During the course of Hurricane Harvey ravaging Southeast Texas, Corpus Christi, Dickinson, Rockport, Houston and surrounding counties, like Jefferson, Orange, Hardin, Jasper, Tyler, etc…, speculation from both sides of the aisle spread like wildfire about what the new changes to the Texas Insurance Code would mean for victims of Hurricane Harvey. People barely made it to shelters, and the sponsor of House Bill 1774 (HB 1774), Senator Kelly Hancock, issued a press release claiming the bill would have “no impact on the insurance claims process”. Simultaneously, the group that lobbied for the bill for the past few years, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, tried to justify this bill by saying that “If your insurer does improperly deny or delay paying your claim, Texas has the strongest consumer protections in the nation for you, which will continue to be the case after September 1, 2017.” Yet, despite these statements, the State Bar of Texas president-elect, Joe Longley, strongly encouraged homeowners to file their claims before September 1, 2017 as the changes in the law could adversely affect them.
So where is the disconnect coming from? What Texans for Lawsuit Reform (also known as TLR) failed to mention is that this bill strips the so-called strong consumer protections that Texans used to have if their insurance company fails to timely pay a claim or unreasonably denies a claim. And despite Sen. Hancock’s statements, the bill will have an impact on the insurance claims process. Because quite simply put, the insurance companies will now have less of an incentive to pay you properly and timely.
How did we get here?:
TLR and the group of legislators that supported HB 1774 have been trying for years to get a bill like this passed. In the 2015 legislative session, Senator Larry Taylor, an insurance agent and state senator, tried to pass a similar piece of legislation. This piece of legislation became known as the “hailstorm bill” based on the large number of hailstorm claims that Hidalgo County and other parts of the Valley saw in 2012-2014, which then led to numerous lawsuits because of insurance companies not paying or adjusting these claims properly. Homeowners and business owners from across the state testified against the bill. And the bill eventually failed.
However, before the 2017 legislative session even began, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick made it a top legislative priority to pass the “hailstorm bill”. He even had the Senate Committee on Business & Commerce discuss the issues prior to the start of the legislative session to expedite the process. Thus, it was destined that the “hailstorm bill” would become revived in the 2017 Legislative Session, and with a Republican majority, certainly pass. But they did not simply leave it at only hailstorms – they included every single natural disaster in the new bill.
What does it mean for me?:
So what does the bill mean for you and how will it impact you?
First, if you want to file a claim for damages to your property, as a result of wind or rain damage, there are potential benefits to doing so before Friday, September 1, 2017. Here’s why:
- The old Texas Insurance Code §542.060 allowed an 18% penalty interest if an insurance company delayed in paying your claim or failed to adhere to certain timelines under the insurance code in handling your claim.
- The new Texas Insurance Code §542.060 cuts that 18% penalty interest by almost half (a 45% reduction) to only 5% on top of the interest that is already allowed by the Finance Code (about 5%).
So if your claim ends up being improperly denied, improperly handled, or not timely paid, then the insurance company would get away with a slap on the wrist instead of a much larger penalty.
How is the interest calculated or determined? Based on the timing of when you give notice of your claim. So, the advice that the State Bar of Texas president-elect, Joe Longley, is giving regarding filing claims before September 1, 2017 has merit.
Second, the majority of the bill is aimed at cutting protections for Texans once they file a lawsuit. Almost all Texans who suffered due to Hurricane Harvey won’t be filing a lawsuit before September 1, 2017, so the remaining of the bill’s changes and cuts to consumer protections will apply no matter if you file your claim before or after September 1, 2017.
These provisions will cut the amount your attorney can recover for his/her fees (which cannot legally be shared with you anyways, despite statements to the contrary) for working on your case and taking it all the way to trial and, in some cases, through the appellate process. Many of the attorneys working in this area of law have “contingency fee” contracts, which means, even if the claim takes years through the litigation process, they don’t get paid a dime until they recover something for you. Despite the fact that most insurance companies’ lawyers get paid by the hour, they still saw it fit to cut the contingency fee lawyers’ bills. This will discourage many lawyers from taking these types of cases and will leave many homeowners without local lawyers who can help them out.
If an adjuster messes up in handling your case – he / she is no longer liable for their actions. Instead, the insurance company can just take up their defense, and the lawyers are prevented from even telling the jury that the insurance company has taken up the adjuster’s defense.
The provisions will also make it easier for an insurance company to get cases filed against them dismissed. Pre-suit notice was always required even before this new law took effect. So the groups claiming that the point was to give pre-suit notice fail to inform you that this was always required. However, now, the insurance companies and our courts will determine if it is “sufficient” and if they feel as though it is not, the case will be dismissed. If you don’t give the insurance company, who has had multiple opportunities to handle your claim and inspect the damages, another bite at the apple to inspect your damages – then your case is automatically abates (meaning your lawsuit is basically put on hold).
So how can these groups claim that the protections are the same? Well, you’d have to ask them. In the meantime, The Brasher Law Firm is here to help you and we welcome your questions.