THE MANY HEROES OF HURRICANE HARVEY
VALUABLE FREE LEGAL ADVICE FOR OUR FRIENDS IN NEED by Troy D. Bolen
Hurricane Harvey already has inflicted more devastating injury and loss than any storm in Texas history. And yet, in the face of cataclysmic loss, many with huge hearts reach out to help.
We are proud to be part of the Central Texas Lawyer Referral Service which next week will begin providing through its volunteer manned attorney hot line, invaluable legal advice at no charge dedicated to helping many facing unimaginable loss with unique legal needs.
We also wish to bring to your attention that the recent, much discussed change to Texas insurance law, effective September 1, 2017 will not result in any change in insurance coverage for insureds. Texas Senate Bill No. 10 and House Bill No. 1774, which go into effect September 1, 2017, have significant implications for those who have suffered property damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey but not because of a change in coverage.
The “Hailstorm Bill” requires policyholders to provide 60-day notice to the insurer before filing suit to recover interest penalties and attorneys’ fees. Upon receiving notice, the insurer may request the opportunity to inspect, photograph or evaluate the damaged property. In the event of a lawsuit, a policy holder may be prohibited from recovering attorneys’ fees if pre-suit notice is not given or a reasonable opportunity to inspect was not provided by the policyholder. Even if attorneys’ fees are awarded, the new bill scales back, sometimes dramatically, the amount of attorneys’ fees that can be recovered by a policyholder.
The new bill cuts the penalty interest rate for insurance companies that underpay, delay, or wrongfully deny storm claims, including wind and hail damage. Under current Texas law, policyholders may recover 18% interest from insurers that do not comply with statutory deadlines for responding to and paying such claims. Under the new law, the statutory interest rate is reduced from 18% to 10% (post judgment interest rate + 5% equals 10%), thereby significantly reducing the penalty interest rate that an insurance company must pay if they fail to timely and fully pay a claim.
Victims of Hurricane Harvey also need to understand that the vast majority of homeowners’ policies in Texas don’t cover flooding. Those that do are usually policies issued by National Flood Insurance Program, Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”), which are not subject to state regulations.
Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey are encouraged to file their claims with FEMA at their earliest opportunity to see what kind of assistance may be available. Filing a FEMA claim can be done online or by calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362).
In summary, Texans who have been affected by Hurricane Harvey should file their claim by Thursday, August 31, 2017, to have the current Texas insurance law apply to their claims. It is important to note that this deadline only applies to filing claims, not lawsuits and the vast majority of insurance claims do not end up in litigation. Don’t wait for the insurance adjusters to come and inspect your property before filing your claim as they typically don’t come out until the storm has cleared the area which may not happen until after September 1, 2017.
For more information on hurricane Harvey claims, please contact Lawyer Referral Services during Legal Line next Tuesday, September 5th from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at (512) 472-8303 or toll free at (866) 303-8303. If you need immediate assistance, you can utilize the instant referral option by going to their website at www.AustinLRS.org.
About your author: Troy Bolen is a Senior attorney with The Fowler Law Firm PC and a very proud volunteer who dutifully mans the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas (LRS) evening hotline. Troy and many other huge hearted lawyers will next be manning the LRS hotline Tuesday, September 5, 2017 from 5: 30PM to 7:30PM. Contact http://austinlrs.com or 512-472-8303, 866-303- 8303.
About The Fowler Law Firm PC: Attorneys with The Fowler Law Firm PC proudly donate their talents and resources to many area charities.