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💔 Are You OK? The Silent Burden of Property Insurance Claims

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

“Eventually, we lose a certain spark of optimism, humor and hope. We tire. We aren’t sick, but we aren’t ourselves.”

⚠️ Trigger warning

  1. Death, suicide, and violence are mentioned in brief detail, in relation to property insurance claims

  2. Images of heavily-damaged homes and personal property

Table of Contents


An Introduction

“We feel the feelings of our clients. We experience their fears. We dream their dreams. Eventually, we lose a certain spark of optimism, humor and hope. We tire. We aren’t sick, but we aren’t ourselves.” – C. Figley, 1995

“I wasn't prepared, for that.

I routinely see a certain level of property loss and destruction in my work as a public insurance adjuster, and in my volunteering for policyholder advocacy. Thankfully, I have formal training in compassion management, from my time in non-profit crisis outreach. However, even with my years of formal training, experience, and exposure to extreme situations and emotional losses, nothing prepared me for the photo, below.

If you regularly read or watch the news, you'll likely have seen hundreds of disaster photos like this over the years:

Photo of a home damaged by a hurricane.
© Photo by Doug Quinn. Hurricane damage in Louisiana, 2021

But you may not have seen one quite like this.

Look at the picture again, focusing on the left of the home.

You may not have noticed this before, but there is an elderly gentleman standing in the corner.

Doug Quinn, director of the United Survivor Disaster Relief, and the American Policyholder Association, took this photo while on deployment for disaster victim outreach with long-time partner and fellow disaster victim and policyholder advocate, Heather Shapter, in late 2021:

“Took this picture down the bayou. House is elevated for a flood, but that doesn’t help for wind. Two walls and all their belonings are gone. We saw many houses like this, some even worse. I didn’t realize until looking at the picture last night that there was an actual person in the house standing on the left side. I don’t notice him because he was frozen in place. This elderly man is probably in shock. Looking at what’s left of his house & belongings, trying to grasp what happened & how does he possibly move forward from here? I know this feeling well, I’ve been there. But it’s different for seniors… Young people can lose everything & shrug it off knowing that they have the rest of their life to get it all back again. What do you do when you’re 70 & don’t have decades of income producing years ahead of you to recover? What do you do when everything you’ve spent your life accumulating vanishes in the wind…your pictures, sentimental keepsakes, family heirlooms? All gone.”

Update, 11/1/22: Read more about Doug and Heather's nonprofit disaster victim outreach.

Imagine how this could affect you if you were exposed to this, regularly, and weren't even aware of the possible psychological effects!

Even if you are not a first party property insurance professional, you likely have experienced something similar, just having gone through the tumultuous, worldwide events of the last three years, triggered by COVID-19.

If you are not familiar with the property insurance industry, here are just a few examples of common losses and stressors that insurance adjusters, contractors, and other professionals may encounter:

  • It is common in large or catastrophic residential fire losses for beloved family pets to perish, and in some cases, there is loss of human life In the case of pets that didn’t make it out with the family, you will almost always see the outline of the family's pet (usually a dog or cat) on the floor or carpet. Individuals that are 85 and older are at most risk of fire death, and are the most common demographic of fire death victims that I’ve seen in my work, although I have encountered fire deaths involving small children.

  • Biohazards within property claims Every day, there are professionals that cleanup and mitigate, or visually document and adjust property damage claims involving natural death, suicide, or other violence or accidents, that resulted in loss of life for humans and/or animals. Further details of which, I will spare you of.

  • Insurance company staff and independent adjusters may experience an overload of assigned claims and policyholder clients The claims department is a service department. While a positive claim experience can certainly contribute to policyholder retention and referrals, it does not directly make an insurance company any money. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, insurers were looking to modernize their claims processes to save on operating costs through automation and digitization, and many lar