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Damage after the Storm
The wounds from one of the Rio Grande Valley’s most devastating storms are still open sores. Millions of dollars in unpaid insurance money are stuck in legal limbo.
Lawyers and insurance companies are in a head to head battle. Thousands of underpaid insurance claim payments are flooding Valley courtrooms. Some claims payments are stalled, leaving some victims penniless.
The lawsuits were filed against insurance companies from three hail storms in 2012. Many were underpaid, denied or rejected. Many of these lawsuits have yet to go to a judge.
For Adan Robles a bucket is always on standby. Heavy winds and rain tore the shingles off of the Robles home back in March 2014.
Robles is insured with State Farm. After the storm in 2014, the insurance company cut the homeowners a preliminary check, so they could get started on repairing their home.
The day after the storm, two women knocked on the Robles’s door. They represented a construction company offering to re-evaluate the storm damage.
The women told Margarita Robles that State Farm underpaid them. They said if she signed a contract with them, and gave them their insurance’s claim number, she could get more money. This practice was repeated over and over in the Robles’ neighborhood.
A letter from State Farm was sent to the Robles family. The letter stated no more money would be coming. A lawyer used Robles’ signature and claim number to file a lawsuit against State Farm.
“There is a lawyer, but we don’t know the lawyer or where his office is at,” Adan Robles said.
The lawsuit that the Robles family is involved in is similar to thousands of hailstorm lawsuits filed back in 2012.
When Margarita Robles signed the construction company’s contract, she gave them the right to dispute her insurance company’s damage claim.
Margarita Robles said she unknowingly got wrapped up in a legal battle.
Germania policy advisor, Abraham Padron, announced that the company would drop all insurance policies out of Hidalgo County.
The reason Germania decided not to renew the policies was due to the high number of insurance lawsuits.
“What’s happening is, lawyers are working in conjunction with public adjusters,” Padron said.
Germania pulled out right before the hurricane season began. Padron said the Valley is becoming too risky for insurance companies.
Padron said other providers are looking to leave the area. If that happens, his clients have a pretty good idea what will happen to rates in the future.
“It’s going to go up,” Padron said. “The problem is, how far can you put a cap to where you can’t afford it.”
The Robles family said a company named EB Construction got them into the type of lawsuit that Padron was talking about.
The owner of EB Construction ignored calls from CHANNEL 5 NEWS. The Robles’ insurance agent said that attorney Kent Livesay was in charge of the family’s case.
Livesay ignored emails and phone calls from CHANNEL 5 NEWS.
Attorney Michael Moore has hundreds of lawsuits filed at the Hidalgo County Courthouse. He said each lawsuit is justified.
“If the insurance company does the right thing the first time, there should never be a lawsuit,” Moore said. “There should never be a lawyer involved.”
Moore said many of his clients were significantly underpaid. He settled many of their claims for good amounts.
“We end up settling cases for $20,000 or $30,000, or they may have paid $10,000 and we resolved the case for $50,000 or $60,000.
The average fee for a lawyer is 30 to 40 percent of a settlement. The public adjuster gets a 10 percent cut. Homeowners may only see $25,000 to $30,000 of $50,000 award. Storm victims do not receive their money right away.
“It’s going to take a year or 2 years to get your case through the system,” Moore said.
Many hailstorm cases in Hidalgo County are two to three years old. Moore said the damage to some of his client’s homes had spread before a settlement was reached. Leaky roofs caused water and mold damage, while homeowners waited for their case to run its course.
More than 13,000 cases have been filed in Hidalgo County. The county had so many that they hired a judge to look over the lawsuits. The judge has made it through about 12,000 of those cases, so far.
Andrea Amaro and her daughter Sandra are victims of the 2012 storms. Their case is the only one to make it to trial, so far.
Amaro said she wishes she had never filed. The jury sided with the insurance company. She said her lawyer pushed her to trial.
The insurance company still gave Amaro around $2,200 to repair her roof.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS managed to help the Robles family drop their lawsuit with Livesay Law Firm and the insurance company. State Farm gave them the money they needed to make repairs and even allowed the Robles to remain as policy holders.
Many people who file lawsuits with their insurance companies are often dropped after a settlement and branded as potential risky policy holders. People who filed suits and still found insurance companies to cover them found rates that were higher than normal.
The state of Texas requires all adjusters to be licensed and bonded. By law, and adjuster must provide people with valid credentials before assessing damage.