Attorneys: Insurance carriers delaying, underpaying thousands of homeowner claims

Insurance industry blames proliferation of frivolous lawsuits for change

HOUSTON – The hail was coming down outside Doris Knippa’s Alvin home so heavily that she started taking video because she didn’t think anyone would believe what was going on.

Hail larger than golf balls pounded her roof for at least an hour.

She immediately called her insurance company, which claimed the damage was minimal.  Knippa did not think anything else of it until the next time a big storm came through and her roof started leaking.

That’s when a three-year battle with her insurance company began.

Joy Jacobs is in an even more bitter battle with her carrier.

She and her husband and their two young daughters have not been able to live in their Orange home since fire ripped through it in 2013.

The insurance company offered to pay less than half of what contractors’ told her it would cost to rebuild the home.

"They deny, they delay and they underpay," said John Black, an attorney with Houston law firm Daly Black.

Black and partner Richard Daly represent both women as well as hundreds of other homeowners who are at odds with their insurance carriers.

Data from the Texas Department of Insurance shows that in 2014 and 2015, the agency collected 362 complaints about property insurance claim delays, 203 complaints about denials and 400 where the complainant felt they were being given an unfair settlement amount.

"I felt so stupid because I trusted the insurance company," said Knippa, fighting back tears.

Knippa and her husband paid out of pocket to replace their roof while their case was in the court system. In December, a jury awarded her that money plus her attorney’s fees.

Her insurance company is appealing that decision so it could be years before she sees any money.

Jacobs was finally offered a settlement in mid-February but the agreement is not finalized yet.

On one side, plaintiff’s attorneys like the ones who defended Knippa and Jacobs point to greedy insurance giants not wanted to pay their customers what they are owned.

But the insurance industry tells a different story.

An attorney whose practice is focused solely on defending insurance companies against hail damage lawsuits like Knippa’s said there were over 9,000 cases in Texas last year.

"These lawsuits are not about getting people their roofs fixed, or an agreed amount of damage. It's about litigation and making money for these others," said Steve Badger.

Watch: Amy Davis' extended interview with insurance industry lawyer

Badger said that when a customer has an honest claim, the carriers routinely pay them, and he blamed contractors, roofers and public adjusters for inflating repair costs.

In Texas, attorneys are able to recover fees when a consumer sues an insurance carrier.

Black said this allows the consumer to have more power to take on a company with a lot of money when they may not have money to hire an attorney.

But Badger said it has led to a cottage industry of mass tort litigation.

Both attorneys agreed that litigation should be a homeowner’s last resort.

They recommend consumers hire a public adjuster listed with the Texas Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. Also, get bids from various contractors who are known and reputable in the area.

"Never rely on a contractor that comes and knocks on your door unsolicited," said Badger.

Clients have the option of going into negotiations with their insurance company where an independent mediator is appointment.

Finally, the Texas Department of Insurance is available to help with dispute resolution. Consumers can file complaints online.  Last year, an agency spokesperson said they were able to resolve cases and recover more than $38 million for Texans.

If you have to file a lawsuit, documentation and video of what happened and what was lost could help in court.