This story appeared recently in Claims Journal indicating Farmers Insurance is beginning to use drones to inspect homeowners’ roof damage claims. Other companies are sure to follow (if they haven’t already). The idea appears to be that adjusters have been trained to fly drones over a policyholder’s house after a storm damage loss to determine whether the house has been damaged and the extent of any such damage. In theory, this would allow the adjuster to “see” the roof without being required to climb on top of the house to look. Before this new approach (and other aerial photography methods), adjusters would climb ladders and inspect roof damage to a policyholder’s home with their own two eyes. This same approach has traditionally been taken by roofing contractors who are hired to repair damaged roofs. Experienced adjusters and roofers can look at a roof and see damage from, for instance, hail stones striking the shingles. Using drones to do this work will undoubtedly change the game.
Certainly, insurance companies are like other businesses in that they are looking for ways to apply new technologies in an effort to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. The insurance industry has likely concluded that inspecting roofs with drones can be done more quickly and cheaply than the old way. In this context, using drones may also protect adjusters from climbing up ladders onto sometimes steep or slippery roofs. This may turn out to be especially useful in “catastrophe” situations where dozens or even hundreds of houses are damaged in the same storm event (like the tornadoes and major hail storms we have become all too familiar with here in Oklahoma).
Innovation in the insurance industry can be a good thing, as long as the insurance companies keep in mind their basic mission is to handle claims in good faith. Insurance companies must resist the temptation to implement technological “solutions” in a way to trim or cut fair claim payments to insureds. It will be interesting to see whether drones as the “eyes” of the adjuster lead to quicker, more accurate claim payments or whether the drone program leads to increased disputes between insurance companies, their policyholders and the roofing contractors hired to repair storm-damaged roofs. Ultimately, the duty of good faith applies to claim handling practices, whether the insurance company has decided to use technology to assist in adjusting the claim or not.