In light of what appears to be an overwhelming number of crop insurance denials the past few years, I decided information about the arbitration process might be helpful. Your crop insurance policy requires that any disputes about a denial be handled through mediation or arbitration. In our experience, arbitration is the better route.
If your claims are denied you will receive a denial letter from your insurance company, unless you have signed off on the adjuster’s worksheets agreeing to the amount the company is agreeing to pay. Do not sign off on the adjuster’s sheet if you disagree with the acreage they are approving. This denial letter triggers your right to arbitration. You must make a written demand for arbitration within one year from receipt of the denial letter. The rules of the American Arbitration Association must be followed in the arbitration.
After you have filed your demand for arbitration, you or your attorney and the insurance company will agree on an arbitrator. The next step is usually a pre-hearing conference to schedule the arbitration hearing and set time deadlines for exchanging documents and witness lists.
The insurance company will typically conduct an examination under oath of the insured farmer. This takes place before a court reporter and allows the crop insurance company’s attorney to question the farmer under oath. Generally the farmer has the right to conduct depositions as well. Those depositions, in which your attorney will ask the questions, might be of the crop adjuster or potential witnesses.
The actual arbitration hearing is usually held in a conference room chosen by the parties. The insurance company’s representative, the insured farmer, and their attorneys will be present along with the arbitrator and possibly a court reporter. The farmer’s case is put on first, through questioning by the farmer’s attorney and presentation of written evidence. The farmer might also have other witnesses, such as adjusters and possibly experts in particular fields, testify on his behalf. Any witness will then be cross-examined by the other side’s attorney. Following presentation of the farmer’s case, the insurance company will put on its case in a similar manner. The farmer will have a chance to offer additional witness testimony and documents in order to rebut the evidence submitted by the insurance company.
Either at the end of the hearing or later in writing, each party will submit a closing argument or a post-hearing brief, summarizing the evidence and making legal arguments. The arbitrator has 30 days to issue a decision. There are limited circumstances under which an adverse decision from an arbitrator can be appealed through court.
Although a farmer is not required to hire an attorney in order to arbitrate a claim, it is strongly recommended. Insurance companies will almost always be represented by an attorney in the arbitration. Because of the myriad rules, regulations, statutes, as well as the procedural requirements of arbitrating a claim, in almost all situations a farmer will be better served by being represented by an attorney in arbitration.
Finally, if you believe you may end up with a crop insurance claim, it is very important to document the conditions, take pictures of fields, and otherwise preserve evidence that can be very important in successfully arbitrating a crop insurance claim. In prevent plant cases, much of the data needed can be found in precipitation records, your acreage reports, and FSA maps. However, if you have made notes or records of any kind showing the days you were out doing filed work or planting, the weather conditions, etc. please do not destroy them. They will help your case.
(Posted by Derrick Braaten)