Corporate Accountability Issues

Eye on Texas Blog, Press Releases

TX Senate Chooses Insurance Immunity Over Texas Families & Businesses

The Texas Senate gave preliminary approval to the Insurance Immunity Act – SB 1628 – today. After a procedural vote and a few “clean up” amendments expected tomorrow, the bill heads to the Texas House. Following is a statement from Alex Winslow, executive director of policyholder advocacy organization Texas Watch:

The Texas Senate chose to protect deny, delay, underpay insurance industry tactics, making it easier for insurance companies to cheat their customers. The affect of this legislation – if passed by the House – would be to undermine crucial policyholder protections designed to ensure fair, timely payments to Texas families and businesses with valid insurance claims.

The bill’s author and supporters are selling a line that SB 1628 somehow helps consumers. It does not. You don’t help policyholders by taking away their rights.

This bill is fundamentally flawed and is facing growing opposition within the business community and a groundswell of grassroots opposition from Texans across the state.

We look forward to the debate in the House.

Click here for more information about the bill’s dangerous provisions, as well as the bill’s opposition.

Eye on Texas Blog, Press Releases

Sen. Taylor & TLR Can’t Defend Insurance Immunity Act. So, They’re Attacking Us.

Sen. Larry Taylor and his allies at TLR want to distract attention from the terrible impact SB 1628 – the Insurance Immunity Act – would have on Texas families and businesses by resorting to direct attacks on Texas Watch.

Proponents of SB 1628 know that they cannot defend this bill on its merits. It speaks volumes that rather than debate the merits of the bill, they are making personal attacks.

With growing opposition within the business community and a grassroots groundswell of opposition from Texans all across the state, this attack smacks of a desperate attempt by a lawmaker and lobbyists trying to save their bill. The bottom line is that Texans don’t want this.

We won’t be distracted by mudslinging. Our focus is on the real-world detrimental impact this bill would have on Texas families and businesses.

Senator Taylor is selling a line that his bill somehow helps consumers. You don’t help policyholders by taking away their rights. The policyholder protections that have been on the books for over 40 years are the last line of defense between Texans and the greed of the insurance industry.

The facts about SB 1628’s impact on commercial and individual policyholders are these:

  • Hollowed out damages: A right without a remedy is no right at all. CSSB 1628 fatally defines the term “actual damages” downward, removing wrongfully withheld policy benefits from the recoverable damages for all policyholders under Ch. 541 (Section 2). Policy benefits, of course, form the bulk of a policyholder’s damages. CSSB 1628 also undermines Ch. 542 by only allowing policyholders to recover interest on the unpaid amount of the claim (Section 10), which incentivizes low-balling by insurers. If an insurer offers to pay 75 cents on the dollar, you can’t put on 75% of a roof. The policyholder either has enough money to make the necessary repairs, or the repairs can’t be made. Homeowners can’t rebuild, businesses can’t reopen, and people can’t return to their jobs.
  • Expanded immunity: Under CSSB 1628, employees, agents, representatives, and adjusters can all be immunized (Sections 3). Currently, these people must follow the law when investigating, adjusting, and paying claims, which means they owe a statutory duty to policyholders. Under this change, they may act without personal consequence, meaning their financial relationships with insurers will control their findings and dealings. This change will also have the effect of pushing insurance cases into federal courts, driving up litigation costs and delaying policyholder suits, which will be parked behind federal criminal trials. This would have the result of pressuring claimants into accepting low-ball settlements or risk waiting for years to have their case resolved. State law claims should stay in state court.
  • Hard and short statute of limitations: All property damage claims would essentially be subject to a hard two-year statute of limitations, regardless of when the policyholder discovered – or should have discovered – the damage (Section 12). This change ignores the fact that certain structural damage and systems failures inside of walls, closets, and foundations can take time to detect.
  • Frivolous defenses: Insurers already possess the ability to make qualifying offers of settlement and dismiss non-meritorious claims. However, under CSSB 1628, insurers will now be able to raise a number of new defenses, including a “bona fide dispute” trump card (Section 1) and a new “knowing” standard added to Ch. 542 (Section 10), as well as “gotcha” defenses through the outright dismissal of property claims on mere technicalities if policyholders do not comply with every last requirement of onerous new notice procedures (Sections 7, 8).
Texas Watch’s board, staff, and grassroots support is comprised of individuals who believe in the mission of protecting policyholder and consumer rights. We are proud to have over 20,000 financial and grassroots supporters from every corner of the state. Since 1998, Texas Watch has advocated on behalf of policyholders and consumers at the state and national levels, including as consumer liaisons to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

But, don’t take our word for it. Read the bill for yourself.

Eye on Texas Blog

Preserve Policyholder Protections

Policyholders pay premiums in exchange for a promise from their insurance company that claims will be paid in full and on time. Too often insurers fail to hold up their end of the bargain by unfairly denying, delaying, or underpaying valid claims. That’s why strong laws with stiff penalties – like those that have been codified in the Insurance Code for decades – are necessary to deter bad conduct.

However, Senate Bill 1628 gives to industry and takes from policyholders. This legislation is currently being debated by the Texas Legislature. Take action now to stop this dangerous bill.

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Texas Tells Podcast

Episode Three: “The Second Storm”

Episode three: How do Texans rebuild in the wake of catastrophe? After devastating storms ravage their homes, businesses, and churches, many Texans faced a second storm: dealing with their insurance company. This month, we talked to policyholders about SB1628, the insurance industry’s effort to erode the last line of defense for policyholders against low, slow, or no payments on their valid claims. Then Executive Director Alex Winslow explains how the bill could negatively impact all Texans.

Eye on Texas Blog

Our Take: Perry’s Farewell Address

Perry Thumbs Up (370x230)Gov. Rick Perry gave his farewell address before a joint session of the legislature today. He touted his record of severely restricting access to legal accountability, pointing specifically to sweeping 2003 legislation that closed the courthouse doors for countless Texans.

Even as he exits the stage, Gov. Perry is a cheerleader for his broken special interest policies that shield polluters, dangerous doctors, makers of dangerously defective products, and big insurance companies from accountability for needless physical and financial harm.

Despite his rhetoric, Perry’s policies have not resulted in better health care, lower insurance costs, or safer communities. Instead, Texas families face new dangers that threaten their physical and financial safety. Whether it is nursing home neglect, junk insurance policies, unsafe toxic chemical facilities, or a host of other looming threats, Texans are less safe.

So-called tort ‘reform’ has never been about helping families. It has always been about protecting narrow interests from accountability.

Texans need real accountability and safety reforms that restore the Constitution’s guarantee of public accountability and ensure all Texans have the ability to thrive in the Texas economy.

Eye on Texas Blog

Safe Texas Agenda

As our state’s economy thrives and our population booms, Texas families and communities face new threats to their physical and financial safety. We call on lawmakers to take steps during the 84th Legislature to help Texans thrive in our Texas economy by adopting a Safe Texas Agenda.

“The freedom to raise a family, build a business, and thrive in the Texas economy is only possible if our citizens’ physical and financial safety is protected,” said Alex Winslow, executive director of the citizen advocacy group Texas Watch. “So, priority one for lawmakers should be to adopt common sense steps to put the safety of Texas families and small business owners first.” (more…)

Eye on Texas Blog

VIDEO: No Justice for Texas Families

Check out this short video produced by the Center for American Progress. Using personal stories of everyday Texans, it powerfully demonstrates the devastating impact severe restrictions on access to our courts have had on families from every corner of our state. The film features Texas Watch citizen activists, as well as our Executive Director Alex Winslow.

After you watch the video, help us spread the word by sharing it on Facebook and Twitter.

Eye on Texas Blog, Press Releases

SCOTX Devastates Workers Poisoned by Asbestos

A sharply divided Supreme Court of Texas handed down an opinion today that is devastating for workers exposed to cancer-causing asbestos. In Bostic v. Georgia-Pacific, the Court creates an exceptionally high causation standard for asbestos-related cancer cases, effectively blocking many workers and their families from having their day in court. (See Case No. 10-0775, majority, concurrence, dissent.)

Alex Winslow, Executive Director of Texas Watch, a citizen advocacy organization active on civil justice issues, stated:

“The Texas Supreme Court is closing the courthouse doors for workers who are going to die a terrible death simply because they showed up for work and did their job. This decision breaks the promise of meaningful accountability for workers who, through no fault of their own, were poisoned by asbestos-laden products. In the words of Justice Lehrmann, this opinion ‘does not just offend logic – it offends justice.'” (more…)

Eye on Texas Blog, Latest Headlines

News of the Week: Chemical Disclosure, Safe Road Trips, Kyle Field Worker Death, and a Devastating Medical Error

In this edition of the News of the Week, Greg Abbott shuts down access to information about hazardous chemical facilities, we have tips to get you ready for your summer road trip, OSHA issues a scathing report into a construction worker’s death at Kyle Field, and an Arlington man who had the wrong kidney removed seeks accountability in the courts. (more…)

Eye on Texas Blog

Abbott Decision Blocks Access to Hazardous Chemical Information

Families who live and work near hazardous chemical facilities no longer have access to information about the type or amount of dangerous toxics in their community. According to a report by WFAA-TV, Greg Abbott recently issued a legal opinion barring the disclosure of such information despite federal law permitting disclosure and longstanding state practice to make that information available to anyone who requests it.

Abbott’s decision reflects an about-face from proclamations made by other state leaders to beef up disclosure of chemical facilities in the wake of last year’s disastrous explosion of an ammonium nitrate storage facility in West, Texas. (more…)

Research & Reports
Research & Reports

The Texas Watch Foundation, a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization, conducts research and public education activities on consumer law, consumer protection and civil justice issues. Read More »

Court Watch
Court Watch

Court Watch, a program of the Foundation, documents the role and impact of the Texas civil court system on Texas families and Texas public policy. Read More »