Although it seems like it was last year since we had any good news in the Texas coastline / southwest Louisiana area, here it goes: It hasn’t rained in almost five days and we’ve enjoyed sunshine for almost the same length of time! It seems hard to believe, but that light at the end of the tunnel is really the sun and not a freight train. Unfortunately, not all the news is good news.
As we all know, or at least we hope that you know, “fake news” seems to have become part and parcel of the so-called “mainstream media” since well-before Hurricane Harvey turned a sizeable portion of the Texas coast into a waterlogged disaster area. While you might have hoped that we Texans have earned a respite from such nonsense, this has not been the case: not even personal injury and property damage claim lawyers seem to have been able to resist the temptation to engage in a little “creative journalism” in the hope of frightening storm-weary Texans into believing that the legislature will soon be interfering with a citizen’s right to file Harvey-related insurance claims.
According to a story published last Monday, August 28 (“Lawyers to Harvey victims: File insurance claims before law changes Sept. 1or risk losing money”) by Brandi Grissom of the Dallas Morning News’ Austin bureau:
“Even as Harvey's devastating deluge continues to inundate Texans' homes, lawyers are urging waterlogged homeowners to file insurance claims by Thursday to avoid losing out on important rights that lawmakers limited during the legislative session this year. … “Starting Sept. 1, House Bill 1774 becomes law in Texas, a measure that advocates for insurance companies say was designed to limit lawsuit abuses while preserving protections for homeowners. “Lawyers and consumer advocates, however, say the new law will severely limit homeowners' ability to hold insurance companies accountable when they take months or years to pay for a claim, underpay or wrongfully deny legitimate claims. And they are exhorting Harvey's victims to preserve their rights under current law by filing claims before the new measure takes effect Friday…”
While not exactly “false,” the story is definitely “misleading.” Before further comment, let’s take a look at what HB 1774 actually does not say. According to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, HB 1774:
1) Does not apply to insurance policies issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program
2) Does not apply to insurance policies issued through the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association
3) Does not apply to crop and/or livestock insurance programs administered by the state or federal government
4) Does not, in any way, restrict the right of a policyholder to file a lawsuit against an insurer who fails to promptly pay a legally-justifiable claim or who fails to negotiate a disputed claim “in good faith” and in accordance with state insurance law.
In fact, the only real changes brought about by HB 1774 will be to 1) limit the maximum amount in legal fees that an attorney can charge a client, 2) require that an insurer be given 61 days-notice before being sued in a civil court, and 3) make minor changes in the fees and other charges that can be assessed against an insurance carrier for actions that are already prohibited by existing state law and/or insurance regulations!
HB 1774’s sponsor, Kelly Jackson (R-District 9), probably wouldn’t mind going on the record and stating that the story won’t likely be remembered for its contributions to the finer principles of journalistic integrity. Writing in a press release that was distributed within hours of the Morning News story, Mr. Jackson commented:
"Sadly, while the storm [Harvey] is still raging and acts of heroism abound, a select few bad actors have circulated misinformation regarding insurance claims to scare property owners, all for the sake of profit.”
In wrapping up today’s post we think that it is fair to say that, had it not been for Hurricane Harvey, it is likely that most Texans would have given only passing notice to what should have been not much more than a piece of legislation whose goal was to put more money in the pockets of Texas citizens. Instead, a few unscrupulous lawyers violated the public’s trust by deliberately planting misleading statements in a major newspaper with the hope of using “scare headlines” to frighten property owners.
Maybe it’s because we are too “old fashioned” or “not erring on the side of caution,” but there is something to be said for those not-too-long-ago days when newspapers published something called “news” rather than “disinformation” or “infomercials.”