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Design Professionals are a Must When it Comes to Insurance Claims

As engineers, we get called in to assist with insurance claims for damage due to water, snow, wind, fire, problematic soils and other areas of distress in buildings and other structures. At DEI we have been contacted by owners, insurance companies, adjusters, remediation contractors and general contractors on a variety of cases.

Today I was called by a potential client looking for help with his apartment complex where six units have been damaged by fire. The caller explained that the assigned insurance adjuster had determined that four units need to be completely rebuilt and two units have partial damage from fire. Many owners will take an adjuster's recommendation at face value, but a licensed design professional is really needed to complete a site visit and decide what portion of the building remains structurally sound and what needs to be re-built. In a fire, there are damages that cannot always be revealed through visual observation. Not to mention that the existing structure may not meet current code requirements and may need to be upgraded. In this case, the reality is that it makes sense to demolish the entire six units and re-build them to current codes.

An adjuster is working for an insurance company and, in most cases, does not have the qualifications to make determinations as to what needs to be done once damage has occurred. That is not to say the adjuster will not try to do the best he or she can for their client. Ideally, a design professional should be brought in to evaluate the structure and create construction documents that can be bid on by reputable contractors, thus allowing the owner to obtain estimates for any required repairs. This also ensures that the owner can make sure the insurance company has the required information to determine the true costs of replacement. The owner has paid good money to their insurance company and deserves to get the best coverage for the money they have invested.

The reason to hire an engineer or other design professional is that we are bound by our professional ethics to do what is necessary to meet current code requirements. We are obliged to give the client the facts without regard to costs. This does not mean we cannot try to save money and create an efficient rebuild, but ultimately we have to meet the code requirements.

If you are an owner and have a claim for damage to a structure, please require your insurance company to pay for a design professional to evaluate your claim and make sure you are getting the coverage you have paid for.

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