“Leave the Friggin Thing Alone!”

It still amazes me that whenever a fire occurs in a machine, like a car or a tractor, somebody who is NOT authorized, has to mess with it. There are still people out there that don’t realize that when they disassemble something they are tampering with evidence.  Even if the case has nothing to do with anything criminal, there is the possibility that a product defect or faulty workmanship might have been responsible for the fire.  But, if the machine (evidence) is disassembled, then evidence is compromised if not destroyed outright.  Disassembly and subsequent testing or examination cannot occur without all interested parties being placed on notice.  Once notified, all parties must be given the chance to participate in formulating a protocol for the disassembly, testing and examination.  After the protocol is formulated, the parties must agree on when and who will perform all necessary functions.  In short, all parties must have access to the same information at the same time.  If not, the potential for spoliation of evidence claims can become an avenue for additional lawsuits or defense, depending on your point of view.  Note that many property insurance policies have a subrogation clause which requires that the policyholder do everything it can to protect their carrier’s right which includes protecting evidence.

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Would you Hire an Expert to Help you Deal With an Insurance Company?

In my last post, I talked about how people sometimes get angry when they find out that their claim is about to be denied because some engineer doesn’t see things their way.  All of a sudden, the engineer becomes a target for some nasty comments.  I also mentioned that insurance companies aren’t the only ones that could hire an engineer or any other expert for that matter.  Individual policyholders can do the same thing.  However, the reason that most don’t is because of the expense, preferring instead, to allow the insurance company to hire the expert.  I’ve thought about this quite a bit and am wondering if this is really true.  How many policyholders would actually hire an engineer (or adjuster, appraiser, etc) to determine if they have a claim and then pursue it if there is merit?  After practicing forensic engineering for over 20 years, I’ve lost count of the number of times that people have told me how cheated they have felt when their claims were denied.  Some believe that paying premiums faithfully for years entitles them to an unquestionable settlement.  Others believe that an investigation by an engineer, private investigator, or other expert amounts to an invasion of privacy and is insulting at the very least.  Regardless of a consumer’s attitude, it is in their best interest to engage the appropriate expert (if affordable).  Imagine having somebody on your side when you enter into negotiations with your insurer. Or, imagine when, there is a disagreement between you and your insurer about how your property was damaged and, you have someone to speak on your behalf.  Remember that your expert is not your “mouthpiece”. In other words, you are not hiring someone to speak for you regardless of the facts.  If you hire an engineer, the evidence must support your contentions if that person is to be able to present your case and DEFEND it.  If the facts don’t support your position, your engineer (or any other expert) is obligated to advise you.  In other words, the engineer has to make an unbiased call based on the evidence.  If the claim goes to court, the last thing you need is to have your expert’s testimony disqualified because of bias. 

So, having said all of the above, would you hire an expert to review your claim and help you deal with your insurance company?

Be Careful How You Treat Your Engineering Investigator!

Consider the following incident involving a vehicular impact and damage to the vehicle’s transmission. Assume that the driver hit an object in the road and claimed that the object caused damage to the transmission’s oil pan.  In short, fluid leaked out and the transmission was ruined.  On the surface, this seems like a plausible scenario and it would be reasonable to conclude that the failure of the transmission could occur after being hit by flying debris from the object that was struck.  However, what if evidence was found to indicate that things were not  as they appeared?  Needles to say, the final conclusions went against the owner’s claim.  Understandably, the owner would be upset and most likely not open to an alternative explanation.  If you are trying to get your insurance company to pay off on a claim, the last thing you want to do is insult the investigator.  The investigator has no interest in the outcome of the settlement between you and your insurer.  As a result, if you accuse the investigator of acting improperly with no evidence to support your accusation, neither the investigator or your insurer is going to feel inclined to help you in any way.  Not many people know this but, whenever a claim arises, the policyholder can hire their own engineer, appraiser, adjuster, attorney and anyone else they need to help prove their claim.  However, professional help does cost which is why insurers are seldom opposed in the claims process.  So, when you are faced with talking to an engineer, adjuster, appraiser or anyone else hired by and insurance company, be as polite and honest as you can be.  If you disagree with something, you can ask questions but, don’t insult or accuse the inverstigator of taking a “kickback”.  Instead, the time for an appeal ccomes after the initital decision is made by the insurer.  After that, appeals can be made directly to the insurer.  If there is  no satisfaction, then file a complaint with your state consumers affairs department or the office that regulates insurance companies.

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