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Burnt car

"Our job," says Large-Loss Property Damage Adjuster Dan Reed, "is to help people make sense of the situation and put their lives back together." In this article from our series Order Out of Chaos, Dan reminds us that our work matters to God.

It’s hurricane season, the time when you might get cheaper rates on a trip to Florida. But until last week, there was no reason for discounts. Even the first threat, Humberto, died without making landfall.

That means no disasters (yet).

For Dan Reed, a Large-Loss Property Damage Adjuster, "no disasters" is an odd combination of good and bad news. The bad news—so to speak—is that Dan won’t make extra money while deployed somewhere helping people work though a catastrophe; money he puts toward his family and community. But gaining from others’ loss isn’t why he does what he does.

"A veteran claim manager once told me that being a claim adjuster is a noble profession. Our job is to help people make sense of the situation and put their lives back together."

[See the order-out-of-chaos intro here.]

"Throughout the claim process, especially after a life-altering fire, people just want a listening ear and someone to tell them it’s all going to be okay. That’s really what it comes down to."

From small claims in rural America where chickens roam through the house, to month-long hotel stays where every waking hour consists of processing wreckage in New Jersey or Oklahoma, Dan has stories to tell.

"The worse situation, emotionally," he told me, "was a wind claim in Houston. I was deployed there for several weeks in September 2008 in the wake of Hurricane Ike. The policyholder was 50 years old and I quickly became aware that he was battling more than a leaky roof. For some reason, folks seem inclined to tell me in great detail about their physical ailments when I’m at their house. This man, however, was different. His home had been substantially damaged and his shed and most of its contents were also gone. But he didn’t seem the least bit concerned that there was a gaping hole in his roof, or that in the 100-degree heat, the water that had leaked in would quickly result in mold.

He had just been diagnosed with cancer. In fact, the doctor said he would not likely live past Christmas, which was only three months away.

I sat on the porch in the sweltering heat and talked with him for over an hour. We talked about life and work and raising a family and faith. Then I left him a substantial check to repair his home. I remember driving away thinking how meaningless this all must feel to him. I called several months later and was told that he had passed. The home got fixed and his wife pressed on.

I’m not sure if this man knew Jesus, but I know I was meant to be there."


Dan, you’re like a pastor to the grieving. But you do hundreds of claims. You can’t get this involved with all of them, can you?

After handling more losses than I can recall, I’ve actually become quite desensitized. When I meet a grieving policyholder at the site of where their home once stood, what they are seeing and feeling and smelling (you never forget the odor of a fire-ravaged building) is what I experience on a weekly basis. The harshness of life. I often need to check myself and put on their shoes.

Sorry if this is overly obvious. Why do people get emotional over their loss?

We’re tied to our house and our stuff. When something disrupts functionality or causes damage to our conveniences, we become a little anxious, to say the least. Add that we live in a society that expects immediate response and immediate results, and things can get intense.

I imagine the work wears on you?

I’ve been around grizzled adjusters who treat each claim as an annoyance and suspect every policyholder of somehow conspiring to commit fraud. This only causes more frustration and headaches. But every adjuster has those certain memories that will remain for life, mostly because the policyholder was a wretch to deal with.

You say "wretch" so objectively, like, "No hard feelings here."

With all seriousness, I’m certain that the Lord ordains every claim I receive. It’s my job to exhibit his likeness—wherever I‘m assigned.

That’s honorable, Dan. Judging by the scale of damage you often confront, I think I’d be overwhelmed by how to process a claim for someone. How much of it is your personality and how much of it is just part of the job?

Personality and temperament play a significant role in the effectiveness of my efforts. As a claim adjuster, it’s critical to be detail-oriented and to be able to prioritize and re-establish order out of a messy, often chaotic situation.

See? Even that response shows a difference between the two of us! So clean and orderly…probably an indication of the kind of service you provide.

Unfortunately, adjusting property damage claims is anything but clean and orderly. There’s a saying I’ve heard a lot in my field: "Do the right things for the right reasons." This nugget can be applied to just about every situation in life.

What advice would you give to young professionals about chaos, order, and their own line of work?

Be mindful of who you are working for and why. Colossians 3:23 states that whatever we do, we are to work at it with our whole selves—not for others, but for God. Regardless of your profession, there will always be uncertainty, unrealistic expectations, spikes in work volume, challenging co-workers and managers, and sudden change. Your ability to adapt and remain confident will be crucial in remaining successful.

Anything else?

One last thing, because I run in to this a lot in the insurance business. Be perceptive of areas where you may be tempted to cut corners either to get the deal done or to satisfy pushy customers. You’ll earn respect from them and from your peers when you remain above reproach.

I hope I never need your services, Dan. Well, you know what I mean. If I do, I hope it’s you. Thanks for your time today.

Policyholders say it (jokingly) all the time as I leave their home: "I hope I never see you again!" You’re welcome.


Order out of Chaos links:

Image by Thomas Hawk. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.