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(Developer Andrew Carter says that he has been raising questions about TWIA and their insurance partners for years. Carter has very close ties to Texas Farm Bureau and says he believes that there is a serious and dangerous connection between lobbyists, TWIA and Farm Bureau.)

 

Matt Briscoe

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) is frequently referred to as the Texas windstorm insurance carrier of last resort for many coastal Texas residents and in the opinion of many policyholders, the beleaguered association just can’t seem to get this insurance claims handling in order. Galveston area developer Doug Clayton says that to him, the conclusion is very concerning since insurance claims handling is one of the primary functions of its business. But now, just days before the new year, many like Clayton are wondering if TWIA will ever get it right or will they continue playing games with people’s livelihoods? 

Back in 1971 Texas convened a very pro-insurance 62nd state legislature overseen by Democrats like Governor Preston Smith and Lieutenant Governor Benny Barnes who himself was a real estate and insurance wizard. During that heavily influenced session, democrat lawmakers found it in their hearts to develop the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association to provide insurance coverage for Texas families, businesses, schools, and properties in ‘high risk’ areas along the fourteen coastal counties. They also decided to create the Texas Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association during that session and for the most part, the insurance lobby was well rewarded for their investment. Years went by without significant claims being filed and the money coffers grew even more fat. But since 2008, TWIA has attempted on several occasions to receive immunity from both the courts and Texas Legislature to shield it from being responsible for damages (and causes of action) directly related to its own bad acts and now, people want accountability and answers. 

Shortly after Hurricanes Ike and Dolly made landfall in 2008, TWIA reached new lows and people like Doug Clayton and his associate, Andrew Carter began raising questions about the possibility that TWIA was sending ill-equipped, untrained, unsupervised adjusters to assess Texans damages, and ultimately deny the claims.  In the years after Dolly and Ike, Texans began to turn on TWIA and starting to sue them, their adjusting companies, and adjusters. 

It was during those lawsuits that Texans quickly discovered alarming incidences of unlawful claims handling at the hands of TWIA and its adjusters. The courts would end up ruling that TWIA and their adjusters purposefully and systematically denied, delayed, and underpaid hurricane claims for families, businesses, and schools throughout Texas. TWIA and its primary adjusting firms were exposed for blatant racism, sexism, and overall improper claims handling procedures–a claim that LULAC’s own Susie Saldana has carried on for some time now during her protests against TWIA. Saldana maintains that TWIA and their insurance partners are discriminating against coastal residents and according to her, LULAC stands ready to fight along all citizens of the Texas coast. 

But following the lawsuits, TWIA began to cry foul and claimed that they just needed a little help from the Texas Legislature. So, they turned to their newly formed ally, Republican Governor Rick Perry and his sidekick, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. 

It was during the 82nd Legislature that lawmakers decided to instead punish TWIA and its adjusters for their misdeeds, they would write new laws that protected the group and in essence punished the policyholders with laws that restrict legal remedies for policyholders who feel like they were mistreated by TWIA. 

After being extended an olive branch by the Texas Legislature, TWIA claimed to be ‘reformed’, but then it happened–Hurricane Harvey. 

While you would think that TWIA would cut ties with those adjusting firms under fire for extensive bad claims handling with TWIA after Hurricanes Ike and Dolly–they did not. 

In fact, in 2017 alone TWIA paid these adjusting firms millions while at the same time making an average claim payment of $6,587.14 for Harvey victims’ TWIA damage claims.

For example, in 2017 alone TWIA paid Crawford & Company $1,574,965.27; TWIA paid Schafer Wood & Associates $4,396,287.22; TWIA paid Pacesetter Claims Services, Inc. $5,899,015.62; TWIA paid Eberl Claims Services $7,568,334.73; and most alarming, in 2017 alone TWIA paid Wardlaw Claims Service $11,409,092.34. 

The irony about that is that those same companies were all parties to those same lawsuits from Dolly and Ike. During Harvey, they turned to them again to help assess claims. Those numbers were at one time posted on TWIA’s website for all to see. But when we began questioning the association after a December interview with Fulton Mayor Jimmy Kendrick–that part of the TWIA website has been taken down. 

 

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(Site as accessed on 12/23/2019 where documentation once proved 2017 payouts. The site was formerly accessible as late as 12/8/2019, the very day that reporters began asking questions about those amounts)

But there is another player here that many say is seemingly being overlooked. The Texas Department of Insurance (“TDI”) has approved various TWIA Appraisal Umpires currently employed with these firms or other firms previously paid copious amounts of money by TWIA for work on various claims.

The Texas Department of Insurance also set out criteria and requirements for appraisal umpires to resolve property damage claims on TWIA policies. But while those safeguards are in fact in place, it appears as though TDI is not enforcing its rules as strictly as they claimed that they would.

TDI states that an applicant has a “disqualifying conflict of interest” if they (among various factors):

–Are a current TWIA contractor or contractor’s employee;

 

–Are an employee of the adjusting company or public insurance adjusting company that adjusted the loss;

 

–Have any other direct or indirect interest, financial or otherwise, of any nature that substantially conflicts with the umpire’s duties;

 

–TDI also says that there is a potential conflict of interest if the applicant is a former TWIA employees or contractor or contractor’s employee. 

But now, as coastal Texans continue to rebuild and try to get on with their lives, people like Fulton Mayor Jimmy Kendrick are expressing their concerns for the human aspect of it all. Kendrick, who has struggled with TWIA since early after Harvey claims that he knows of people who became so depressed and so stressed after dealing with Harvey and TWIA that they took their own lives. 

‘You know, it crosses your mind,” said Kendrick. “When you are sitting there looking at your wife and your kids who are still living in a damaged home because TWIA won’t pay, it really does cross your mind and I know of people who have done that very thing because of it.” 

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(The home of Fulton Mayor Jimmy Kendrick. Kendrick has been an outspoken advocate for his community and Coastal residents against TWIA)

While it sounds like a stretch, the struggle is real for many coastal residents who have been facing underpaid claims and denials from TWIA. One such person is Victoria Sneed who said when she got an offer for $3,200 to repair her home, she considered ending her own life. 

“I drove to the parking lot of the Big Tree,” Sneed said through tears. “Yeah, under the shadow of that big old oak is where they were going to find me.” 

Sneed says the only reason that she didn’t go through with it is because another car pulled up and decided to sit there next to her. She became frustrated and left. 

So who is really benefiting from TWIA and who are they really looking out for? It all depends on who you ask. But coastal residents certainly are not giving up the fight and in fact, they vow not to give up until justice is served.