It happens everyday -- a friendly, seemingly helpful insurance adjuster assures the victim of a tragedy that he is there to help them and that he can be trusted to move their claim as quickly as possible. All too often, what happens is similar to what happened to Brenda of Plano, Texas.

The lesson? Never give evidence to an adjuster or make any kind of tape-recorded or written statement to an adjuster until you have retained an experienced trial lawyer. You may think there's plenty of time to hire lawyers if things go wrong later, but as Brenda learned, things can go very wrong, very fast.

Brenda of Plano TX writes (9/10/02):
In August of last year I was at the hospital with my dad. He was in critical condition. I received a call that my house was on fire. My brother rushed me home. My house was damaged so bad that we could not save anything. I had lived there 30 years. I lost all my babies' pictures, diplomas, items that cannot be replaced. The fire marshall told me I needed to contact the cable company because the fire seemed to start at my cable box.

We contacted the office in Plano, Texas. They sent an adjuster out to our house. He told us that they were going to fix our house and replace what we lost. He told me he needed the cable box, which was all melted down to nothing, plus all of our pictures we had taken to show the damage. I trusted him because he was so nice. He even told our little boy that he was going to replace his tv and Playstation that burned. He told us to get a couple of estimates on the house and to make a list of all that we lost.

In two weeks he called us and told us to screw off. He had our evidence. I hired an attorney. I don't know what happened but they had a hearing to drop our case for lack of evidence. We were not told about this hearing from our lawyers. When I called him he said, "I'm sorry, I thought I sent you a letter," and laughed.

He knows that the cable box they produced was not my cable box. It had all new wires on it and was hardly damaged.

There was nothing left in my room but a Bible. My cable box was just a ball of melted plastic. I think they paid off my lawyer. I have plenty of witnesses that saw what my box looked like. They said they did not get my pictures, but they did. The judge granted them permission to drop my case for lack of evidence, BUT THEY HAD MY EVIDENCE.

What if this happens to someone else and they burn up? It is not right that they are getting away with this. I have nothing left. I don't know what to do now.

I did not have the money to fix my house, I have lived with different relatives. My little boy had to go through counseling at school. He lost all his clothes and toys. We had nothing left. I have been going to doctors with blood pressure 220/130 due to stress. Sometimes I just feel like ending it all, because I have lost 30 years of my life.

Now I will probably lose my home, because I cant afford to fix it anyway. I pray to god every night that someone will help me.

This is a terrible story. Brenda needs to find another lawyer -- preferably a well-known trial lawyer who is experienced at fighting big companies. But it will be an uphill battle and she is in a state that is not consumer-friendly so we're not optimistic that this story will have a happy ending.