Beware of claims of no insurance help after Harvey
No matter the time of year, it is always trial lawyer season in Texas. But one particular type of trial lawyer — the storm chaser — is especially prevalent these days.
Never ones to pass up an opportunity to make a buck off their fellow Texans, storm-chasing lawyers have been swooping into Texas communities after hail storms and hurricanes for a decade, scamming property owners into filing lawsuits that will allow them to skim massive lawyers’ fees off the top.
These unnecessary lawsuits had nearly bankrupted the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) after Hurricane Ike, and more recently, have been causing private insurers to stop offering coverage or raise premiums and deductibles in parts of the state.
The Texas Legislature had no choice but to shut down this abusive and predatory activity. Imagine how catastrophic Hurricane Harvey would have been if TWIA and private insurance had been forced to abandon the Texas coast because of these trial lawyers’ tactics?
Not only do the common-sense bills passed by the Legislature in 2011, 2015 and 2017 protect Texans from lawyers trolling for clients, they also protect policyholders from bad insurance companies by preserving the strongest consumer protections in the nation.
That’s a win-win for Texans. But the storm-chasers are hopping mad the Legislature took away their easy money.
Case in point: you may have recently seen an opinion piece in this newspaper from Texas Watch, a self-described consumer protection group, about Hurricane Harvey damage in Rockport. In it, the author paints a bleak picture of the status of insurance claims during the recovery, blaming the Legislature for passing bills that allegedly hurt property owners.
What Texas Watch purposely doesn’t tell you is that it’s using months-old data to prop up its talking points and mislead Texans about the Legislature’s actions.
Texas Watch uses information from the Texas Department of Insurance’s (TDI) Data Call about the number of claims paid and the number of claims closed without payment after Hurricane Harvey. TDI’s report presents data through Oct. 31, 2017, merely two months after Hurricane Harvey made landfall — not current data, as Texas Watch implies. New data won’t be available until July.
In addition, Texas Watch attempts to compare apples and oranges by using data from other parts of the state to skew its figures about recovery in Rockport. In the Coastal Bend, 56 percent of claims had been paid and closed within two months of the hurricane, according to TDI. No doubt that number has increased in the six months since the data was collected.
Texas Watch, however, cites data that includes closed claims from the Houston area, where the vast majority of damage was caused by flooding. Because TWIA and private insurance don’t cover flooding, those claims must be made to FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, so it stands to reason that flood claims made to TWIA and private insurance were correctly closed without payment.
Texas Watch has a record of supporting storm-chasing lawyers and their agents who solicit clients door-to-door after natural disasters, telling Texans the best way to get insurance money is by hiring a lawyer.
What Texas Watch doesn’t tell you is that the vast majority of insurance claims are resolved without requiring the assistance of a lawyer or filing a lawsuit.
Texas Watch also fails to mention that nothing keeps a blue tarp on a roof longer than a lawsuit. Based on previous data provided by TDI, we know that when a lawyer gets involved in a claim, it takes seven times longer to be resolved.
Despite what Texas Watch wants you to believe, the Legislature has passed balanced laws that keep property owners in the driver’s seat when it comes to insurance claims. They simply removed the incentive for storm-chasing lawyers to be unnecessary backseat drivers in the process.
Our friends and neighbors on the coast deserve better from Texas Watch, which promotes itself as an organization interested in protecting consumers. And so do hard-working and conscientious legislators who enacted common-sense legislation to end weather-related lawsuit abuse.
Lucy Nashed is the communications director at Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a bipartisan, volunteer-led coalition with 16,300 supporters in more than 900 Texas communities.