Adjuster Story: Life on Cat Duty

December 16, 2020

by Rich Jewett

It’s morning, but heating up fast as I thread my way through construction on Route 192, then make the long haul down to Fort Pierce for my first appointment. As soon as I pull up to the driveway, I take one look at the roof and know it’s totaled, and don’t give it a second thought. The homeowner is a soft-spoken black man who shows me around, lets me measure out the roof, inspect some interior water damage (which isn’t much, considering the condition of the roof), and damage to the screens and such. As I get ready to leave, I casually mention something about figuring up the cost for a new roof, and the man almost breaks down.

“You mean you’re going to get me a new roof?”

I’m taken off guard for a moment. “Well, yeah,” I say. “There’s no way to fix a mess like that.” I’d thought it was so obvious that it hadn’t occurred to me to say anything about it.

But the homeowner is almost overwhelmed with relief. “Oh, God bless you!” he says. “God bless you!”

Then I get it. Here I am, a white guy representing a huge corporation, and he’s an elderly black man who’s probably had more insults and indignities thrown at him over his lifetime than I can ever imagine. He’s been expecting to get screwed over just like he always has.

My next appointment is with a young guy down in Port St. Lucie who has had to move out because of the stink in his house. The carpet is soaked throughout the front rooms, but there’s no ceiling damage and very little roof damage. Water had built up in the flower beds along the front of the house and seeped in between the concrete pad and the bottom plate of the front wall. That’s groundwater, that’s flood, and it’s not covered.

Yes, it came from the sky, and yes, it came from the hurricane, but if it’s on the ground, it’s flood. It’s defined that way in the first section of the policy, and that’s what counts. This is the first time I’ve encountered this sort of thing with this storm, but I’m sure it won’t be the last, and he’s not happy. The carpet and pad are festering, but it’s not covered. He doesn’t have flood insurance, and even if he did there was no general condition of flooding so it wouldn’t have been covered anyway. The water would have had to cover two or more properties or at least two acres. Besides, this loss would be below his flood deductible if he had one.

Next, I’m back up to Fairways in the northwest for a mobile home with minimal damages, then all the way back down to southeast Timbuktu – Port St. Lucie actually – to a sprawling mansion with a collapsed screen enclosure. Screen enclosures are another Florida phenomenon. Because of the bug population down here, most people have their swimming pools (and there are a lot of swimming pools) surrounded by an enclosure of aluminum framing and screening. Typically, the screens get torn up by flying debris, but over here on the east side of US 1 the wind was a good deal stronger, and this thing has come completely asunder – asunder as in collapsed like a house of cards. Fortunately, they have photos of what it used to look like so I can wager a pretty good guess at what it’s going to take to rebuild it. That’s one of the challenges we sometimes have: trying to estimate what it’s going to take to replace something that now looks like London after the Blitz.

The challenge for a homeowner is that roofers are by now in short supply, so much so that you can’t get them to answer their phones because they’re backlogged into next year. The damages from Charley over on the Gulf Coast have already drawn most of the contractors in the state, and the out-of-state contractors have only just started pulling into town, bringing with them a batch of fly-by-night storm chasers who descend on disasters like crows on roadkill. But while you can find roofers from all over the country, screen enclosure contractors are like hens’ teeth outside of Florida. That means that in no time flat, screen enclosure prices are going to go right through the ceiling, just you wait.

Excerpted from Four Storms: True Confessions of an Insurance Adjuster by Rich Jewett