News of hurricanes always brings to mind the many safety concerns for both new and experienced catastrophe adjusters. There are many precautions adjusters need to take for protection of income due such as serious consideration of independent contracts talked about here, personal protection against lawsuits via proper insurance talked about here when we discussed Errors and Omissions coverage, medical safety for your health such as obtaining the proper shots before entering flood zones, (here is a link to many other health safety concerns by CDC you should read )but nothing compares to the safety concerns for your life by being ever prepared and cognizant of your surroundings when out in the field working losses alone.
This sad reminder in the Tampa, FL news about a tribute today for insurance adjuster, Katie Froeschle in Tampa, FL reminds us of the horrific events in 2004 when Katie was murdered while inspecting a loss. While I did not know Katie, we do know an adjuster who did work with Katie. He recalls her calling into their carrier office when she could not find the insured’s home and that is the last they heard of her. He says there is NOTHING she could have done differently. The home was tenant occupied. This article from 7/4/07 says Forensic Files ran a story on Katie this past summer. The details in this article indicate she was beaten over the head with a motorcycle muffler pipe and her partially clothed body was dumped in the Hillsborough river. The tenant was arrested and is serving life in prison. Here are some additional stories I could locate on this horror story here and here providing more details about the arrest and the perpetrator. Katie apparently was an adjuster at Florida Farm Bureau and only 25 years young. A very bright promising upcoming adjuster and individual based on all stories in these accounts.
Carriers have policies for both staff and independent adjuster’s as do adjusting firms in Code of Conduct forms which include company policies on carrying and the use of weapons. Here are a few examples we could locate on the web. The first from Citizens of FL found here on page 36 provision 5.4 states an adjuster may not carry any type of weapon on Citizens property or a Citizens policyholder’s property. Here is another example from one of the Scruggs group evidence exhibits on E.A.Renfroe’s (an independent adjusting firm) code of conduct form on page 4 specifying it applies to “firearms and other weapons” on their property, clients or their customers or while conducting their firms’ business”. Here is one other carrier’s code of conduct form found in some Worley IDL preparation documents online here which basically says you can’t carry firearms or other weapons on their property or while conducting their business (see page 6 under workplace safety). None of these forms we’ve located online to share define “other weapons” or expand on what “while conducting their business “means. I’ve seen many independent adjusting firm documents that are similar while some are silent altogether on the issue but the carrier code of conduct form would apply if the adjuster has signed on atleast from the carrier standpoint. This is an important issue I would not think any adjusting firm would be silent on.
Adjusters in the forums are concerned about these weapon requirements when they are sent into some very bad neighborhoods in cities nationwide. One senior adjuster states it best saying “I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6 ” if he had to shoot. Others argue that by a carrier or adjusting firm not allowing them to protect themselves that they are creating an unsafe work environment and they will “shoot first and ask about the code later”. I can’t advise you here but suggest you clear the air on this BEFORE it’s necessary with your firms.
Here is a summary of mentor advice compiled from input of several senior adjusters on ClaimSmentor we hope you will view to help protect yourself from those who have been there:
USE YOUR WITS
Have someone local mark a local map with unsafe neighborhoods so you aren’t in one unexpectedly
If you have a bad area assigned to you, get in and get out early
Find out from local utility firms when is the best time to be in the neighborhood
Ask the insured to have their contractor present for the inspection in bad neighborhoods so you are not out there alone
Suggestions are made you call the insured on your cellphone and let them know you are out front so they come to the front door so you aren’t out in the neighborhood alone
Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you
Don’t enter unsafe neighborhoods with a low tank of gas or any vehicle maintenance issues in the rush of getting your job done and forgetting to stop and take care of transportation safety issues
Don’t put yourself in a corner when so caught up in inspections and measuring that you can’t see what people behind you are doing
Listen to your gut and leave if you are uncomfortable
Never deny a claim while on a roof
Do not deny a claim during a heated argument with an insured in the field
Always have your cellphone accessible- don’t leave it out in your car
Always have your manager’s number programmed into your cellphone as well as the number of an insurance adjuster buddy that you partner up with to exchange daily agendas
Always carry pepper spray, mace, other protection (what would firms say? Ask!)
Hire an assistant to travel with you and to stay on a lookout in bad neighborhoods while you are inspecting
Turn claims in if you just can’t deal with the situation because you find it unsafe
If you have draft authority and it’s a dangerous denial situation- remember- you can stop payment on the payment AFTER you get to safety- do not argue when endangered and report to claim manager immediately (good discussion topic at an induction center if your running a mobile response unit or other facility with payment issuance capability)
Leave an itinerary with a co-worker or manager with atleast claim numbers for appointments for that day so someone knows where to begin to find you if there is a problem
These suggestions are just tips of the iceburg. We hope you will make sure to take the time to read the carrier and adjusting firm code of conduct forms as you need to know their position on all forms of behavior and their weapon policies but your life is of the utmost importance. Clear these issues up before you go out, use your wits and talk to your managers if you are experiencing any safety issues in the field. They will not expect you to work under unsafe conditions.
We hope many more of you will add your comments to this topic to help prevent the loss of life for any more of your fellow adjusters. We wish Katie’s Family the best on their fund raiser today. There is contact information in the news article about this should anyone wish to contribute in Katie’s honor.
We just learned that Forensic Files is running this story again according to their schedule on 9/22/07 at 6:30 pm ET “Muffled Cries”. Here is a link to their schedule. Roy Cupps, owner of CADO, has posted this link to a 2004 forum discussion on this murder which you can access here. We have notified Tampa10 who ran the fundraiser notice this past week that we have distributed information about the fundraiser to all 735 members of ClaimSmentor via mass distribution email, we have posted this in our forums on ClaimSmentor, on this blog, and a new forum entry on CADO forums here trying to pass on information about the need for safety precautions and about their fundraiser in hopes they will let Katie’s family know they are in the thoughts and prayers of the adjusting community nationwide.