Getting Prompt, Fair Settlement of Hurricane Damage Insurance Claims
For many business and home owners whose property was damaged by Hurricane Ike, the road to financial recovery may be longer than anticipated. It's well known that some insurance companies systematically avoid paying the full value of claims. The good news is that Texas law protects policyholders from unfair insurance practices. This article outlines the duties of the insurer and the deadlines they are obligated to meet once they have been notified of a claim.
It's been nearly a month since Hurricane Ike cut its destructive swath through the southeast Texas communities that surround Galveston Bay. In its wake, is estimated to be as much as $18 billion or more in insured damages. The most severe damage was inflicted on coastal communities like those on Galveston Island and Bolivar peninsula. But due to the unusually large size of the storm, widespread damage was inflicted over a much larger inland region covering the entire Houston-Sugarland-Baytown metropolitan area. With an estimated population in this affected area of nearly 6 million people, it is easy to imagine how insured losses can mount very quickly.
Living and working in the Houston area has almost returned to normal again. The last people I knew of who didn't have electricity, have had their power restored for almost a week now. The portable generators are finally silenced, the long lines at gas stations are gone, and although the cleanup continues, nearly all streets are clear of debris (if you discount the piles along the curbs). For most of us, the worst of it is over. For others however, the real headaches are just beginning as insurance claims for hurricane damage are made and, in an alarming number of cases, denied.
Don't be cheated
It's old news that some insurance companies practice systematic strategies to avoid paying full value for claims. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana State Attorney General filed a lawsuit against six major insurance companies including State Farm and Allstate. The suit claimed that insurance companies “coerced their policyholders into settling their claims of damages for less than their value by editing engineering reports, by delaying payment and by forcing policyholders to litigate claims to receive full value.” The suit relied on information about a study conducted for Allstate by a major consulting firm that advised the insurance company to don boxing gloves and pummel anyone who didn't settle for pennies on the dollar. A book titled Good Hands to Boxing Gloves tells the story which is now yesterday's news. Or is it?
My own home suffered substantial damage from the hurricane and I'm happy to report that my own insurance provider acted quickly and in good faith to settle our homeowners insurance claim fairly. But reports of unfairly denied claims, delays in adjusting claims, and unfair settlement offers are emerging. Many area residents and business owners are understandably frustrated with the process. Fortunately, Texas law provides ample protection for policy holders from unfair insurance practices. Unfortunately, few policy holders have any idea what their rights are and what protections are afforded them under the law.
Prompt payment of insurance claims
Texas law, specifically the Prompt Payment of Claims Statute provided in the Texas Insurance Code, imposes certain deadlines for an insurance company to acknowledge, investigate, and accept or reject a claim. Policy holders may not even realize that if their insurance company fails to fulfill its duties within the prescribed deadlines, they can be liable for the full amount of the claim, plus damages including attorney's fees and an additional 18% per annum in addition to the amount of the claim.
Duties of the Insurer
The following duties are imposed on insurance companies after they receive notice of a claim:
With a few exceptions, most insurers must perform these duties within 15 days following receipt of notice of a claim.
Additional Duties & Deadlines
Once the insurance company receives all items, statements, and forms reasonably required by them, they are obligated to fulfill the following duties:
Get help if you need it
Texas business and home owners have been through enough simply surviving the impact and the ensuing aftermath of Hurricane Ike. Policy holders who are experiencing difficulty due to the unfair practices of their insurers deserve better. If you have been treated unfairly by an insurance company, you may be entitled to compensation over and above the value of your insurance claim. Depending on the circumstances, not only your insurance company, but also their representatives and agents can be liable for unfair settlement practices, misrepresentations, breach of contract or other behaviors prohibited by law.
Don't be bullied into accepting less than the full value of your hurricane damage insurance claim. Get help if you need it from a qualified attorney with experience handling first party insurance claims litigation.
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