Clerk's office braces for second coming of Hurricane Ike

David Yates Dec. 1, 2008, 7:00am

In the three years since Hurricane Rita struck, thousands of lawsuits have been filed in Golden Triangle courts. And now with Hurricane Ike in the rear view mirror, Jefferson County is expecting Ike suits to eclipse Rita-related filings.

"There are more players involved this time around," District Clerk Lolita Ramos said. "With Rita it was mainly (attorney) Steve Mostyn. Now even Walter (Umphrey) has an (Ike) TV commercial."

The bulk of the Rita suits in Jefferson County were filed by the Houston-based Mostyn Law firm. According to court documents, the Mostyn firm has submitted more than 600 suits, with around 200 of those filed by firm founder Steve Mostyn.

The lawsuits are filed on behalf of residents who say insurance companies have failed to pay for hurricane damage covered by their homeowner's policy.

In almost every suit, plaintiffs allege the insurers have wrongfully denied a portion of claims even though the policy provided coverage for the losses. They also allege violations of the Texas Insurance Code-Unfair Settlement Practices, Texas Insurance Code-Prompt Payment of Claim, breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, fraud and deceptive trade practices.

The policy holders usually sue to recover the unpaid portion of the claim, and seek exemplary damages as well.

Ramos told the Southeast Texas Record local law firms such as Provost Umphrey, Brent Coon & Associates and The Ferguson Firm are following in Mostyn's footsteps and are already advertising in hopes of signing Ike victims.

"They're all getting in on the act," she said.

The Mostyn Law Firm started the hurricane advertisement trend by saturating Southeast Texas with newspaper and radio ads following Rita.

Ramos also said the insurance companies wouldn't have to face such an onslaught of litigation if the providers simply honored their customers' policies.

"Everyone I talk with is having a problem with their insurance company," Ramos said. "There's going to be some big payoffs. We're going to see (a lot) of lawsuits."

The district clerk's sentiment was echoed by Russell Gil, a Groves resident who says he was forced to sue Allstate three years ago after the insurance company offered him only $5,000 to replace his home's roof, siding and fence.

"I never filed a lawsuit before this," Gil told the Record via a recent telephone interview. "I wasn't looking to get (rich). I just wanted Allstate to put me back whole."

After three years of litigation, Gil received a "fair settlement," a process that could have been avoided had Allstate been fair with him from the start, he said.

Ramos told the Record one possible reason insurance companies may prefer to litigate is it may be more cost efficient in the long run, saying many of the large providers keep lawyers on retainer.

"It's all a game," she said, adding that the insurance companies have taken "two good hits" in recent years and want to save money.
Court documents show a large portion of the Rita suits have settled.

Ramos said she expects the Ike suits to stay in house like the Rita suits and settle before going to trial.

She said perhaps one or two Ike suits will go to trial, like the Rita suits did, so insurance companies "can test the waters."

She added that matters are especially bad in the decimated areas of Port Bolivar, where many county residents own property, and that those residents will be able to file suit in Jefferson County.

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