Energy & Environment

Texas Supreme Court Deciding Ike Roof Damage Claim

Last week, insurance companies complained to state lawmakers that it’s too easy in Texas to sue them over storm damage claims. This week, one of those cases made it all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.

US Army helicopter over Bolivar Peninsula where Hurricane Ike damage or destroyed 85% of buildings
US Army helicopter over Bolivar Peninsula where Hurricane Ike damage or destroyed 85% of buildings

When hurricanes hit the Houston region, homeowners expect their insurance to pay for wind damage. But that’s not what happened according to the lawyer for a Montgomery County homeowner.  The homeowner had insurance through USAA.

“This jury understood this case to be about one thing: USAA’s lousy investigation and its failure to find the losses that existed,” argued the homeowner’s lawyer, Jennifer Bruch Hogan, before the Texas Supreme Court in Austin.

Here’s what happened: back in 2008 after Hurricane Ike, the homeowner called USAA to report her roof was damaged. According to court documents, the company sent out an inspectors who found three missing shingles. The repair cost— $455 — wouldn’t even meet the deductible.

The next year, the homeowner sued USAA. At the trial, experts for the homeowner testified the roof appeared to be heavily damaged by high winds and flying debris and would cost over $20,000 to repair according to court documents.

USAA appealed. The case eventually landed in the Supreme Court of Texas.

On Tuesday , a lawyer for the insurance company, Wallace Jefferson, asked the court to over-turn the verdict. Jefferson said the jury had been given confusing instructions on how to reach a verdict. What’s more, he said there’s a legal precedent in Texas that says insurance companies aren’t necessarily at fault if they don’t look really hard to find storm damage.

“This court held that ‘a failure to properly investigate a claim is not a basis for obtaining policy benefits’, “ argued Jefferson.

Businesses and consumer groups are closely watching the case to see how much leeway insurance companies have in Texas to decide who they’ll pay after a big storm.  The court could is expect to rule sometime before next hurricane season.

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Dave Fehling

Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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