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Texas H.B. 1774 and Hurricane Harvey

On September 1st, 2017, Texas H.B. 1774 is set to take effect and dramatically affects your rights as an insured homeowner to file claims against your insurance company. This comes at a time when Hurricane Harvey is making its way through the Texas coast. The Blue Tarp Bill is a "get out of jail free" card for insurance companies - who put profits ahead of consumer rights and caring for their individual clients. Find out more about H.B. 1774 and how you as Texas homeowners can protect yourself, visit https://www.justinian.com/harvey/

Dustin Fox: Hello. I’m Dusti Fox with Justinian & Associates. Today, we’re here to discuss the new House Bill 1774 that takes effect this Friday. As you know, hurricane Harvey has been coming through Texas and causing quite a bit of a havoc. And I’m here with our head litigation attorney, Erik Walker here to discuss that bill.

Erik Walker: Let me start by saying that the damage caused by Harvey is going to be very tricky for people to receive compensation for. If you’ve lost a lot of your possessions, if your house has been damaged or if your house has essentially been destroyed, you are going to face obstacles in getting money from your insurance company to cover this damage. For one thing, most homeowner’s insurance policies do not include flooding damage. Let me repeat that. Most homeowner’s insurance policies exclude damages caused by flooding.

Now, that’s tricky in this sense, most of the policies encompass damages caused by other aspects of storms, such as win damage. So, if your roof was blown off your home, for instance, and the home was flooded because of the rain which went through the hole in the roof, that damage is typically covered by homeowner’s policies. Whereas, if the house was flooded because of rising river or bayou waters that entered the doors of your house, that damage is excluded by most insurance policies. So it’s very important when making an insurance claim that you indicate to the insurance company that you suffered damages from wind.

You don’t have to say you had no flooding but you should at least indicate yourself for damages from wind if indeed there was damage to your house caused by wind or other aspects of the storm and not just flooding. There are flood policies that you can purchase through the national flood insurance program and it may be that your lender, the person who provided your mortgage require you to secure flood insurance before they se– would allow you to borrow money to buy the house. So you need to check on that and see whether or not you have a policy that actually includes flood insurance.

But even if you don’t, if you just have a standard homeowner’s policy and you have wind damage, you can still make a claim. And if you are not sure what your damage came from, you ought to make a claim. The key is that you need to make the claim with your insurance company before September 1st, meaning in the next couple of days. And that’s because House Bill 1774 takes effect September 1st of this year. That bill provides for a number of benefits to the insurance company and takes a number of things away from the insured.

For instance, the Bill significantly reduces the amount of pre-judgment interest that you’re entitled to, interests on the damages caused by Harvey. So, when you ultimately go to trial, if it takes a year or two years, you’re entitled to a certain amount of damage, interest on the damages you suffered. This Bill reduces those damages. It has other significant provisions in it too. Like– for instance, you may– if you sue the agent who sold you the policy for misrepresentation, many lawyers will want to sue the agent for misrepresentation. If the agent truly did tell you that the policy would cover things it didn’t. And by sueing the agent, if the agent is a Texas resident, the lawyer may file the case in Texas State Court and the defendant would have difficulty trying to remove the case to Federal Court.

You don’t want to be in Federal Court in these kinds of cases for reasons way too numerous to announce here. You can succeed in Federal Court but you would prefer to be in State Court. And this new Bill makes it very difficult to keep the case in State Court. There are other pretty onerous provisions of the Bill. It limits the amount of attorney’s fees that are recoverable from the jury. You may still be obligated to pay the attorney the same amount of money or the same percentage of your recovery. But the amount of money you can get from the jury for attorney’s fees may be reduced.

In particular, the bill requires you to provide a demand, to make a demand on the insurance company and then if the amount of money you get from a jury is less than the demand, it reduces your attorney’s fees. Without going into all of these specifics, it’s just important for you to know that the law that takes effect on September 1st, helps the insurance companies and hurts you. And so it’s important that you make a claim with your insurance company before September 1st. What we are going to do as soon as we can on our website, justinian.com/harvey H-A-R-V-E-Y is to provide a sample or template letter that you can send to an insurance company as a claim. We will leave blank spaces or bracketed areas where you can insert the specifics of the damages you suffered or the specifics of your claim, particularly your address and other information.

But we will try to include some of the legal language that you ought to have in the letter to make it something that would be deemed the claim by the insurance company. We’re not warrantying or guaranteeing that this letter will be appropriate in all instances and you ought to do your own analysis to the extent you can. We’re doing this as a courtesy because of the incredible timetable that everyone in Texas is under right now, the September 1st deadline. So please, if you have suffered damages, particularly if they are from damages you know are probably covered by your insurance policy, make your claim as soon as possible and in no event contact the insurance company before September 1st.

Dustin Fox: Absolutely. If you have any kind of questions for us, we’re always here to answer those type of questions. We have a team of lawyers, all of our consultations are always free. So if you have any kind of concern that you don’t know whether or not you’re covered, just give us a call. The best number to reach us at is 512-980-0000 or again, like Mr. Walker said, we can– you can go to our website at justinian.com/harvey. Yeah.

Erik Walker: And of course if you want– seek representation, you should call us and given the timetable involved, you should call us as soon as you can.

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