It is commonly known that when the Texas Legislature is in session, no one is safe. Texas 83rd legislative session is well underway, and that saying is as true as ever. The legislature is taking aim at Texans through laws it hopes to pass that attack insurance policyholders’ rights. That’s right, attacking the policyholders who pay the premiums and protecting the insurance companies that delay and deny claims and force Texans to hire trial lawyers to get their claims paid. Further, it is not just one or two laws it wants to pass. As of the day before the March 8, 2013, deadline to file bills, over 400 insurance bills had been filed in the Texas Legislature. Rest assured that none of them are consumer friendly. Here are some low-lights and an explanation why they hurt Texans:
1. One of the laws the legislators want to pass will prohibit recovery of non-economic and punitive damages by uninsured drivers except in very limited circumstances. The Texas legislature previously succeeded in capping non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, and has capped punitive damages in all cases. Non-economic damages are compensation for an innocent victim’s pain and suffering. Texas laws should never punish innocent victims of someone else’s negligence and gross negligence by denying them compensation for their pain and suffering and capping punitive damages. It should punish the wrongdoer who caused the damages, injuries and losses with uncapped punitive damages.
This bill would prohibit the recovery of non-economic (pain and suffering) damages and punitive (to punish and deter similar, future conduct) damages by someone who for whatever reason is driving without insurance when they did absolutely nothing to cause the collision or their injuries. Texas should be fully able to hold wrongdoers responsible and Texas legislators should strive to preserve innocent victims’ access to the courts and rights to be compensated. If the innocent victims were negligent and caused some or all of their own damages, Texas law already provides a remedy by which the jury and judge can proportionately reduce any such award. If the party seeking compensationâs comparative or contributory fault the equals or is greater than 50%, that person will not be compensated.
All Texas drives should follow the law and have auto liability insurance. Many do not, mostly for economic reasons. Their inability to afford auto insurance should not be used to deny them just compensation when they are injured through no fault of their own in the incident.
2. One of the laws the legislators want to pass will eliminate post-judgment interest on judgments involving Medicare, including when the defendant appeals. Texas legislators want to be paid interest on their campaign accounts, their personal accounts and their investments. They do not, however, want innocent victims to receive interest on the money they are entitled to for the 2 4+ years it takes to get the case to trial and through the inevitable appellate process.
Post judgment interest is important to behoove those found by the court and/or jury to be at fault from delaying and denying the compensation to which innocent victims that the judicial system has said they are entitled. Post judgment interest and prejudgment interest are important check and balances to keep and protect innocent victims’ right to be compensated after a trial by jury or judge.
If passed, this bill will protect those that need prosecution (the insurance companies) and not those who need protection (the innocent victims).
3. One of the laws the legislators want to pass will allow EMS providers to receive direct access to policyholder’s PIP and MedPay. The medical profession can make applications for patients’ PIP (Personal Injury Protection) and MedPay. It should not be mandatory, however. The legislature recently passed a law that punishes innocent victims when they pay their medical bills prior to the resolution of their case. Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code 41.0105, limits the recovery of medical expenses to the amount actually paid or incurred. The exact language of the statute is as follows:
In addition to any other limitation under law, recovery of medical or health care expenses incurred is limited to the amount actually paid or incurred by or on behalf of the claimant. (Emphasis added.)
By codifying medical professionals’ ability to make PIP and MedPay applications, innocent victims lose the ability to preserve the value of their personal injury claim. Understand that if the medical professional makes the PIP and MedPay application and received the money, that bill (or portion thereof) is paid, and cannot be used to determine the value of a claim for personal injuries and pain and suffering. If this practice is not mandatory, then the innocent victim can choose not to pay the medical professional until the case is resolved, thereby preserving the dollar amount of medical care incurred. The higher the amount of the incurred medical bills is, the higher the potential value of the case. Conversely, the more of that medical that is paid, the less left unpaid for determining the potential value of the case, and the lower that value will be.
This is nothing more than another assault on innocent victims that they will not even know about until it is too late.
The innocent victim would be better served and protected legislation that requires that all Texas Auto Insurance policies have PIP (Personal Injury Protection) and/or MedPay. This is extremely affordable coverage and goes a long way to helping innocent victims receive the medical care and lost wages they need. Legislation should also require underinsured and uninsured coverage for those times when the injuries and damages suffered are greater that the coverage available and when the wrongdoer does not have insurance. The legislature should focus on protecting all innocent victims of someone else’s negligence and gross negligence, not special interests.
4. One of the laws the legislators want to pass will create a mandatory Appraisal process requiring appraisal for most insurance disputes on amount of accepted coverage in homeowner policies. Standard operating procedure for insurance companies and especially with regard to homeowner’s policies – is to delay and deny paying claims. Passage of this law would legalize and endorse that standard operating procedure. Requiring an appraisal process for most insurance disputes for a claim on homeowners policies will increase costs of the innocent victim and further delay their receiving just compensation. This bill does nothing to help the insured paying the premiums or the innocent victims of the insured’s negligence or gross negligence. We have procedures in place to verify claims before as well as after a lawsuit is filed for damages or injuries that would be covered by any kind of insurance policy. These procedures involve both the insurance companies and the innocent victims using experts, and a mediator, judge or jury making decisions if the parties cannot reach agreement. This appraisal will do nothing do preserve innocent victims rights and access to the courthouse to redress wrongs.
5. One of the laws the legislators want to pass will eliminate existing remedies and policyholder protections for unfair insurance practices and prompt payment violations.
This bill would remove the insured’s right to bring suit against their own insurance company for not paying THEIR own claim on THEIR insurance policy when the insurance company does not timely and fairly pay your claim. Unfair insurance practices and prompt payment violation provisions exist to regulate trade practices in the business of insurance by defining, or providing for the determination of, all such practices in this state which constitute unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices and by prohibiting the trade practices so defined or determined. The current statutory provision can be found in the Texas Insurance Code Chapter 542, Subchapter A is entitled, Unfair Claim Settlement Practices has the same purpose of preventing unfair claim settlement practices. Again, if passed, this bill will protect those that need prosecution (the insurance companies) and not those who need protection (the innocent victims).
6. One of the laws the legislators want to pass will allow insurers to cancel policies after a reduced number of claims, including claims caused by natural causes. Insurance companies do not like paying claims. This bill would allow the insurance companies to accept Texans’ premiums and then cancel the policies when a claim is made that the insurance company thinks amounts to too many by the insured. This bill protects the insurance companies who already have all of the power and money. An insurance policy is a contract, and this law will simply give the insurance companies another out in your time of need. After a devastating loss, you will find a cancellation notice in the mailbox. Then when you try to bring a lawsuit against the insurance company for bad faith, that right will have been eliminated by the bill discussed above.
7. One of the laws the legislators want to pass will subject disputed claims to the appraisal process with severe limits on attorney fees. Every time the legislature has passed any tort reform measure it has made it more difficult for Texans to hold wrongdoer accountable. In medical malpractice law reform, for example, the legislature put caps on non-economic and punitive damages and severely restrict the ability to hold emergency room facilities and staff responsible for the injuries and death caused by their medical errors. Since trial lawyers who handle these cases only get paid if there is a recovery, when the case costs more to develop that the expected recovery, the case becomes non-economical. That means that the lawyers’ share of the reduced recover does not justify the lawyer’s six-figure investment in the case. It follows then, that if the legislature reduces attorneys fees on cases no matter how they do it it will reduce the innocent victims ability to hire a lawyer to hold wrongdoers accountable. Limiting attorneys fees on any kind of cases is not in the innocent victims’ best interest and only serves the special interests who want to run lawyers out of business. Rest assured that there is no do-it-yourself guide to handing your own personal injury or business litigation case. You need a lawyer.
8. One of the laws the legislators want to pass will remove adjusters employed by an insurer or agent from regulation (licensing, examination, continuing education, and enforcement related requirements). This is stupid. Why would we remove examination, licensing, continuing education and enforcement related requirements for any professionals. Is the legislature going to next remove these requirements for lawyers and doctors? Would you go to a lawyer or doctor who did not have to take and examination to prove his knowledge and worthiness, get licensed to show he has met the minimum requirements to hold himself out as a professional in that field, take continuing education to keep up on all of the latest developments in that field, and be subject to enforcement related requirements to make sure the professional always abides by the rules and standards that guide that profession? No one would, and the legislature should not pass insurance-favored legislation that prejudices their insureds.
9. One of the laws the legislators want to pass will abolish Office of Public Insurance Counsel.
Why would the legislature do this? The answer is found in the Mission Statement of the Office of Public Insurance Counsel:
The mission of the Office of Public Insurance Counsel (OPIC) is to represent the interests of consumers in insurance matters. This means promoting public understanding of insurance issues, advocating fairness and stability in insurance rates and coverage, working to make the overall insurance market more responsive to consumers, and striving to ensure consumers receive the services they have purchased. (Emphasis added.)
OPIC represents consumers! OPIC advocates for Texas insurance consumers primarily before the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI). OPIC is an irritant to The Texas Department of Insurance and the legislators pushing its agenda regarding self serving rate increases, rules, and forms. These issues affect Texans’ property and casualty, life, accident, and health insurance coverage and rates.
If the Texas Department of Insurance can eliminate OPIC, it eliminates much of the opposition to its agenda.
10. One of the laws the legislators want to pass will give insurers ability to require claims be made within one year.
Texas already has laws that state the length of time one has to make a claim by filing a lawsuit. It is called the Statute of Limitations. For Bad Faith claims, there is a 2 year statute of limitations, and for Breach of Contract the statute of limitation is 4 years. The legislature wants to reduce the time allowed to file all claims against an insurer to 1 year to reduce the number of claims made against it and the amount of money the insurance companies have to pay out on claims. This is a very anti-consumer bill that, again, protects the insurance companies and not the innocent victims and consumers.
Do not let your elected Texas Senator and Representative pass laws that restrict your right and ability to hold wrongdoers accountable and be compensated by insurance. We Texans who have insurance do so to protect ourselves in the event we are injured or damaged through no fault of our own, or if we injure or damage another person. If you do not speak up, these new laws will injured and damage you through your own fault. You may have elected these folks to the legislature because of their party affiliation, but understand that the debt they owe to special interests is adverse to and far outweighs your interests and what benefits and protects you.