HOUSTON - Anyone who lives in and around Houston knows that flooding, hurricanes, and hailstorms are a fact of life, and so is the risk of damage.
Now a bill now making its way to the Governor’s desk could change how much insurance companies pay out to people whose homes or businesses get damaged in a storm.
“Bad actors” and “storm chasers”: That’s how supporters of House Bill 1774, sponsored by Senator Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), describe trial lawyers looking for a big payout after a storm and exploit families and business owners in the process.
While the topic may be confusing, it could easily affect thousands of people living in the Houston-Galveston region and has suffered multiple major floods since 2015.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called passing a hailstorm lawsuit reform bill one of his top ten priorities for the 2017 legislative session.
Governor Greg Abbott supports the measure, too. He’s expected to sign the bill into law after the Texas Senate passed it on Wednesday by a vote of 21-7.
HB 1774 would lower penalties on insurance companies if they don’t pay enough in claims, cut down the odds they’ll have to pay back attorney fees to the property owner suing, and protect individual agents from lower credit scores and other downsides of being sued.
The bill has the backing of several business groups, insurance groups, and chambers of commerce statewide.
Supporters say it’ll help discourage unnecessary lawsuits, which they argue will help keep monthly insurance costs down and keep insurers from leaving an area altogether.
Proponents also say property owners can still sue if they’re not happy with their insurance payout, so their rights are still protected.
However, many people against this bill, including Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston), believe the opposite.
They argue if property owners are less likely to get their legal fees paid back, they’ll be less likely to file the lawsuit in the first place. It’s just would be too expensive.
Opponents say insurers that wrongfully delay a property owner’s claim will be penalized less, and this bill could force many cases into backlogged federal courts, tipping the scales of justice toward the insurance companies.
If signed into law, House Bill 1774 would take effect September 1.