Seven years ago, Southeast Texas trial lawyers blitzed the Jefferson County courthouse with a record 700 lawsuits in one month in response to Texas’ tort reform laws passed in 2003.
In the weeks surrounding the two year anniversary of Hurricane Ike, area plaintiff’s attorneys came close to matching their previous total by filing nearly 500 insurance fraud suits – making September a nostalgic month for District Clerk Lolita Ramos.
“We attacked it (the upsurge in Ike-related litigation) the same way we did when all the tort reform started to go into effect in 2003,” Ramos told the Record in a recent interview, adding that attorneys sent cases by “the box load” back then in hopes of getting their suits in before tort reform could limit their damages.
Ramos said the amount of suits filed in the county “has slacked off considerably” in the time since the Texas Legislature enacted tort reform in 2003.
However, with approximately 2,000 Ike suits filed since the hurricane made landfall on Sept. 13, 2008, the Jefferson County District Clerk’s office has kept busy.
“Everyone in this office has just done a stellar job for the taxpayer,” Ramos said. “We’re glad to see the business … it’s good for the county.”
Ramos said in the weeks leading up to the two-year Ike anniversary, plaintiff’s attorneys submitted 30 to 40 hurricane-related cases a day.
The lawsuits are filed on behalf of residents who allege insurance companies declined to pay for hurricane damage covered by their homeowner’s policy.
Almost half of the Ike suits filed were against the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.
Insurance companies, like Allstate and State Farm, stopped writing windstorm coverage in Texas coastal counties in 2006, leaving TWIA as the sole windstorm provider and the prime target of trial lawyers.
The majority of the Ike suits filed were submitted by Houston attorney Steve Mostyn and his firm, court records show.
Tort reform supporters believe the onslaught of hurricane litigation causes insurance rates to increase.