In what might be the worst case of legislative bad timing ever, Texas is set to enact draconian new limitations on homeowners insurance claims just as thousands of Houstonians start shoveling out flooded livings rooms.
House Bill 1774, which severely limits a homeowners' rights to sue and recover damages against homeowners insurance companies, was passed by the Texas legislature this year and takes effect Sept. 1.
The law puts up roadblocks and reduces money damages for homeowners insurance claims.
Texas for Lawsuit Reform, the pro-insurance lobbying group that pushed the bill, said at the time the bill passed that the law was aimed at “stopping storm-chasing lawyers from hijacking Texans’ property insurance," according to TLR communications director Lucy Nashed.
But those same lawyers are now warning Texans to file their insurance claims before the law takes effect Sept. 1.
"The new law strips people of their rights," attorney Geoff Henley told the Dallas Morning News, "and so immediate action is necessary."
Even the politically neutral State Bar of Texas felt the need to weigh in on the law's changes.
"If you need to make an insurance claim related to Hurricane Harvey," said State Bar of Texas President Thomas Vick in a blog post, "you should study how the law may affect you."
The bill's senate sponsor, Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-Dallas, played down the worries.
"There is no need to rush to file a claim," Hancock told the Houston Business Journal. "Put your safety first."
Homeowners can make claims by contacting their insurance agent or company to report property damage. As with most things related to insurance, consumer advocacy group Texas Watch Executive Director Ware Wendell says "get it in writing."
The Texas Department of Insurance has a "Help after Harvey" web page with useful links and a "company lookup" function to find insurance company contact numbers.
Click here for a link to Texas Watch's FAQ's for this and other hurricane-related insurance headaches.