Know the facts about insurance claims, state new law

Insured Texans who suffered damage from Hurricane Harvey are encouraged to know the facts about filing claims in light of a new state law that goes into effect on Sept. 1. Among other things, House Bill 1774 reduces penalties for property insurers that wrongly delay certain claims.

Houston State Sen. Borris Miles said he is concerned about misinformation regarding the legislation and hurricane flood insurance.

“HB 1774 relates to the handling of legal actions for certain insurance claims, including those arising from damage to or loss of property due to hailstorms and other forces of nature,” Miles said.

“The legislation does not change how you file a claim or how your insurer will process your claim. The legislation does not prohibit you from filing your claim after September 1.This bill does not apply to claims with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association or the National Flood Insurance Program,” he said.

“HB 1774 requires policyholders to provide notice before filing a lawsuit as well as makes changes to the requirements for inspections related to a lawsuit, recovering attorney’s fees, and statutory penalty interest.

“HB 1774 does reduce the penalty interest of the insurance company from 18% to 10% if the insurance company fails to pay you in a timely manner. If you file your claim on or after September 1, your claim will be subject to the provisions of HB 1774,” Miles said.

To assist consumers impacted by Harvey, Texas Watch, a citizen advocacy organization,

has compiled a list of frequently asked questions.

How and when should I file my insurance claim? 

A.You should file a property insurance claim as soon as you discover damage. Tell the insurance company that your home or business suffered damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey and that this communication is intended to serve as notice of your claim. Include your full name, address, and insurance policy number, if you have it with you.

You do not have to wait to file a claim until you have pictures of damage. The important thing is that as soon as you discover damage, put the insurance company on notice by filing your claim.

By filing your damage claim before Sept. 1, you may potentially preserve an 18% interest penalty on insurance companies that drag their feet in paying valid claims. Discussions about the effective date of this legislation, the date of notice of your claim, and how this impacts your legal rights should take place between you and your lawyer.

You may have suffered both wind and water damage. File a claim with every property insurance company you have. Flood insurance is sold separately from your homeowner’s policy. Property owners along the coast may have yet another insurance policy with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association to cover windstorm damage. Locate all of your insurance policies and put every insurance company who has taken your money on notice with a written claim if you have suffered damage.

How should I communicate with my insurance company?

A. It is best to communicate in writing to remove any argument as to when you contacted them and what you said. This could be by email, fax or certified mail (return receipt requested). Keep an extra hard copy of all communications sent in your personal file. Also, keep all written material received from the insurance company or agent, including envelopes showing the post marked date.

For any oral communications, like phone calls or in-person conversations with the insurance agent or adjuster, note what was said and who said it in a written log. Send a follow-up email to the insurance company confirming the discussion. Build an organized paper trail so it is clear exactly what was said, who said it, and when it was said.

What are some other insurance resources?

A.The Texas Department of Insurance has a “Help After Harvey” page at www.tdi.texas.gov/consumer/storms/helpafterharvey.html. They can also be reached at 1-800-252-3439. The Office of Public Insurance Counsel, the state-funded policyholder advocate, can be reached at 1-877-611-6742 or www.opic.texas.gov.

Consumers can also call Miles’ office at 512-463-0113 or 713-520-1670.