Attorney General Ken Paxton released a statement on Thursday dispelling some rumors about the impact of House Bill 1774. He emphasized the bill does not impact the federal flood insurance program nor any policy issued by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.
Paxton directed those with questions to the Texas Department of Insurance.
Updated at 1:19 p.m. on Aug. 30
Stephanie Goodman, deputy commissioner of public affairs for the Texas Department of Insurance, reiterated in an interview with the Texas Tribune that there is no impending deadline to cut off the claims process for those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Those with damage to properties will be able to file insurance claims long after this Friday.
House Bill 1774, which will go into effect on Sept. 1, will not alter the way individuals file a claim with insurance. It also does not affect flood or windstorm damage, which is often insured through federal insurance or the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.
The bill affects lawsuits in the case someone filing insurance damage has a dispute with his or her insurance provider.
FEMA released a statement on Wednesday encouraging National Flood Insurance Program policyholders to file insurance claims as soon as possible, simply to start the recovery process, not because of anything having to do with the impending legislation.
Lawyers continue to encourage those with damage to file claims prior to Friday to potentially avoid the implications from HB 1774.
Steve Mostyn, a Houston-based attorney with Mostyn Law focusing on weather-related insurance claims, urged those impacted by the storm to file claims quickly.
"Texans who have suffered from Hurricane Harvey need to do all they can to document their damages and file claims as soon as they can and get a second opinion if you feel as though your insurance company's estimate does not fairly represent the amount or extent of your property's damages," Mostyn said.
Original story posted at 10:54 a.m. on Aug. 28
Damage left by Hurricane Harvey is far from over, but those seeing immediate consequences are being encouraged by lawyers to file insurance claims by Friday if they hope to avoid consequences of a newly passed Texas law.
House Bill 1774, passed in the regular Texas legislative session, will go into effect on Sept. 1 and will limit the penalties insurance companies could face if they don’t pay enough in claims. This means that should an insurance company pay claims late because of a lawsuit, the company will have to pay a penalty of 10 percent, versus the 18 percent that is required now.
It would also lessen the likelihood for insurance providers to pay plaintiff’s attorney fees and it would protect individual insurance agents from the disadvantages that come with being personally sued.
The new law does not affect the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association or federal flood insurance.
The bill is often referred to as “hailstorm lawsuit reform,” but has a much wider scope that includes natural disasters such as the flooding going on throughout Texas.
During the debate on the bill, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said this would severely impact Texans during natural disasters.
“I think we will hear from our constituents across the state when we have storms and natural disasters,” he said. “I think people are going to be in for a real surprise that we’re changing the current practice.”
Lawyers and consumer rights group Texas Watch are encouraging those who plan to file claims to notify in writing their insurance providers of their claims prior to Friday.
The author of HB 1774, Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, said his legislation will not change how claims are processed.
"There is no need to rush to file a claim," he said in a statement. "Put your safety first. Do not return to seriously damaged property unless you are informed that it is safe."
Those with damage can also file for aid here from the Federal Emergency Management Agency within Aransas, Bee, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Harris, Jackson, Kleberg, Liberty, Matagorda, Neuces, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria and Wharton counties.
People without internet access may sign up by calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362).
FEMA assistance can include funding for the following purposes:
- rental payments for temporary housing for displaced individuals
- grants for home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance
- grants to replace personal property and to help meet disaster-related needs not covered by insurance
- unemployment payments up to 26 weeks for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster
- low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance
- loans up to $2 million for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, nonprofit organizations
- loans up to $500,000 for farmers, ranchers and aquaculture operators to cover production and property losses
- crisis counseling for those traumatized by the disaster
FEMA is also encouraging individuals to take photos of their homes, of both the interior and exterior, prior to starting any clean-up efforts.
Editor's note: This story has been updated for clarity.