AUSTIN, Texas — Consumers are being squeezed out in the battle between the insurance industry and trial lawyers over the payment of claims dealing with hail-damaged roofs and other storm-related losses, and AARP Texas officials said Monday the organization will alert its members about the potentially costly consequences at stake.
“It’s wrong to punish honest people who’ve already been victimized by weather-related catastrophes... again,” said Bob Jackson, AARP Texas state director. “This is not how you deal with any excesses in the system or bad apples in the bunch.”
At issue is SB 1628, by Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, which includes several provisions that would make it devastatingly difficult for homeowners with legitimate insurance claims to pursue those claims. Without public testimony, the bill sailed out of the House Insurance Committee Friday on a 6-3 vote and could be called up by the full House at any moment. It passed the Senate by a 21-10 vote on April 29.
“The insurance industry, already enjoying record profits in Texas, has its fingerprints all over this bill and would now want you to believe that it is designed to protect policyholders,” Jackson said. “That’s disingenuous, and we all know better.”
One of SB 1628’s most egregious provisions eliminates a long-standing Texas law designed to ensure insurers pay claims on time and in full. Currently, an insurer must acknowledge a claim, investigate, request information, accept or reject and pay, or be subject to an 18% penalty on the entire amount. The proposed measure would limit the 18 percent penalty to the “unpaid” amount of the claim.
So for example, in the case of a hail-damaged roof in which the insurer only offers to pay 60 percent of the repair costs, the 18 percent penalty would apply only to the 40 percent unpaid portion of the claim. “This is problematic because if a carrier offers 60 cents on the dollar, you cannot put on 60 percent of a roof, Jackson noted. “Either the policyholder has enough money to make full repairs or the roof will go unrepaired.”
Moreover, SB 1628 would negate the 18 percent penalty if the insurer chooses an appraisal even if it’s long after the proper time has passed to investigate the claim. So basically, an insurer could ignore every deadline for processing the claim, then play the appraisal card and not have to pay any penalty. This would be true even if the appraisal is over a small, unrelated part of the claim.
“Insurance companies have taken Texas’ allergy season to new heights,” Jackson said. “They are good at collecting premiums but quite allergic to paying claims.”
AARP, with 2.2 million members in Texas, will reach out to as many of its members as possible through social media channels, phone calls and other avenues, organization officials said.