Press Releases

Eye on Texas Blog, Press Releases

Last Ditch Effort to Graft Anti-Policyholder Provisions onto HB 3787

Recent severe weather events have Texas families and businesses digging out, evaluating property damage, and preparing necessary insurance claims. Meanwhile, the insurance industry and its cohorts at the self-styled Texans for Lawsuit Reform are trying to shove last second changes through the legislature that would roll back decades of key policyholder protections.

Thus far, lawmakers have thwarted their efforts by killing Senate Bill 1628. However, the property insurance industry – which pocketed at least $11.5 billion over the last five years, according to records compiled by the Texas Department of Insurance – wants to use another bill, House Bill 3787, as a vehicle to make a last ditch attempt to place new, onerous burdens on Texas families and businesses.

“This is a sneak attack on Texas families and businesses,” said Alex Winslow, executive director of the policyholder advocacy group Texas Watch. “The Senate should see this for what it is: a naked attempt by a group of desperate lobbyists to ram through a giveaway for the insurance industry. Senators should reject this latest assault on hardworking Texans.” (more…)

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, 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, Press Releases

Cart Before the Horse

UPDATE (5/23/14):
TDI adopted a rule today that imposes a surcharge on home and auto insurance policies  in the 14 coastal counties. Thus far, insurers have not been forced to fulfill their legal obligations to cover the final level of financing of Hurricane Ike claims. We reiterate our strong support for requiring private insurance companies to meet their obligations under the law before any additional costs are borne by policyholders.

ORIGINAL POST (3/10/14):
In order to raise funds for the beleaguered Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, regulators at TDI are considering rules to impose a surcharge on property insurance policies sold along the Texas coast. This means higher insurance costs for homeowners and drivers in an area of the state hit hard by sky-high insurance costs (not to mention the severe restrictions on policyholder legal rights if/when the next storm hits).

Instead of putting more of the burden on policyholders, TDI should force private insurance companies to hold up their end of the bargain. Back when Hurricane Ike hit, the law said that insurance companies should bear the burden of the storm’s insured losses. Instead, they’ve been let off the hook while policyholders have been picking up the tab.

The folks at TDI are getting the cart before the horse. In our comments to the agency, we say that before even considering another hike in the cost of insurance, private insurance companies should be forced to fulfill their obligations. (more…)

Eye on Texas Blog, Press Releases

Lawmakers Should Adopt Basic Steps to Avoid Another West, Protect the Public

The disaster last year in West, Texas has put a spotlight on gaping holes in the safety and accountability of industrial facilities that handle and store dangerously toxic materials like ammonium nitrate.

Lawmakers have spent the better part of the last year discussing whether and how to beef up oversight of these facilities, as well as how to ensure accountability if another disaster occurs. This is a public safety issue that requires reasonable and responsible reforms to ensure our communities, schools, and families are protected and are able to rebuild after a catastrophe. We know what the solutions are and they are pretty straight forward: Implement basic safety precautions and construction standards and require facility owners to have meaningful liability insurance so that communities have resources to rebuild. (more…)

Eye on Texas Blog, Press Releases

Judge Concerned About Sweetheart Deal for Farmers Insurance

A Texas district court judge refused to allow a sweetheart deal between Farmers Insurance and the State of Texas to move forward today. At a hearing in Judge Scott Jenkins’ court, lawyers for Farmer Insurance and Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office argued in favor of a deal that allows the insurance giant to avoid paying interest on millions of dollars in excessive premiums.

“This was a sweetheart deal in 2002 and it is still a sweetheart deal,” said Alex Winslow, executive director of the citizen advocacy group Texas Watch.

In 2002, Greg Abbott, then a candidate for Attorney General speaking about Farmers’ nefarious practices, said he would hold “accountable any company that bilks consumers out of their hard earned money.”

“That was then, this is now,” said Winslow. “Today, Greg Abbott and Farmers Insurance are linked arm-in-arm to push this bad deal through. Why isn’t Greg Abbott keeping his promise to Texas policyholders? He should put Texas homeowners first by forcing Farmers to pay back every penny it owes plus interest.” (more…)

Posted April 29, 2014

Eye on Texas Blog, Press Releases

Hecht Appointed Chief Justice

Gov. Rick Perry announced today that he is appointing Nathan Hecht to serve as the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

Nathan Hecht’s appointment to the top judicial post in Texas is a blow to the notion of fairness and balance on our state’s highest court.

Nathan Hecht is the godfather of the pro-defendant judicial movement in Texas. He has led the charge in using the courts to decimate accountability for insurance companies and other corporate defendants who needlessly harm everyday Texans. Far from showing the type of judicial restraint the public expects of the Chief Justice, Hecht is unapologetically pro-defendant and has been activist in his desire to protect insurance companies and other corporate defendants. (more…)

Eye on Texas Blog, Press Releases

Perry Ignores Facts About Impact of Medical Liability Restrictions

Gov. Rick Perry is holding a press conference in Edinburg today touting what his press office calls the “landmark medical malpractice legal reforms” passed a decade ago. The governor is likely to ignore key facts about the failure of these so-called “reforms” to improve the overall health or safety of Texas patients.

Politicians like Rick Perry have traded meaningful, public accountability for immunity, leaving untold numbers of Texas families to bear the financial, physical, and emotional costs of needless medical harm.

The governor and his insurance lobbyist buddies want Texans to believe that taking away the legal rights of patients has been good medicine for our state. But, the facts don’t lie. Texas ranks dead last in the quality of health care, our health care costs are soaring at a rate faster than the national average, we rank near the bottom in the number of doctors who actually see patients, and we have the highest rate of people without health insurance. (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 »