By: David Yates
AUSTIN – On March 8 Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse groups voiced their support for Senate Bill 10 and House Bill 1774, legislation aimed at reining in hail storm lawsuit abuse, while ensuring consumers are protected.
“The fact is across our state, we’ve seen an increasing number of hail storm lawsuits from a small number of personal injury lawyers who appear to be aggressively recruiting homeowners to serve as plaintiffs,” said Hazel Meaux, board member of Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse.
“We used to worry about ambulance chasing personal injury lawyers, but now it’s also storm-chasing that’s ringing a warning siren for much-needed reform.”
Meaux noted that while the “number and severity of hail storms in Texas have not increased dramatically in recent years, the number of hail storm lawsuits in the state has increased significantly.”
Sergio Contreras, executive director of the Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, added: “The Rio Grande Valley has seen the dire consequences of lawsuit abuse.
“Sadly, hail storm lawsuit abuse is plaguing the Valley, limiting access to affordable insurance policies—and now counties across the state are seeing the same type of abuse.”
A report by RGVCALA in 2014 showed that in the two years after significant hail storm events in Hidalgo County in 2012, nearly 6,000 lawsuits were filed with 40 percent of those suits filed by just seven personal injury lawyers.
That trend is no longer limited to the Valley.
According to the Texas Department of Insurance, weather-related litigation jumped 1,400 percent statewide after 2011.
“When you see skyrocketing numbers of lawsuits like this, there’s reason to worry that they’re burdening our courts, driving up consumer and business insurance costs, and limiting or eliminating access to coverage for some Texans,” said Roger Borgelt, board chairman of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas.
“Senate Bill 10 and House Bill 1774 will help stop lawsuit abuse while ensuring Texas consumers and small businesses have access to the courts for legitimate claims against insurers.”
The impact on consumers is already being felt.
TDI found that seven insurers have reduced, limited or stopped writing insurance policies because of hailstorm litigation, while 12 companies have hiked rates for homeowners’ policies as a direct result of lawsuits.
Meaux said that an examination of many of these lawsuits shows a near identical, cookie-cutter pattern in the hailstorm personal injury lawyers’ approach, claims and demands.
"There has been a spike in hailstorm lawsuits that points to an opportunistic business strategy among some lawyers," said D'Anne Buquet, executive director of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
"This spike in lawsuits is a much different result compared to the normal homeowners' responses and claims and insurers' repair processes following a significant weather event."