Does the New Tax Reform Law Affect You? Find out!

Almost a year ago, President Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or the new tax reform law. Tax rates reduced for many people. However, the new law also changed the way taxable income is calculated. Accordingly, the amount of taxes that is withheld from your paycheck may change. The IRS developed a withholding calculator for people to use to make sure that the correct amount is being withheld from their paychecks to avoid paying after filing your return, or getting less of a refund than expected. You can find that IRS calculator here.  The IRS also published a helpful guide for Individuals and Families, with step-by-step guide of how to use the withholding calculator, the differences between standard and itemized deductions, and a brief overview of the changes the new law enacted. You can find the IRS’ Tax Reform Basics guide for individuals and families here.

Additionally, for those who recently received money from a legal settlement, your settlement may have tax implications for you.  While there are certain categories of lawsuits that are exempt and not claimed as taxable income (such as qualified personal injury cases, suits against employers), others may be. We advise all of our clients to speak with your accountant about any settlements that you received and how this may impact your tax return filing for 2019.

Brasher Law Firm Takes on the City of Beaumont & Officer for Wrongful Shooting

On October 12, 2018, The Brasher Law Firm, PLLC alongside Weller, Green, Toups, & Terrell, LLP, on behalf of James “Chad” York, Sandy Lynn Winfrey York, and Loreal Fultz as the independent administrator of the Estate of Chaz Logan York filed suit against the City of Beaumont and Chase Aaron Welch for the wrongful shooting of Chaz Logan York in Beaumont at Madison’s on Dowlen Road that occurred on or around October 14, 2016.

Prior to working for Beaumont PD, Officer Welch worked at various security companies. He has training in close quarter combat techniques and military operations in urban terrain. He’s an expert marksman, and has his green belt in martial arts. He has prior arrests, involving violent behavior, that Beaumont PD was aware of when they hired him, including being arrested for fighting in 2007 in Chambers County and being arrested by Jefferson County as a “suspicious person” in 2008. He started working for the Beaumont PD on or around December 2011.

Officer Welch also had a history of being disciplined by Beaumont PD, including previously being suspended without pay for 3 days for abusing / misusing department equipment when he damaged his computer; being suspended without pay for 10 days for using improper force on a fleeing suspect, wherein he rammed the fleeing suspect multiple times with his vehicle; and for causing a wreck and damaging City property. He also has a history of using violence while on the job. In 2012, he held a man at gunpoint while the man was just walking his dog. Officer Welch had no probable cause to believe this man had committed any crime or was about to commit a crime, but searched him nonetheless and threatened to shoot his dog if he did not let him. In 2016, prior to the night in question, he shot and killed Herbert Edgar Balance from long range through the mouth with a patrol rifle.

On the night in question, Chaz York and his friends were hanging out at Madison’s on Dowlen. Chaz saw his longtime on and off again girlfriend at the bar and went over to talk with her. As soon as he did, he was criminally assaulted by Levi Severson, a guy that his ex-girlfriend was with. Mr. Severson sucker punched him out of nowhere and with no provocation. After the Madison’s employees separated Mr. Severson and Mr. York, Mr. York was confronted by his ex-girlfriend. As they were exchanging words, Madison’s employees tried to separate them as well. Mr. York then started to walk away and go towards his friend’s car. Out of nowhere, Officer Welch appeared, yelled “Beaumont PD,” even though he was not wearing a uniform. Mr. York and his friend started to walk away and Officer Welch and the Madison’s employees chased them. Mr. York and his friend were headed back to the car and Officer Welch began to taunt Mr. York. Officer Welch did not identify himself nor did he try to arrest or detain Chaz York. He also did not instruct Chaz York to do anything (such as “stop” or “put your hands in the air”). Chaz York was ready to leave with his friend. In fact, Chaz York’s friend had already gotten in the car and so had Chaz. But Officer Welch continued to taunt and yell at Chaz York, even demanding that he get out from the car. As Chaz York got out of the car, Officer Welch shot him three times. Chaz York turned and started to run and Officer Welch continued to fire at him. Officer Welch fired 8-10 bullets. Five of the bullets struck Chaz – in his arm, thigh, chest, and back. The shots to Chaz York’s chest and back were fatal, piercing both his lungs. An autopsy done afterwards confirms the same. Thereafter, Officer Welch fled the scene.

After the incident, the City of Beaumont and Chief James Singletary of the Beaumont PD gave interviews that widely misled the public about what happened. Even though Chaz York was a victim who was criminally assaulted in Madison’s before being shot and killed, Officer Singletary blamed Chaz York for being a part of a group that caused a disturbance in Madison’s. Madison’s manager on duty did not think Chaz York had done anything to warrant him being kicked out, let alone shot at. Furthermore, the City of Beaumont and Chief Singletary falsely reported that Mr. York had a bat and went towards Officer Welch with the same before being shot at, despite Mr. York’s friend testifying that she did not see Chaz York with a bat. Mr. York’s friend was not called to testify in the criminal matter. The City of Beaumont also refused to give the public (including news media) access to the 911 tapes and videos from Madison’s.

The City of Beaumont did everything they could to protect their officer who had a history of using violence, and prior arrests. Despite this problematic history, the City of Beaumont continued to promote him through the ranks and even continued to promote him a couple months after he shot and killed Chaz York, with his last promotion in January 2017, before he voluntarily resigned in February 2017.

The case against the City of Beaumont and Chase Welch is pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Teas in Beaumont, before Judge Marcia Crone.

Different Types Of Insurance That Relate To Hurricane Harvey

A Quick Summary of Relevant Law

DIFFERENT TYPES OF INSURANCE THAT RELATE TO HURRICANE HARVEY

With Hurricane Harvey there have been a lot of questions about different types of coverages available to people to compensate them for their losses.  Starting with the 130mph winds in Rockport and Corpus Christi to the floods in Houston to who knows what in the Golden Triangle, your clients will be asking what coverages apply to them and how they can use them.  Here is a quick summary of the laws that apply and resources available.

WIND COVERAGE

There are two types of wind coverage that apply to Hurricane Harvey – regular homeowners or commercial coverage and coverage through the windstorm pool (“Texas Windstorm Insurance Association” or “TWIA”). 

TWIA

TWIA is underwritten by private insurers but acts like a government entity.  In Ike, TWIA was hit with fraud issues.  Following Ike, the legislators reformed TWIA in 2011 and included a few more add-ons in 2015.  The legislators stripped the consumer protection laws that otherwise applied to TWIA, including “unfair claim settlement practices” and other protections in Texas Insurance Code 541 and the “Prompt Payment of Claims” otherwise known as Texas Insurance Code 542.  Neither apply to TWIA claims.  That means no opportunity for treble damages.  You can still win attorney’s fees in limited circumstances but there is a procedure you have to go through to dispute the amount of accepted coverage and disputed coverage claims.  There are strict deadlines to contest these – for example, you only have 60 days to dispute the amount of a payment. 

Since partial payments and partial denials are common, TWIA loves to muddy the water and do that – then look to apply the harshest possible deadlines in the statute to limit protections.  In 2015, if it was not clear before, the Legislature made it clear no “extra-contractual” remedies are available – no late payment penalty interest, treble damages, etc.  Also, in order to get damages for mishandling a claim, they erected the “clear and convincing” standard. 

To dispute coverage amounts, you are forced to appraisal rather than the courts – you do not have an option – and you only have 60 days from when you were paid (even partially paid) to invoke it and must pay half of the appraisal costs.  It is a very uneven statute that did what it accomplished – it drove lawyers away from helping clients hit the hardest in tropical storms – those in the coastal communities. 

Since the current TWIA law was already stripped down, there was no need to apply the gutting of the insurance code that occurred this past session so TWIA was explicitly exempted from the new law. 

Regular Homeowner & Commercial Policies

The TWIA changes left regular policies untouched.  This past session, Governor Abbott signed into law major reform of the Texas Insurance Code.  Some apply to claims in general, some apply to lawsuits.  Many people across both sides of the aisle have written what they believe the bill does. After a careful analysis and years of practicing in this area, here is a summary of the changes of the new law as we see it:

For Claims (whether or not a lawsuit is filed)

For storm claims (which are defined as damages or loss of property caused wholly or partly by forces of nature, including an earthquake or earth tremor, a wildfire, a flood, a tornado, lightning, a hurricane, hail, wind, a snowstorm or rainstorm) insurance companies get a 45% reduction in the late payment penalty.  Here is a comparison of the old versus new statute, which goes into effect September 1st:

Old Tex. Ins. Code §542.060:

(a) Except as provided by Subsection (c), if [] an insurer that is liable for a claim under an insurance policy is not in compliance with this subchapter, the insurer is liable to pay the holder of the policy or the beneficiary making the claim under the policy, in addition to the amount of the claim, interest on the amount of the claim at the rate of 18 percent a year as damages, together with reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees. Nothing in this subsection prevents the award of prejudgment interest on the amount of the claim, as provided by law.

New Tex. Ins. Code §542.060:

(c) In an action to which Chapter 542A applies, if an insurer that is liable for a claim under an insurance policy is not in compliance with this subchapter, the insurer is liable to pay the holder of the policy, in addition to the amount of the claim, simple interest on the amount of the claim as damages each year at the rate determined on the date of judgment by adding five percent to the interest rate determined under Section 304.003, Finance Code, together with reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees. Nothing in this subsection prevents the award of prejudgment interest on the amount of the claim, as provided by law. Interest awarded under this subsection as damages accrues beginning on the date the claim was required to be paid.

And the effective date of this is related to when the CLAIM is given to the insurance company:

(b) Section 542.060(c), Insurance Code, as added by this Act, applies only to a claim, as defined by Section 542A.001, Insurance Code, as added by this Act, made on or after the effective date of this Act. A claim made before the effective date of this Act is governed by the law as it existed immediately before the effective date of this Act, and that law is continued in effect for that purpose. (emphasis added)

SECTION 5. This Act takes effect September 1, 2017.

Tex. Sess. Law Serv. Ch. 151 (H.B. 1774) (VERNON’S)

Much of the changes in the law is related to the changes to the lawsuit procedures under Texas Insurance Code 542A (a new section).  But, as you can see, the changes above apply only to claims made by an insured to an insurer, in general the Texas Legislature decided to give insurance companies a 45% reduction in the late payment statute.  This is big because the late payment statute works and has always worked.  Because the interest rate is so high, it incentivized insurance companies to pay reasonable amounts promptly. Now, there is no incentive to do so.

The other changes, now called Texas Insurance Code 542A, apply to the lawsuit process:

  1. Pre-Suit Notice.  The changes are substantial and need to be read carefully.  How the notice is done will have large effects on the end result of the case.  First, the pre-suit notice must give a statement of the acts or omissions giving rise to the claims in the lawsuit. Second, the notice must provide the calculation of economic damages (with a reasonable estimate of damages) and the reasonable and necessary amount of attorney’s fees incurred (with an attached billable time sheet in accordance with the Arthur Andersen factors). If you don’t give this pre-suit notice at least 61 days before filing suit, then the Court must dismiss the case without prejudice. If defendant can show that there’s a defect with your pre-suit notice (doesn’t correspond to the above requirements), then the Court must dismiss the case without prejudice.
  2. Pre-Suit Inspection. The statute allows for a pre-suit inspection done by the insurance company (if they ask for it within 30 days of receiving notice). If you don’t give them this inspection – then the case will be automatically abated.
  3. Calculation of Attorney’s Fees.  The amount of attorney’s fees recoverable will be determined by the amount of actual damages awarded in judgment versus the amount claimed in the pre-suit notice. You are to divide the amount of actual damages awarded in judgment, by the amount of actual damages claimed in pre-suit. If the sum total of this is greater than or equal to 80%, then a claimant is entitled to their full attorney’s fees. If the sum total is less than 20%, then the claimant is not entitled to any attorney’s fees. If proper pre-suit notice was not ever given, and defendant pleads and proves the same, then the amount is limited and capped at the amount up until the date by which defendant pled the same.

A hypothetical is useful in illustrating the above point:

Judgment Actual Damages

Presuit Notice Actual Damages

< 20%

 ≥ 80%

Attorney’s Fees Awarded at trial

Attorney’s Fees Allowed

$50,000.00

$100,000.00

No

No

$220,00.00

$110,00.00

$80,000.00

$100,000.00

No

Yes

$220,000.00

$220,000.00

$15,000.00

$100,000.00

Yes

No

$220,000.00

$0

  1. Joinder of Parties. The statute allows the insurance company to pick up liability for the adjuster. Therefore, for most cases against out of state insurance companies (e.g. State Farm, Allstate, Nationwide, etc…) will be in federal court not state court.

FLOOD CLAIMS

Flood claims are usually written under the National Flood Insurance Plan (“NFIP”).  Flood claims are underwriting by FEMA but oftentimes sold through private companies – called Write Your Own (“WYO”) policy.  Because the monies come from the treasury, different rules apply.  None of the consumer protection statutes in Texas apply, cases are in federal court with a bench trial, and attorney’s fees are difficult to recovery. 

Procedurally, you should watch the FEMA advisory for Proof of Loss. It is a jurisdictional requirement to submit a sworn POL within 60 days – cannot be waived despite what the adjuster says. It may be extended, but that can ONLY come from FEMA. Any extension of time to submit POL must be by FEMA and if given in an individual case, it must be in writing from FEMA. Failure to comply with the deadline will prevent you from seeking legal relief. 

Here is a link to step-by-step instructions from FEMA:  https://www.fema.gov/nfip-file-your-claim

What are Long Term Care Policies? Part I of II

Photo credit Matthias Zomer

A popular insurance product that is currently being pushed to us is long term care policies. I just recently received an email from my college suggesting I look into this. My college joined with an insurance company to promote this product to its alumni.

At the same time, I am reviewing my mother’s finances as my father recently passed. She has been paying for long term care since early 1990s. The premiums are not cheap. The insurance companies use scare tactics to compel you to purchase. Statements like these:

(a) “You will need to write personal checks for home health care or care in a facility.”

(b) “The money you saved by not buying Long-Term Care will quickly be exhausted by the expenses for your care.”

(c) “The National average for a private room in a Nursing Home is $91,250 a year.”

(d) “If the need for care lasts for an extended period of time, your life savings could be depleted leaving your spouse impoverished or with nothing to leave to your heirs or favorite charity.”

(e) “If your life savings is spent caring for one spouse, the surviving spouse would need to depend on Medicaid or Welfare for their potential needs and living expenses.”

These are the scare tactics used to get you to fork over your money. If, as an attorney, I could say that you always get the benefit of these lost dollars, then I wouldn’t be writing this blog!

While they spend much of theirs ads scaring you, they then promise you security. People buy the insurance so that their children and family do not have to struggle to find a place for them. The cost for home health care, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities is exorbitant. People purchasing these plans are trying to offset that costs and prevent them from passing on to their descendents. Here are some of the promises:

(a) Pays for home care, assisted living, adult daycare, respite care, hospice care, nursing home and Alzheimer’s facilities.

(b) Gives peace of mind.

(c) Prevents you from using retirement savings for these facility costs.

But, are these policies worth it? Do they really cover long term care? Or, are you placing trust in an insurance company to honor their promise 30 years later? Remember, this is not the government you are giving your money to – it is a private insurance company.

And, for those 30 years of premiums you pay, the insurance company is investing your dollars and making a return on it. You are not. You have lost the value of those dollars. You do not get to deduct it from your taxes. The dollars you give to the insurance company is after-tax money. What happens when you finally need the benefits? That is in part II.