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Bills aim to help homeowners navigate insurance

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The Senate Commerce Committee on Monday released a pair of bills aimed at protecting homeowners both before and after natural disasters.

Both bills were sponsored by committee chair Sen. Nia H. Gill (D-Montclair).

The first, S-2502, requires insurers to provide policy holders with a one-page summary of their coverage, to help ensure the customer understands what’s covered and what is not.

The second bill, S-2472, would cap the fees public adjusters could charge at 12.5 percent of the client’s insurance settlement — a number believed to be about the national average. Public adjusters can be hired by homeowners or businesses to assist in the insurance claims process. In a press release, Gill’s office said after Hurricane Sandy, some adjusters were charging fees of up to 50 percent of a homeowner’s settlement.

Other states, including New York, already have similar caps.

In her press release, Gill said many homeowners were frustrated when they attempted to file insurance claims for Sandy-related flood damages.

“In some instances, homeowners learned their policy did not include flood insurance, and therefore, could not receive compensation from their insurer,” Gill said. “In other instances, homeowners who sought public adjusters to help with the claims process said they were asked to pay hefty fees for the service — some up to five times the fee typically charged, according to information from the state Department of Banking and Insurance.”

Gill’s fee cap drew concern from some industry representatives at Monday’s hearing.

Gene Veno, president and CEO of the American Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, said the cap could have unintended consequences.

“As well-intentioned as a cap or fee may be, sometimes a cap may be so small — in this case, I’m hearing 12.5 percent — as to not be economically sufficient for the public adjuster to take on the case,” Veno said. 

He said public adjusters can be a major comfort to homeowners navigating the often-confusing insurance claims process, but he said the bill would mean help won’t be available to homeowners or business owners with relatively small claims.

Veno said the industry does a good job of self-regulating when it comes to fees.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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