field work, and experience. The level of expertise is often reflected in the hourly rate for their services.
Another red flag is questioning the investigator at every stage regarding the time required for each phase of the investigation. This approach conveys a message to us that you do not trust our character or our technical competency. Recognizing that an adjuster may have a different frame of reference, we welcome working with an adjuster who is interested in the process or isn’t afraid to raise questions about the methodology of an investigation, but limiting a forensic investigator’s scope of work can have detrimental consequences.
Let’s look at two very different outcomes of the same loss based on the limitations placed on an investigator by the adjuster. You engage a forensic investigator to examine a faucet supply line failure that partially floods a residence, resulting in a substantial loss. You agree that a one hour site visit should be adequate to examine the fitting that failed and speak with the insured. After the investigator arrives at the site, it is discovered that the plumbing had been recently installed and tool marks on the fitting imply an installation defect.
Knowing that this theory may be scrutinized by others, the investigator contacts the adjuster and requests another hour to examine and document the other exemplar fittings at the home. Doing so allows the investigator to determine if the same installation method was employed by the contractor who installed the other fittings, and may lead to questions to determine if others have worked on the plumbing. Granting additional time to consider alternatives allows the forensic investigator to conduct a thorough investigation and reach a conclusion that can be proven or defended at court.
But what if you disallow additional time and limit the scope of the investigation to the original one hour examination of the failed fitting? Tying your expert’s hands will result in an incomplete investigation. At a later date, this investigator will be deposed by the contractor’s counsel. The question may be asked “Did you look at the other fittings my client installed?” and “Isn’t it possible the homeowner retightened this one fitting?” Any response an expert may give to these questions will have the appearance that they are not competent as their investigation was incomplete or result in feeling that you’ve thrown the adjuster under the bus by revealing that your time to investigate was limited. The damage to an expert’s reputation or the implied bias of the insurance company can be far more costly than an extra hour at the loss site.
Investigators have also witnessed red flag behaviors at other phases of the investigation such as refusing to attend joint investigations, disallowing time for additional research or testing, and meddling in the drafting of the report. Adopting an attitude that all investigators are guilty of conducting unnecessary work or trying to pad the bill conveys a thought process that forensic investigators are guilty until proven innocent that will drive away competent investigators willing to work with you.
The investigators contributing to this article have on occasion encountered adjusters that place a premium on cost cutting at the expense of a quality investigation. We have witnessed first hand the fiscal damage that can ensue when an investigator fails to provide a court worthy opinion.
The red flag warnings discussed in this article are atypical of the adjusters we have the pleasure of working with. However, just as a seasoned forensic investigator has room for improvement, that same is true for adjusters. My hope is that adjusters will have a heightened awareness of how seemingly well intentioned practices on their part may adversely affect their relationship with us Venusians, and may negatively impact the outcome of an investigation.
If you would like to contact the author for more information about this subject, you may call him at 678-549-0352 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.