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Published December 10, 2012, 10:30 AM

Crop insurance arbitration

Your crop insurance policy requires that disputes about a denial be handled through mediation or arbitration. In our experience, arbitration is the better route.

By: Derrick Braaten, Agweek

BISMARCK, N.D. — In light of what appears to be an overwhelming number of crop insurance denials this year, I decided information about the arbitration process might be helpful. Your crop insurance policy requires that 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 the adjuster is approving. This denial letter triggers your right to arbitration. You must make a written demand for arbitration within one year of 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, 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 or her behalf. Any witness will then be cross-examined by the other side’s attorney. After presenting the farmer’s case, the insurance company will lay out its case in a similar manner.

The farmer will have a chance to offer additional witness testimony and documents 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 to arbitrate a claim, it is strongly recommended. Insurance companies will be represented by an attorney in the arbitration. Because of the myriad of rules, regulations, statutes, as well as the procedural requirements of arbitrating a claim, a farmer will be better served in almost all situations by being represented by an attorney in arbitration.

Finally, if you think you may end up with a crop insurance claim, it is important to document the conditions, take pictures of fields and otherwise preserve evidence that can be 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 Farm Service Agency maps.

However, if you have made notes or records of any kind showing the days you were out doing field work or planting, the weather conditions, etc., do not destroy them. They will help your case.