Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Claims

Since there still is skepticism about how drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, can be used in the field, let’s address some of the benefits.

By Matt Ouellette

Unmanned aerial vehicles—or “drones”—have become very popular in the last two years, and they are becoming more prevalent in claims handling. However, there still is skepticism by some regarding how drones can be used effectively in the field. Let’s address the benefits of drone use by insurers and claims professionals.

Property Inspections

Over the years, claims professionals have faced challenges in gaining access to the roof systems of large commercial properties in order to complete inspections for claimed wind, hail, or lightning strikes. Often they have to rely on the rental of a bucket lift for an inspection, which costs $1,000-$1,500 to rent and requires two claims professionals for the inspection: one to “spot” and one in the lift.

Claims professionals using a drone, however, can easily fly it over a property by themselves, capturing high-definition images from up to 400 feet to give an overview to within a foot, capturing close-up images of the roof system to determine if there is, in fact, a valid covered peril.

Many times when using a drone, a claims professional will find that there is no covered peril damage, but rather maintenance issues related to the roof system. While onsite, the claims professional can show the insured images during and after flight. This allows the insured to see firsthand what was captured in real time.

If a covered peril is found, the use of a drone can be a very beneficial tool. The need for an experienced claims professional is necessary; they must utilize “back to basics” claims adjusting through the use of appropriate estimating software, knowledge of the roof system captured in the images, cross-referencing the damages to satellite images, and reaching an agreed scope and estimate with the contractor of the insured’s choice.

General Liability/Casualty Usage

How many times have you arrived at a trucking loss to find that traffic is backed up for miles? Though claims professionals can get around some of the traffic with police assistance, they still are unable to gain access to the impact areas before the trucks and vehicles are pulled apart.

With a drone and permission from officers onsite, claims professionals oftentimes will be allowed to fly over the scene to take aerial images, capturing the vehicles involved prior to any movement of the vehicles. This allows impact points to be accurate.

Municipalities also are well served with aerial images of intersection claims when a party will claim defective roadway design or changes in the roadway. Aerial images can show the roadway design and any changes by using previous satellite images. This will not require an experienced claims professional to take proper statements in completing a full investigation.

The expense of having an independent insurance claims professional varies by firm, but often falls between $100-$300, plus the claims professional’s time. That means the insurance carrier could save, at minimum, $700-$1,200 in loss expenses.

Matt Ouellette is a general adjuster and owner at Ouellette & Associates, and he also serves as president of the National Association of Independent Insurance Adjusters (NAIIA). He has been a CLM Fellow since 2007 and can be reached,