Archive for October, 2011
The Texas Department of Insurance on October 17, 2011, released final disciplinary decisions for violations of Division of Workers’ Compensation rules. Among these fines were the following insurer violations:
-Chubb Indemnity Insurance Company [fined for a total of $24,000]: Failure to timely pay income benefits to injured employee; Failure to accurately report benefit data to TDI-DWC.
These are fines paid to the state for violations of DWC rules and the Texas Insurance Code. Doyle Raizner is committed to helping individuals who have been harmed by such violations when they amount to bad faith activity by an insurance carrier. Click here for more information about the wrongful handling of workers compensation cases.
The complete list of fines is available here.
In the aftermath of the BP oil rig explosion and spill, the Obama administration placed a moratorium on oil drilling. Since then, the moratorium may have officially been lifted, but the permitting process for rigs has grinded almost to a halt.
Ten oil rigs have left the Gulf of Mexico in recent months for distant oil fields in South America and Africa. Of the rigs still under contract to operate in the gulf, sixty percent are idle, according to the Financial Times. Idle tug boats, helicopters and other equipment involved in maritime cargo and personnel transfers cost their owners money every day. Others involved in the oyster and shrimp industries still await a positive outcome for claims arising from the BP oil spill.
Some commentators are pointing the finger at the Department of the Interior for mismanagement of the permitting process. Both shallow-water and deepwater permits are tracking well below historical levels.
Oil Rigs Relocating
The lack of drilling activity in the Gulf has caused many oil rigs to leave for greener pastures – rigs are leaving in record numbers for oil fields in South America and Africa. Consequently, U.S. workers on these rigs are also leaving for these foreign waters in an attempt to earn the paycheck their families desperately need.
Tragically, some of the U.S. workers leaving for South America and Africa will be injured on the high seas while drilling for oil. Fortunately though, working outside of U.S. waters does not leave a rig worker without remedies. The Jones Act may allow an American oil rig worker to hold his employer liable for injuries the worker sustains because of the employers negligence.
Generally, injured workers may make claims for personal injury, which can include compensation for lost wages and medical bills. Moreover, the family of a deceased rig worker can bring a wrongful death claim in the unfortunate event that a loved one is killed while working
While catastrophic fires burn across the bone-dry Texas plains and other parts of the country are inundated with rain and flooding, the U.S. is beginning to count the cost of months of unprecedented weather extremes. The damage estimates continue to mount with nine $1 billion weather disasters so far this year. If prior natural disasters are any indication, insurance property disputes will be sure to follow claims filed from the damage.
In a statement to USA Today, National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes expressed, “The nation is increasing vulnerable to extreme weather.” The year has been plagued by tornadoes, floods, droughts and a number of wild-fires. Hurricane season has just started with two storms already doing damage to the United States on the East Coast and in the South. The insurance firm Munich Re said the number of natural disasters in the first six months of the year is about double the average of the 1990s.
The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) is an insurer of last resort for Texas coastal residents. It was set up in 1971 after Hurricane Celia caused many private insurers to stop insuring houses on the coast.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, TWIA has turned into “a political disaster zone,” according to the Texas Tribune. The insurer has been accused of fraud and mishandling claims. In fact, TWIA employees’ internal e-mails that were discussed on the floor of the Texas Senate unearthed various examples of fraud following Hurricane Ike. Not surprisingly, TWIA has spent two to three times as much defending itself from unhappy policyholders after Hurricane Ike as it did after the previous two hurricanes.
New Director Promises Improvements
TWIA’s interim director, John Polak, stated, “We continue to be defined by an event and by actions of individuals from three years ago.” He further said, “We are trying to do a better job of managing expectations.”
Polak said TWIA had “learned from things that didn’t go so well” and was instituting a new process for selecting and managing adjuster firms, reinforcing ethics, setting up more controls to prevent fraud and starting a call center to “maintain that connection” with policyholders in the event of a natural disaster. However, TWIA has a long way to go given the number of disputes it has been involved in stemming from Hurricane Ike.
To add insult to injury for some policyholders, a new law will now make it more difficult to bring a claim against TWIA. While supporters of the new law believe reform was needed, Democrats and plaintiff lawyers believe the new law – which exempts TWIA from state insurance laws to lower the amount of damages that policyholders can receive from filing suit – further diminishes the accountability of an agency that has already been shown to have acted in bad faith.
If you have a damage dispute
Westlaw Journal has published an article on Texas Mutual Insurance Company v. Ruttiger appearing in its September 16, 2011. The article appears on the front section of the Westlaw Journal dedicated to Insurance Coverage.
Doyle Raizner represented Timothy Ruttiger at trial and on appeal at the Texas Supreme Court. Mike Doyle spoke to the Westlaw Journal about Ruttiger, explaining that the decision, “leave[s] less remedies for workers subjected to even the most fraudulent or outrageous misconduct.”
The ABA Journal has released an article detailing the poor elements of the Texas workers’ compensation system–and its incentives for insurers to engage in bad faith behavior–denying and delaying the benefits owed to injured employees as often as possible. As detailed in the article, insurers take advantage of the workers’ compensation system to craft denials of financial and medical benefits to injured employees in manners that the system never could have anticipated. A symptom of this is the small number of workers’ compensation attorneys who continue to be able to afford fighting on behalf of injured employees.
Mike Doyle spoke with the ABA Journal for the article, and touched in particular on the disincentives for lawyers to help injured employees who need representation.
Doyle Raizner has represented workers’ compensation claimants in bad faith claims against their insurance carriers. Doyle Raizner also represented Ruttiger at trial and on appeal before the Texas Supreme Court.
The ABA’s article is available here.
The United States Department of Defense released a report on September 28, 2011, confirming that KBR failed to act to protect servicemen from exposure to sodium dichromate (hexavalent chromium) while they were guarding KBR’s Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in Iraq. The report faulted the U.S. military as well for a failure to closely monitor KBR’s compliance with its military contract. KBR, the report found, did not comply with health and safety compliance provisions of its military contract.
Because of KBR’s actions, servicemen from the U.S. National Guard and British Royal Air Force were exposed to the carcinogen sodium dichromate. Doyle Raizner is among the team of attorneys representing the servicemen against KBR in lawsuits pending in Oregon and Texas.
More information is available here through The Oregonian.
The U.S. Government report is available here.