Marilyn Tennissen Apr. 22, 2014, 1:19pm

Two years ago, south Texas was hit by two devastating hailstorms. Now the statute of limitations is almost up for residents to file lawsuits over their damage claims.

Hidalgo County was struck by a storm on March 29, 2012, and another hailstorm on April 20, 2012. The Texas Department of Insurance reports payouts to homeowners totaled almost $556 million, according to an article in the Brownsville Herald. 

People with damaged cars received another $47 million, according to Department of Insurance data, which lumps Hidalgo County and Cameron County auto insurance payments together.

Many claims to insurers were resolved, but about 2,000 lawsuits stemming from under-paid or rejected insurance claims remain pending in Hidalgo County.

Texas is the top state in the country for hail events. In 2012, Texas saw 795 hail events, an increase from 557 in 2010, according to insurance statistics. Texas also pays 50 percent more than the national average for homeowners insurance premiums.

Attorney Steven Badger wrote in a Law360 blog in December that over the past couple of years, a cottage industry has emerged in Texas of newly licensed public adjusters, individuals acting as unlicensed public adjusters, insurance appraisers, consultants, general contractors, roofing contractors and attorneys, all of whom have become hail damage claim “experts.”

All that is needed to identify potential new claims, Badger wrote, are high-quality aerial images of Google Earth to identify old roofs and a National Climatic Data Center Storm Report listing recent hail events in a particular county to establish a recent date of loss.

He said the business model is simple — knock on doors and offer to help the building owner pursue a hail damage claim.

Most claims pursued under this model are initially handled by the contractor, who files the claim on behalf of the property owner. If the insurer disagrees with the scope of damage or cost of repair, a public adjuster is engaged. If the claim cannot be resolved by the public adjuster, appraisal is demanded. Finally, if the claim remains disputed, an attorney (often from Houston or San Antonio) steps in and pursues the lawsuit.

Homeowners may still have a chance to file a lawsuit, as most lawsuits over insurance claims following weather damage must be filed within two years of an initial insurance claim — not the day the damage occurred.

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