Jeff Grady is president of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, Tallahassee.

Posted September 6, 2011 on http://www.tcpalm.com the Internet site of Scripps-Howard Florida Treasure Coast newspapers

On Aug. 7, you published a piece written by a public adjuster named Pat Cuccaro. He provided a great deal of very good advice on hurricane preparedness and insurance coverage. However, in directing consumers to public adjusters and the websites of trade groups to which he and others subscribe, he omitted material facts about filing claims; facts your readers need to know.

First, since homeowners' insurance premiums already include payment for claim service and post-claim consultation, hiring a public adjuster results in paying "again." After a loss, one of the first things a policyholder can do is call his insurance agent. Many are "independent" and, while appointed by carriers, they hold licenses that include state-sanctioned authority to adjust claims and assist policyholders in receiving fair payment. Not only are they prohibited from charging additional sums for this service, their locally owned business and livelihood is based on customer satisfaction.

Next, the state of Florida provides very effective insurance claims assistance which can include a full mediation hearing often resulting in a higher payment if you and your insurer disagree on the amount. This assistance, as well as that generally provided by the state Insurance Consumer Advocates office has also already been paid for (via taxes) and is easily accessed by dialing 1-877-693-5236 (877-my-fl-cfo).

Finally, in very rare cases, the services of a qualified, duly licensed attorney may be sought. Attorney fees are usually recouped from the insurer and not subtracted from your claim payment.

Public adjuster fees, on the other hand, are taken directly from your claim payment and can be as high as one-fifth of the total you need to make repairs.

So, in essence, you pay three times — once to the insurance company who has contracted with the local agent (and sometimes an independent adjuster) to assist and service policyholders; once to the state of Florida for the Insurance Consumer Advocate and the consumer helpline, and then; again, when a public adjuster receives the claim check from the insurer and subtracts his or her fee before passing it on to you.

BOTTOM LINE: if you have a loss covered by an insurance policy, follow the required procedures in your policy. Call your insurance agent. Call the state consumer helpline. And, by all means, follow Mr. Cucarro's advice on protecting your property. But never sign away any portion of what you deserve until you first exhaust the options you've already paid for.