It is really no big surprise that the state of Texas was once again officially named the most severe weather state in the country and is the only state with exposure to nine different types of natural disasters.
As if Texas hasn’t already seen enough weather-related destruction this year, hurricane season officially kicked off June 1.
Even though hurricane season has been in full swing, Texas already has been hit hard by Mother Nature this year, from heavy rains to tornados to violent hailstorms. By mid April, insured losses in Texas already had met the nine-year average for hailstorm damage in the United States. And that was before San Antonio suffered three hailstorms – including one that was the costliest hailstorm in Texas history – with estimated insured losses to automobiles and homes and businesses reaching $1.9 billion.
While the No. 13 my be unlucky for some, State Farm Lloyds, a primary target for storm litigation the past several years, recently secured its 13th consecutive win, with a Harris County jury finding the insurer honored its policy.
Seeking up to $200,000 in relief, Martha Toloudis sued State Farm and its adjuster, Dewella Lee, in October 2014, alleging the defendants “set out to deny properly covered damages.”
Toloudis’ suit is one of thousands that continue to be filed against Texas insurers in mass following storm strikes in the Lone Star State.
Her case went to trial in late September and ended a few days later with another State Farm defense verdict — its 13th straight victory.
Damaging hail storms and wide-spread flooding have caused record setting losses for both homes and automobiles this year in Texas, according to a state insurance trade group.
This year’s insured losses for the first two quarters already surpass every year’s total losses dating back to Hurricane Ike in 2008, the Insurance Council of Texas (ICT) reports.
“Hailstorms have already totaled $4 billion for residential property losses alone in Texas this year,” said Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the ICT. “Hail and flooding has caused more than $1 billion in auto losses. This year’s losses for both home and auto have doubled the annual losses we have seen in the past several years.”
The Texas Department of Insurance offers the best online consumer assistance of any insurance department in the nation, according to an analysis by NerdWallet released this week.
TDI received high marks from the personal finance website for providing auto and home insurance rate comparisons online. Out of 51 insurance department reviewed, TDI was one of only nine to offer 2015 complaint data online for companies selling auto, health, homeowners, and life policies.
“We found most of these websites fall short in serving consumers by not providing key information, such as insurer rate comparisons and complaint data, as well as easy access to consumer assistance and educational materials,” the report stated. “But we also identified states like Texas, whose insurance department website is a model of excellence.”
Summer is drawing to a close and school is starting up again, meaning increased traffic on the roads.
With college students packing up their cars to go back to campus, and parents dropping off and picking up kids from school, the increase in traffic congestion and distracted driving can create dangerous road conditions and contribute to increases in the frequency of auto accidents.
AUSTIN, Texas — It has been a tough sell in the Texas Legislature, but there’s a new push to get a statewide ban on texting while driving passed.
Wednesday, lawmakers, police and families who support the ban came together to talk strategy at the first-ever AAA Texas Distracted Driving Policy Summit.
“We’re losing too many fellow citizens, needlessly to distracted drivers,” said State Representative Byron Cook.
He’s one of several state lawmakers putting pressure on their legislative peers to pass a full statewide ban on texting at the wheel.
“This has a tremendous negative impact on our state, and in the House we remain committed to addressing this issue,” said Cook, who represents Texas House District 8.
Earth sizzled to its 13th straight month of record heat in May, but it wasn’t quite as much of an over-the-top scorcher as previous months, federal scientists say.
Record May heat, from Alaska to India and especially in the oceans, put the global average temperature at 60.17 degrees Fahrenheit (15.65 degrees Celsius), according to NOAA. That’s 1.57 degrees (.87 degrees Celsius) above the 20th-century average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
How to lessen storm damage, reduce insurance claims and save money
Mother Nature’s fury is no stranger to Texans, who annually submit millions of dollars in property damage claims due to tornadoes, hail, wildfire and other natural disasters.
In 2015, Texas led the nation with 466,250 claims totaling more than $3.2 billion, in insured losses from 16 catastrophic events, not including major flooding that likely amounted to hundreds of millions of additional claim dollars. Unfortunately, 2015 was not an unusual year in Texas, the only state with exposure to nine different types of natural disasters. This diverse weather risk is the biggest cost driver when it comes to buying homeowners insurance in Texas.
While we can’t control the weather, there are a number of things Texans – from individual homeowners to state legislators — can do both before and after a storm hits to protect lives, lessen storm damage, reduce insurance claims and save money.
Before a Storm
Regularly review your homeowners insurance coverage
Homeowners should meet with their insurance agent every few years to reevaluate their coverage and to make note of any changes to their dwellings, such as a remodeling or a new roof. While homeowners assume their insurance will cover all damage from a natural catastrophe, an estimated 64 percent of U.S. homes are undervalued for insurance purposes, according to a 2008 study from Marshall & Swift, a company that provides building cost data. The study also found that most insurance policies provide enough money to rebuild, on average, just 81 percent of a home’s value.
Maintain your home
Regular maintenance of your home, inside and out, can reduce damage from catastrophic weather events. Special attention should be given to your home’s roof, the first line of defense in hailstorms and high winds. Routinely inspect your roof, quickly repair wear and tear, and replace it when necessary, not just after a storm. In addition, other easy maintenance tasks can protect your dwelling. You can learn more how to protect your home from all types of natural disasters at www.disastersafety.com.
Select appropriate materials when building or remodeling your home
Evaluate your risk for a specific weather disaster and consider an investment in protective building materials such as impact resistant roof shingles (hail), fire resistant roofing material (wildfire) or hurricane clips or framing anchors to more effectively tie together a house (tornadoes, hurricanes and high winds). More information on how to fortify your home can be found at https://disastersafety.org/fortified/fortified-home/.
Also see NOAA’s 2016 Hurricane Preparedness Tips.
Enact strong, uniform, modern building codes
Building codes are designed to reduce deaths and property damage by setting design, construction and maintenance standards for structures. They also help insurers evaluate and manage the risk of property damage in our catastrophe-prone state. Damage to homes built to a strong code is less likely or less severe, leading to fewer losses and driving down the number and cost of insurance claims.
Texas trails most coastal states when it comes to instituting and enforcing building codes, ranking lower than all but three of 18 states along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast, according to a 2015 analysis by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.
Texas needs to implement and enforce sound building codes for new construction or when rebuilding. Though Texas has adopted a statewide building code, the law allows municipalities to adopt weaker standards than what is set out in the code.
Texas requires licensing for plumbing, mechanical and electrical contractors. But anyone with a ladder – without training, license or experience – can slap a magnetic sign on the side of their truck and call him or herself a roofer. Neighboring states New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana all require registration or licensing.
Some cities in Texas do require registration or have other requirements before roofers can solicit work within their boundaries. But Texas’ lack of any statewide requirements has made it a magnet and haven for rip-off roofers. Such roofers have victimized homeowners by performing substandard work, taking payment without providing service, interfering between customers and insurers in the claims process, providing “trap” contracts for service before a claim is established, and intentionally damaging roofs during the estimate process to secure work.
These unethical and malicious practices have hurt consumers, taken business from reputable roofers, and increased claims costs.
Licensing or registration would require roofers to provide a physical address, which prevents bad actors from simply disappearing mid-job and allows them to be contacted if problems emerge after a repair. They would have to prove they carry liability insurance and have work-related training. Also, the State of Texas could revoke a license of a roofer who performs shoddy work, takes payment and doesn’t perform the work, or commits insurance fraud.
After a Storm
Immediately report any property damage to your insurance agent or company representative
Complaint ration comment
Make temporary repairs to prevent further damage.
Select a reputable contractor to make permanent repairs.
What to look for when hiring a roofing contractor checklist:
The Texas Department of Insurance offers tips and information regarding unlicensed individuals and entities that adjust claims: http://www.helpinsure.com/home/documents/unlicensedfaq.pdf.
Beware of traps that ultimately cost more money, delay insurance settlements and impact the marketplace. Shyster lawyers.
Crack down on opportunistic, abusive “storm-chasing” lawsuits
In recent years, storms – especially hailstorms – have spawned a growing industry of unscrupulous trial lawyers, contractors and third party adjusters trying to get rich through the legal system at the expense of storm victims.
Although the Texas Department of Insurance oversees a process to solve claims disputes between homeowners and insurers, trial lawyers and third party insurance adjusters instead are encouraging homeowners to file lawsuits against their insurer. Property insurance lawsuit abuse has increased in recent years, and the number of lawsuits in Texas is growing at a dramatic rate as more and more individuals are gaming the system for their own financial gain.
In many lawsuit cases, the homeowner had already settled a claim with the insurance company with no issues. The lawsuit was filed only after a third party suggested the homeowner was underpaid and urged legal action. As further encouragement, homeowners are told they will not have to pay any legal fees.
Left unchecked, these abusive lawsuits will continue to drive up the cost of homeowners insurance for all Texans for the unfair benefit of a few. In addition, in some areas of the state, after rampant lawsuit abuse, some insurance companies have left town and stopped offering coverage.
While 97 percent of Texans have never filed a property insurance claim lawsuit as a result of damage to their home, they are aware of and concerned about this growing area of property insurance lawsuit abuse, and most favor reforms to prevent it, found a recent survey by Baselice & Associates.
Lawsuit reforms are needed to put an end to abusive practices while allowing for continued consumer protections and good practices between insurers and their customers. If left unchecked, the abusive practices of blatant solicitation, frivolous lawsuit filings and strong-arm tactics will impact Texans’ ability to choose and afford the insurance coverage they want and need.
2016 promises to be a rough year for both homeowners and for insurance companies doing business and paying damage claims in our state.
Just halfway through 2016, the insurance industry already is facing more than $6 billion in payouts, primarily from hail-driven events. By mid April, insured losses in Texas already had met the nine-year average for hailstorm damage in the United States. And that was before San Antonio suffered three hailstorms – including one that was the costliest hailstorm in Texas history – with estimated insured losses to automobiles and homes and businesses reaching $1.9 billion.