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Advocates: Hurricane Harvey Victims Should File Insurance Claims Quickly

Aaron Tobias inspects what is left of his Rockport home after Hurricane Harvey made landfall Saturday as a Category 4 storm with 130-mph winds. (JoeRaedle/GettyImages)
Aaron Tobias inspects what is left of his Rockport home after Hurricane Harvey made landfall Saturday as a Category 4 storm with 130-mph winds. (JoeRaedle/GettyImages)
August 29, 2017

ROCKPORT, Texas – Consumer advocates are advising Texas property owners who sustained damage from Hurricane Harvey to file a claim with their insurance company as soon as possible.

A law passed by the Texas Legislature, called the "Blue Tarp" bill, goes into effect on Friday and will make it much easier for insurers to deny property claims or drag their feet on paying for legitimate damages.

Officials say the damage from Harvey could be in the hundreds of billions - if not trillions - of dollars, and Ware Wendell, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Texas Watch, says insurance policy holders need to protect their rights.

"We're encouraging people, if it's safe, to inspect your property now, to do so and if you note damage, to file a written notice of claim with your insurance company, telling them, 'This is my name, this is my address, this is my policy number and I suffered damage from Hurricane Harvey,'" he explains.

The measure, House Bill 1774, was passed by the Legislature earlier this year as a tort-reform measure to protect insurance companies from excessive hail storm claims. But Wendell says the new law gives carriers a lot more power in disputes over whether a claim is legitimate and how long they have to pay it.

Ware says Texas Watch, which fought against passage of the bill, fears it will tilt the balance of power in favor of insurance companies.

"We opposed the 'Blue Tarp' bill because it only helps insurance companies and only hurts property owners all around the state," he adds. "Insurance companies already have too much power when it comes to disputes with their customers, and they just are about to get even more power."

He says previously, state regulations gave insurance companies major incentives to pay claims on time.

"For years in Texas, we've had strong laws that compel insurance companies to pay claims on time and in full, or else they will face an 18-percent interest penalty," he says. "That makes them do what they're supposed to do the first time. What the 'Blue Tarp' bill does is, it slashes that penalty down to 10 percent."

Wendell says property owners need to file an initial notice of claim before Friday to preserve their rights and make sure they get a written receipt from the company.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - TX