North Texas Lawmaker Files Bill To Curb Lawsuit Abuse Following Hail Storms

UPDATED | March 11, 2017, 9:30PM

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NORTH TEXAS (CBS11) – Citing a 1400 percent increase in lawsuits, a local lawmaker wants to put a stop to what he calls “frivolous” litigation stemming from hail damage.

“My concern was that as a property owner in Texas, are we reaching a point where we cannot afford hail insurance in the state of Texas,” asks State Senator Kelly Hancock, a North Richland Hills Republican. “What we are seeing, is that lawsuits are being filed before claims are ever being filed, which is abuse of the system.”

Homeowners in Wylie, hit hard by a hailstorm last spring, tell CBS 11 that the hail had barely stopped falling, when a man made storm descended on the devastated neighborhoods.

“I had people from Louisiana, just running, knocking on doors,” says homeowner Louis Bosquez, “just from everywhere. Coming in, trying to get something.”

Critics call them storm chasers — following damage, for dollars.

“I can save you so much, you can ask your insurance company for this amount of money and you can pocket this much money,” says Frances Booker of Wylie as she recalls a pitchman’s appeal, “because we will do your roof for say, $10,000, and we can ask for $15,000… it’s like that.”

But, Booker says she knew better and opted to have her home repaired by a family-owned, local company. “If you have good people, generally they wait for you to call them.”

Now, Senator Hancock says crooked roofers, lawyers and adjusters are driving up insurance rates with frivolous lawsuits.

In a statement released when the bill was filed last month, the Senator argued that “Hail litigation has spiraled out of control in Texas, mainly because of a small group of bad actors who abuse the system. Senate Bill 10 will address this problem, improve transparency, and protect Texas consumers from sky high premiums without infringing on their right to make an insurance claim or sue their insurance company when it’s not holding up its end of a deal.”

When asked for additional details, a spokesperson for his office provided the following statement: “Senate Bill 10 would require lawyers hired by property owners to provide notice to an insurance company before filing a lawsuit, giving the insurance company 60 days to address the claim before being taken to court. This provision should help homeowners get fast, fair payments while also cutting down on frivolous or unnecessary lawsuits that are driving up the cost of homeowners’ insurance.”

Reached at his North Richland Hills office recently, Senator Hancock tells CBS 11, “what that does is that it puts insurance companies on notice saying that an attorney has been hired and you have 60 days to kind of work it out.”

The senator’s motives in pushing the bill, however, warrant scrutiny.

Several years ago, Texas Monthly listed him as one of the state’s worst lawmakers during the 83rd legislative session, specifically citing the Senator’s close ties to the insurance industry.

According to Texas Monthly, the Senator received “$111,916” from “22 companies and organizations.”

The magazine, in defending its poor assessment of Senator Hancock, went on to write that he “authored a bill to eliminate a tiny agency called the Office of Public Insurance Counsel, whose purpose is to represent and support the public in insurance cases and controversies (to make matters worse, this was not long after the agency moved to block a massive rate increase by State Farm).”

Meanwhile, Wylie homeowners CBS 11 spoke with are encouraging caution before limiting the public’s options while dealing with devastating storms.

“I can understand the insurance and the Senator’s point of view,” says Booker, “but, I think they need to be very careful of how they go about that.”

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