Attorney at Law Article on Skipton and Associates, Inc.
Setting New Standards for Public Adjusting
By Jackson Williams
Your business, which you spent the last several years building from the ground up, has just gone up in smoke. Standing there watching the firefighters smother the last square foot of fire in your offices; you make the phone call to the insurance company.
In that moment, you can’t imagine things getting worse, and then the insurance adjuster arrives.
This adjuster is faced with balancing the financial interests of the insurance company whom he represents with those of the policyholder. In the end, though, he is paid to protect the interests of the insurance company, not the policyholders. Enter Skipton & Associates, Inc.
Just as lawyers and accountants are hired for their knowledge and experience in their respective disciplines, Skipton & Associates, Inc. is hired because of their training and experience in handling complex commercial and residential insurance claims.
“Hiring us to manage a claim is the same as retaining an attorney for litigation or a CPA to handle a tax audit – it saves everyone time and always results in better and faster resolution,” said owner and founder David Skipton. Over the years, his firm has averaged an increase of more than 300 percent over the insurance companies’ initial settlement offer.
OUR BUSINESS IS A BUSINESS OF EDUCATION
Prior to 1990, insurance companies paid out 70 cents of every policy premium dollar for claims. In the early 1990s, some insurance companies brought in consulting firms to study their business model, and after their business evaluation, it was determined that they would be more successful if they paid out less in claims. And thus, the “delay, deny, defend” mantra was born.
In 2012, claims payments from policy premiums were down to between 40-50 cents of every premium dollar and it seems to only be getting worse.
“Ignorance of the industry’s increased focus on profits at the expense of the claimant is one of the biggest problems we face with new clients,” Skipton said. Not knowing any better, consumers often accept the initial offer from the insurance company or accept a denial of coverage from the insurance company as just fact and move on. The alternative is to retain the experts at Skipton & Associates, who for more than two decades have built a track record of substantially increasing these initial claim payments and turning coverage denials into paid claims.
The stress and heart ache over a loss to a business or your home is devastating. When coupled with a fight over insurance claims; it can lead to ruin.
THE SKIPTON APPROACH
“We are different than most public adjusters because of our education and our experience in complex commercial claims,” Skipton said. “We market our services as ‘professional claims management’ to distinguish us from the pack of poorly trained and less-qualified adjusters and to emphasize our focus on managing claims for commercial property owners. Getting a public adjuster’s license is far too easy, which allows unqualified people easy entry into the consumer claims market.”
“Commercial claims are far more complicated to adjust, as the policies are much more complex, many of them exceeding 200 pages,” Skipton said. “My mentor taught me how to handle large commercial claims and how to manage the claim as well as the business of bad faith lawsuits. He often suggested that achieving a good claim settlement was like playing a game of chess. We beat the opponent by thinking several moves ahead.”
By working alongside his mentor and experiencing the challenges of launching a business, Skipton gained invaluable firsthand experience in the field. “Victor was without a doubt the best adjuster I’ve ever known” Skipton said. “He was a national litigation manager with an extensive knowledge of the legal aspects of claims and a vast knowledge of construction. Victor taught me how to do legal research on coverage issues and how to apply this knowledge to our client’s claims.”
David Skipton’s mentor was extremely legal-minded. He considered the legal battle that a claim may develop into from the beginning and prepared for it from day one. This approach was engrained in his mentee. Skipton and his team now approach each claim with the thought that it may need to go to court, so they work diligently to dot each “I” and cross each “T.”
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Successfully managing commercial claims is not an easy process. A large claim from a business can involve enormous amounts of time, money and a complex set of policy provisions to navigate. It truly takes an expert to traverse the complexities of a large commercial claim.
Skipton attributed a lot of his team’s success to their focus on formal insurance industry education.
“We insist that everyone in the company, from management to the receptionist, be enrolled in continuing education coursework. We also make continuing education mandatory for employees who wish to qualify for the company’s year-end bonuses,” Skipton said.
For Skipton, knowledge is imperative – the factor that will set his team apart from other firms in the industry. He believes that to provide superlative service to his clients, everyone in the company must have a firm knowledge of what they are doing.
Another differentiator is that most other companies use contractors to prepare their claim evaluations. Skipton, on the other hand, employs a staff of experts, empowering the company to generate their own expert claim evaluations.
“My staff includes an engineer; a construction consultant; a roofing consultant; an accountant; and an insurance coverages expert – we’re a one stop shop,” Skipton said. In fact, this was a goal he had in mind when he launched the company to cater to the needs of the large multi-property ownership groups and property management companies.
With each case, the Skipton team is able to bring the individual expertise of all their employees to the table to fight for their clients. They are not only able to properly assess the situation; they’re able to back up their findings with extreme detail and the knowledge of a true expert.
“I have worked with Dave Skipton for approximately 10 years, on a great many insurance claims and lawsuits arising out of such claims,” said Michael Poli of Poli & Ball, P.L.C. “He brings to the table an enormous base of knowledge about insurance law and practices. He is also the equivalent of a general contractor, which is essential for Dave’s handling of property insurance claims. Further, for those insurance claims that end up in litigation, Dave truly understands the litigation process, which is enormously helpful to both his client and his client’s attorney.”
THE BEST POLICY – HONESTY
Knowing that honesty and fairness are as important as ability, Skipton demands impeccable professionalism from every member of his staff. He encourages his team to work hard to get clients full payment while still being honest and fair.
With his clients, the team discusses their fees upfront, agreeing on a contingency fee before beginning work. While the fee varies depending on the complexity of the claim, no out-of-pocket expenses are ever required. Instead, the fee is a small percentage of the final claim settlement.
Recognizing the needs that each claim places upon the firm, the Skipton team only contracts with a select number of claims. “Rather than accept mediocre results on many claims, I prefer that my team’s abilities be put to use to achieve extraordinary results on a few,” Skipton said.
While working with the insurance company and their representatives, Skipton’s policy is utmost professionalism. “We treat the insurer’s adjuster with respect and we never exaggerate the damages,” Skipton said. “We strive to detail everything thoroughly. It is our goal to provide a competent and well documented claim to make it as easy as possible for the insurance company to simply pay the claim promptly and fairly.”
“We’ve found that by representing our client’s interests in a professional manner, we don’t have to make their claim situation a contentious affair,” Skipton continued. “Often, courteous communications can lead to respect and a fast and fair claim recovery.”
While adjusting insurance claims, especially expensive claims, may not make Skipton many friends in the insurance world, his honesty and competence has earned him respect.
“I know most of the people in the insurance world,” Skipton said. “I may not be well-liked by many defense attorneys, but I know I am pretty well-respected by many of them. In fact, I’ve even had several claims referred to me by defense attorneys in the past.”
While the Skipton team seeks to bring all cases to a close as efficiently as possible, they know that some cases need to be litigated. In these circumstances, Skipton’s expertise and reputation have led him to testify as an expert.
“I work with attorneys in Arizona and many around the country,” Skipton said. “I’m involved in a lot of aspects of litigation that most claims adjusters do not understand and I’ve worked as a damages expert on dozens of cases including a recent claim for the city attorney for the city of Prescott, Ariz. Over the years, my firm has handled hundreds of expert files as damages experts on various types of insurance claims.”
Because of Skipton’s experience with litigation, he effectively uses case law and legal preparations from the beginning. He is able to effectively communicate to the insurance company how much they should be paying, detail out how he came to that number and cite authority that supports his findings. It is these well-prepared claims that lead to quick resolutions.
“Because of Dave’s experience with adjusting and expert witness work, his knowledge of case law and statutes, and because of his passion and energy, he knows what’s fair and he knows how to get it for his clients,” said Daniel Treon of Treon & Shook, P.L.L.C.
“We handle each claim as if it is going to litigation. A well-documented claim file is usually one that gets paid rather than litigated,” Skipton said. “If it does turn into a legal fight, then the team is prepared. We can give everything to an attorney in a nice, neat package.”
A FAMILY BUSINESS – PASSING THE TORCH
Skipton & Associates now boasts of seven offices nationally. They are also licensed in 21 states with others to be added soon. Despite the company’s size and credentials, it is still a family business. “My two sons, Justin and Jeremy, work for me,” he said. “I think people like the fact that we have that family connection.”
“At my age, I would probably be slowing down in my career,” Skipton said. “But knowing that I’m building a future for my boys pushes me to work even harder. It’s really rewarding to have something this important to share together.”
While his sons’ presence motivates Skipton to be better, working with family presents its own challenges. Leaving work at the office becomes more complicated. “We do try to shut off the business talk during the holidays and weekends, so we can just enjoy each other’s company,” Skipton said. “But it can be hard because we are all so vested in our futures together.”
Since the early ‘90s, Skipton sought to build a premier commercial claim adjusting company. Looking back, he can see the growth and the accomplishments he has achieved. Looking toward the future, he is excited to build on his family business successes – encouraging his sons to take on the mantle of professionalism and knowledge.
“David Skipton is an exemplary public adjuster with a rare combination of intelligence, experience and knowledge,” said Francis Doherty of Law Office of Francis X. Doherty. “However, even more importantly, he has the full participation of Justin and Jeremy Skipton, his two sons, who have similar skills, intelligence, and growing experience, and they share his moral commitment to their clients.”
Skipton & Associates, Inc. is following the lead of the world’s great franchises by systemizing the companies claims operations and implementing strategies to hold each adjuster and staff assistant accountable for their claims functions. Each operation has been broken down into a series of steps in the company’s operations manual. It is Skipton’s belief that by systemizing their processes, establishing procedures and requiring accountability, they can duplicate their success in other markets and guarantee consistent results for all of their customers.
“We’re on a path to make this company the predominant claim adjustment company in the country,” Skipton said. “We’re doing a lot of things differently here at Skipton, and there’s a huge potential market out there for our services.”