The Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula slab cases are settling. There was an agreement between the Texas attorneys that nothing would come out in the press until the clients signed the agreements. Since even the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) participated with a press release, I assume that the gentlemen’s confidentiality agreement to wait on telling everybody publicly that a settlement has been reached, even before clients have signed the releases, no longer applies. The vast majority of my clients have only received letters from our firm, and I am awaiting final figures from TWIA so that we can consummate the deal. I hope everybody is not optimistically jumping the gun.
Purva Patel has done a marvelous job reporting on insurance claim issues arising as a result of Hurricane Ike. Her article, Windstorm Insurer to Settle Some Ike Cases, in yesterday’s Houston Chronicle noted that TWIA still does not recognize that its methodology was wrong:
TWIA has, and continues, to argue that it calculated claims properly.
"The proposed settlement represents a compromise as a result of mediation," TWIA general manager Jim Oliver said in a written statement. "TWIA does not believe its adjusting methods were flawed, and it has not admitted liability by entering into a settlement."
The TWIA attorneys have also done a remarkable job protecting TWIA. Most claims practice criticisms and evidence our firm has regarding TWIA have not seen the light of day, so far. Still, I think a more honest response by TWIA regarding Slab adjustments would have been to note that the science of adjusting slabbed structures following a hurricane is difficult and that the methodologies always have to be reviewed for improvement. I bet Jim Oliver would agree over a beer that the 11.2% adjusted figure we have poked fun at in The Parable of Hurricane Ike Insurance Claims is wrong. I would hate to think he would order his adjusters to do the same methodology again. If so, some future Slabbers will be doing more than just looking to protest in Austin as they did following Hurricane Ike.
While it took me a while to agree, I am also happy that these matters appear to be resolving. We represented almost 200 Slabbed clients in this phase of settlement. There was obviously a lot of gnashing of teeth and frustrating moments for all concerned during the negotiations. Judge Susan Criss did a wonderful job riding herd on the attorneys and should be congratulated for her efforts. She can be pretty tough, but always seemed fair and understanding of the complex issues. It was pretty obvious to many in an open Courtroom that while not mentioning me by name, she expressed some concern about my views of the resolution efforts and negotiations. I may write on some of those matters after the releases are signed.
Still, many more cases are actively being litigated where policyholders have still not been paid fully. The truth is that I am burning up the airways by phone and plane between Tampa and Houston. So, this story about TWIA and other insurance carriers’ claims practices is not over. There are reasons why so many in the Houston area have had to wait for so long to obtain fair resolution. Our legal work is not close to being finished regarding Hurricane Ike. At best, I would say we are about in the top of the sixth inning. And with the statute of limitations approaching with new clients calling, these last innings are going to be very slow.
We have now "successfully" represented hundreds of policyholders in Texas, Mississippi and Florida in three different hurricanes with the same exact problem…is it wind or water that caused the damage? Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina and Ike all posed the same legal questions and practical adjustment problem. From my view as a professional nomad helping those with insurance policies obtain recovery where their homes and businesses have disappeared as a result of a hurricane, it is an extraordinarily difficult proposition to see vast areas of destruction knowing that we will have to tell clients that their claims will be denied en masse because the insurance industry will first battle their customers in court before paying a fair sum towards recovery of a total loss caused by an excluded cause of flood waters and a covered peril of wind. For those that retained attorneys and fought, those policyholders have generally done well. I know just about every trick and argument in the book regarding these claims. Yet, there has to be a better way.
As a society, we need to come up with a resolution that pays insurance fully rather than requiring this massive and repeat litigation to occur after each hurricane that carries a significant storm surge. Some in the Florida panhandle are still litigating 2004 Hurricane Ivan slab claims. Until we mandate this change, we are doomed to repeat this scenario.
And since it is Friday, how about a song with a much better reason to do something again: