Archive for hurricane-ike
Heavy rain and strong winds hit parts of the Midwest and Northwest on Thursday, July 26, 2012. These storms spawned tornadoes, such as one that touched down in Elmira, New York, damaging a local mall. Hail ranging in size fell in areas of Pennsylvania, while towns across eastern Ohio reported downed trees.
Tornadoes and Hail storms often hit without warning, and are a leading cause of property damage.
Doyle Raizner represents home and business owners with property damage and business interruption claims caused by natural disasters. The firm currently represents clients with claims arising from the Joplin tornado, the October 2010 Phoenix hailstorm, and Hurricane Ike.
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
The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) began lobbying for its 2011 legislative proposals on February 1, 2011. In a press release, TWIA noted a number of items that it would like to see changed during the upcoming leglislative sessions. To highlight a few of the proposals:
- Getting rid of appeals procedures with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). This could be a good idea, but it leaves open the potential of requiring homeowners to go through mediation or arbitration to resolve what is often a frivolous dispute initiated by TWIA. In addition, arbitration would be binding on homeowners, even though it is pitched as a pre-suit requirement.
- Requiring that all claims be brought within two years. Although two years may seem like a long time, a lot of latent damage (such as that to a roof), can manifest itself long after the underlying event. In a latent damage claim, TWIA can then play both sides. For example, if a latent claim is reported 2.5 years after an hurricane, TWIA could (rightfully) blame it on the hurricane, but tell the homeowner that they have filed their claim too late.
- Further limiting the statute of limitations. Right now, extra-contractual claims can be brought for two years, while contractual claims can be brought for four years. TWIA wants to restrict all claims brought against it to two years. TWIA is essentially seeking an exemption that would treat it differently and change statutes of limitations precedent in the Texas legislature.
In light of the changes sought by TWIA, Doyle Raizner reinforces our committment in seeking fairness for Texas homeowners, whether at the legislative level or in the courtroom.
The Harris County courts will conduct a hearing to evaluate whether certain adjustments should be made to the special docket established to handle residential cases arising out of Hurricane Ike. Currently, all residential cases have been consolidated in a special docket for pre-trial purposes before the 11th District Court, Hon. Mike Miller presiding. Judge Miller has entered a standing pre-trial order that governs the handling of Ike claims and establishes a fast track docket to mediation, and has issued a master set of discovery to be used in all matters pending in the Hurricane Ike special docket. The hearing will address whether the following changes to the special docket should be made:
Proposal 1: Eliminate the consolidation of all existing and future residential Ike cases while maintaining the standing pretrial order and master discovery for all residential Ike cases in all Harris County civil courts;
Proposal 2: Leave things as they are except that all cases will be permanently transferred back to the originating court 30 days prior to the first trial setting.
As co-liaison counsel for Plaintiffs appearing in the Harris County Residential Ike docket, Doyle Raizner LLP is evaluating these proposals and welcomes all feedback from other Plaintiff counsel. The hearing will take place on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 3pm in the 11th District Court for Harris County.
More information concerning the Hurricane Ike residential special docket can be found on Judge Miller’s website. For more information about the upcoming hearing, contact Jeff Raizner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On January 6, 2011, the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) ordered that insurers cannot avoid the Prompt Payment Statute of the Texas Insurance Code. The Prompt Payment Statute requires insurers to decide whether they will accept or deny a claim within 15 days after recieving proof of the claim from the insured homeowner. Under special circumstances, the period can be extended to a total of 60 days. The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) petitioned SOAH to consider whether they would be permitted to extend this period further in order to request documents from third parties, such as claim adjusters, fact witnesses, and experts. This extension process has been repeatedly abused to avoid timely payment to homeowners in desperate straits.
Upon the review of submitted briefs from TWIA and the Texas Department of Insurance, Richard R. Wilfong, the SOAH administrative judge presiding, ruled that the Texas Insurance Code does not permit an insurer to delay its obligaitons to pay claims promptly by simply claiming they need further documents by third parties.
TWIA is an insurer heavily involved in Hurricane Ike claims. The decision, however, could have ramifications beyond property insurance claims. It helps to eliminate an avenue for insurance carriers to delay payment to people in need after a disaster or accident and avoid their prompt payment obligations by making unlimited demands for “additional information” from third parties.
The decision is available here.
Doyle Raizner LLP is pleased to announce the settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Cordua Restaurants arising out of their business interruption claimsfollowing Hurricane Ike. The lawsuit was settled for a confidential sum. The suit asserted that Cordua’s insurers and their agents had failed to procure the business interruption insurance requested by Cordua, leaving restaurant chain without the correct insurance coverage. Following Hurricane Ike, like many local businesses, the Cordua restaurants found themselves without power and employees for an extended period of time, and counted on their insurance company to honor its insurance contract and promises. The settlement came days before trial was to begin in Harris County district court before Hon. Alexandra Smoots-Hogan.
Cordua Restaurants is a locally owned business founded by Michael Cordua and operates seven restaurants, including America’s, Churrasco’s, Amazon Grill and Artista.
The two year anniversary of Hurricane Ike came and went on September 13, and we received a great many calls from new and potential clients leading up to that date. Frustrated with two years of effort trying to get their insurance company to honor their contracts, and seeing other firm’s marketing that “the end is near,” Texas homeowners and businesses turned to the legal system in large numbers to address their hurricane insurance disputes. One of the most common questions we received is this: when do I need to file suit to protect my rights?
Billboards aside, the law provides several different time frames for filing a homeowners or business insurance dispute. An insurance policy is a contract – in exchange for a premium, an insurance company agrees to honor legitimate claims. In Texas, you need to file a claim for breach of contract within four years of the violation of the agreement. But for most of our clients, the insurance company unfortunately has done more than just breach their agreement. Frequently, we have found upon investigation that the insurance company acted unreasonably and in bad faith when they denied or delayed the hurricane insurance claim. In those circumstances, suit must be brought within two years of the denial. To be safe, any insurance lawsuit involving property damage or other acts of insurance misconduct should be brought within two years of the denial.
Most of the time the insurance company didn’t come right out and announce that they were denying the claim. Instead, they issued grossly understated and inappropriate estimates, and only after the homeowner or business owner pushed for fairness did the insurer and the adjusters come right out and refuse to honor the claim. After Hurricane Ike, this often took months. So, any homeowner or business owner should look carefully at what the insurance company provided, and if the insurance company is still acting unfairly, the
Doyle Raizner LLP is pleased to announce that a settlement framework has been reached for all residential “slab” claims arising out of Hurricane Ike. The total settlement is $189 million for approximately 2400 homeowners, including those represented by Doyle Raizner LLP. The settlement amounts will be allocated to homeowners based on their individual damages, and the settlement was reached after days and weeks of negotiations with Texas Windstorm. The negotiations for this settlement were led by a group of plaintiff’s lawyers, including Jeff Raizner.
The settlement covers residential “slab” claims, meaning homes that were destroyed with nothing remaining except foundation structures. We anticipate there will be a similar effort to resolve commercial “slab” claims in the near future.
All Doyle Raizner “slab” clients are part of the settlement. Homeowners with “slab” claims who are not represented by a lawyer may qualify for a class action settlement negotiated at the same time as the individual claims, and the calculations will be the same regardless of whether the homeowners is currently represented by an attorney or paid through the class settlement. All “slab” homeowners, whether represented by a lawyer or not, will soon receive notice from the Court about the settlement. If you are not currently represented by a lawyer, call us and we can make sure you are protected in the class settlement or bring an individual claim if appropriate.
Hurricane Ike related claims that are not “slab” claims are not part of this settlement, but Doyle Raizner continues to negotiate and resolve these “non-slab” claims at regular settlement conferences with Texas Windstorm.
We are pleased with the slab settlement, and believe it is a long overdue step on the road to recovery for thousands of homeowners affected by Hurricane Ike and the misconduct by the insurance industry following that disaster. The presiding judge, Honorable Susan Criss of the 212th District Court of Galveston County has stated, “I appreciate all of
In September 2008, Galveston and much of the Texas coast was hit by Hurricane Ike. According to estimates, more than 3 million people were without power in the greater Houston area, as nearly the entire city was without electricity. Closer to Louisiana, in Orange, Texas, the flood waters rose so quickly that people were forced to evacuate to upper floors, attics and rooftops for safety.
In spite of the recovery that followed, a deadline is fast approaching that many of those affected by Hurricane Ike should be aware of. In Texas, the law provides for a two-year statute of limitations for bad faith insurance claims. For victims of Hurricane Ike, the new battle is not with the rain, wind and water, but with the insurance industry. As sometimes happens, insurance companies occasionally delay their claims investigations, hoping to withhold payment for as long as possible. In some instances this takes years. In Texas, if payments have not been made during the two-year period, there is no guarantee after that point that payment will be made.
If you or someone you know is involved in an insurance claim and the insurance company is dragging its feet, you need to see a lawyer to make a bad faith claim. This needs to be done before September to ensure that your claim has a fair chance at being extended past the two-year window. Should you not make this claim, your insurance company is under no legal obligation to work with you. Should you make a bad faith claim, however, you are allowed to present evidence that the insurance company is acting in bad faith in failing to process your insurance claim in a timely manner.
If you believe you are in such a situation, be sure to visit an attorney familiar with insurance law. The lawyer will review your situation and advise you of the best course of action.
On Friday, June 18, 2010, Administrative Judge Al Bennett conducted a hearing concerning a possible consolidation of commercial Hurricane Ike cases into a special docket. All residential Ike cases have been consolidated into a special docket before Judge Mike Miller, and a similar proposal is under consideration for commercial cases.
The hearing was well attended, with lead Plaintiffs’ lawyers in attendance along with counsel for dozens of insurance companies. The Plaintiffs group was united in the desire to put in place an organized, sensible pre-trial docket for commercial Ike cases. Both I and my co-liaison counsel advised Judge Bennett and Judge Kyle Carter, who heads the Special Docket Committee, about the benefits we have seen from consolidated dockets in Houston and Galveston.
The insurance industry position was expressed by Chris Martin, who represents a number of the major insurance carriers. The insurance industry opposed the creation of a special docket for commercial cases.
The opposition to a special docket for commercial Ike cases is unfortunate. Consolidation of the residential cases in Houston, and of all cases in Galveston, has lead to an organized, well-run docket that has resolved hundreds if not thousands of Hurricane Ike cases. Our clients have all benefited from the good work the courts and lawyers have done throughout the Texas Gulf Coast to promptly resolve these cases. The opposition by the insurance industry is disappointing and an unfortunate example of the ongoing effort to create obstacles and roadblocks to impede Texas insureds from protecting the values of their homes and businesses. We are hopeful the Harris County Courts will grant the request to create a pre-trial consolidation of all commercial Hurricane Ike cases into a special docket, for the benefit of Texas policy holders