Texas legislation might harm the victims of hurricane Hurricane Harvey. So this week Metts Legal Blog turns its spotlight on a new law, insurance companies and storm victims. First, Metts Legal sends our heartfelt prayers and hope-filled wishes to the survivors and families who buried family members in the wake Hurricane Harvey’s epic weather event and the subsequent flooding. As we bear silent witness to their pain and challenges, we are continually inspired by their courage and heroism. We hope you feel the warmth of the entire country’s concern and compassion.
As Texas citizens segue from rescue to recovery, personal property damages continue to soar. A flood of settlements and lawsuits will be forthcoming from Hurricane Harvey. And some of our country’s insurance companies will become home-restoring heroes. Other companies will be less than heroic; they might not even be timely in their response to an overwhelming number of settlements.
Following Dark Water: Destruction and Debt
Even more distressing, famed statistics company Corelogic reports, that a large majority of Harvey homeowners were uninsured. When
Corelogic analyzed the flood areas, they discovered some alarming statistics:
1. 52% of the homes and businesses in the Houston downtown area were high or medium risk for flooding.
However, that reality did not qualify them as a Special Flood Hazard Area by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency.) As the waters rose, FEMA declared 24 counties disaster areas, but Texas declared 54 disaster areas.
Legislation in Texas Floats By Texans in a Flood of Tears and Dollars
2. Satisticians report the storm has destroyed or severely damaged over 40,000 homes. History has declared Hurricane Harvey to be the most powerful storm to have smashed into Texas in 50 years.
3. …And 70-80% of those devastated 40,000 homes were not insured. Although we deeply commiserate with the plight of these victims, this story is not really about them. It’s about the other 20-30 percent of the homes that were insured. We are concerned that about the effect a new legislation concerning lawsuits will have on their lives. Although we are Florida-based, we believe this concern goes beyond state borders and merits discussion on our blog.
Legislation for Hailstorm Lawsuits Seems Almost Moot after Harvey
Did you know both news media and meteorologists are report Hurricane Harvey to be the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history? Predictions of home, business and personal property loss have put the price tag at $160 billion dollars. Texas hurricane and flood victims will be inundated with another wave, not a wave of water, but of legal paper work.
On September 1, a new piece of legislation became Texas law. Advocated by the insurance companies, the law startled quite a few attorneys who immediately sent up an outcry. Perhaps some of them got a little too enthusiastic. Some lawyers sent out warnings to bleary-eyed victims, to file their claims quickly before the law became finalized Sept 1.
The problem was neither experts nor homeowners could inspect, analyze or estimate the victims’ devastated homes before the law went into effect.
Will Cooler Heads Prevail?
Of course Twitter and Facebook proliferated the cautions, and storm victims were tempted to return to unsafe areas before authorities cleared them.
1. On the one hand, Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said that some “lawyers are misleading homeowners, who should remain focused foremost on their safety.” And he warned rescuers and victims alike, “There is no need to rush to file a claim. Put your safety first. Do not return to seriously damaged property unless you are informed that it is safe.”
2. On the other hand, Dallas lawyer Brian Lauten stated a heated analogy, “It’s a David vs. Goliath battle from the start,” said. “They have basically taken away David’s slingshot.”
Metts Legal Takes a Look at the New Texas Lawsuit Legislation
So, let’s explore the facts without pointing fingers of blame at either side of the debate. The new Texas law, named House Bill 1774, contributes some significant obstacles “to policyholders who want to dispute weather-related property damage claims.”
In all honesty, the purpose of the law might have been well-intentioned.
1. For example, a policyholder might be tempted to exaggerate claims such as damage to a roof on a house after a brief hailstorm, just to get a new roof. The new law targets just such suspect homeowners, but it could hurt innocent ones also.
2. Thus we know the ultimate point of the law is the prevention of frivolous lawsuits that drive up the costs and drain the insurance
company’s budget.Proponents of the new law claim it protects homeowners even further by reducing unnecessary lawsuits that increase homeowners’ insurance premiums.
Lucy Noshed, representing Texans for Lawsuit Reform stated, “The abuse exists, it’s there, and to turn a blind eye to that is not helpful to Texas homeowners.”
3. Likewise, This legislation measure reduces the penalties insurance companies face when they don’t adequately cover claims caused by hail or severe weather.
4. The new legislation will actually limit penalties for property and casualty insurers who take too long settling lawsuits filed by policyholders.
Take-Always from the Texas Hailstorm Legislation
Not surprisingly, legislators named the law “the hailstorm bill,” and now it is “the hailstorm law.” Supporters of the bill perceive it as defensive guard against large numbers of unfounded lawsuits. Lucy Noshed, for Texans for Lawsuit Reform, accused opponents of exaggerating the legal impacts of the new legislation.
She said, “Most homeowners will not be affected, she said, because most people go through the regular insurance claims process and do not sue their insurers.” And she added, “Texas has some of the strongest consumer protections in the nation for policyholders that are denied or underpaid by insurance companies,” Nashed said. “That is still the case.”
Metts Legal Blog Takeaways from Harvey’s Texas Tempest:
Here at Metts Legal, we see the Texas law as proof that truth is stranger than fiction. This is true because it is strange and ironic that such a piece of legislation would transform into law in the midst of this cataclysmic natural disaster. Although we typically concentrate on Florida Law at Metts Legal, the Texas legislation situation could happen in any state. Undoubtedly, Florida and the legislature will be learning many more lessons, legal and human, from Harvey before we close the memory book on the tragic wind and waters of Texas, 2017.
Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation America, stated to CNBC on July 31, “The new law will make it harder for people to file lawsuits, and it is less likely that lawyers would want to take even good cases.”
This is not and will not be true at Metts Legal. Such a controversial law, compounded by such a catastrophic weather event could happen in other states, at any time or place. If it happens in Florida, we will be here to interpret Florida law. Put simply, we will make sure your insurance company treats you fairly and settles your claim in a timely manner. When disaster strikes, we are your champions. Metts Legal is not just a “fair weather” friend.