Hurricane Rita victims, take notice. Either sue now, or forever hold your peace.
The latter-- peace-- is anathema to John Steven Mostyn, otherwise known as the most prolific Rita lawsuit purveyor in Jefferson County. Since the hurricane made landfall in September 2005, he's been pitching Golden Triangle homeowners on the benefits of taking your insurer to court.
The prodding of Mostyn and lawyers like him get credit for September's "Rita Rush." With a two year statute of limitations looming, some 90 Rita-related lawsuits have been filed in Jefferson County this month, mostly demanding more money from their insurance companies, plus a little gravy for mental anguish and attorney's fees, of course.
"Hurricane Rita has spread devestation (sic) and destruction across the State of Texas," screams the Mostyn Firm web site, which still features a hurricane damage photo and a "Rita Hits Southeast Texas" headline front-and-center, as if the storm just rolled past Port Arthur.
"Insureds who feel that their claims were mishandled, or were not paid what they were owed, have a law firm ready to listen to them."
Ok, so the folks over at the Mostyn Firm aren't much for spelling, grammar, or sentence structure.
That they are so steadfast for suing insurance companies here in Beaumont, however, raises a cautionary tale.
Hurricane Rita caused some $2.2 billion in property damage according to most estimates, mostly the result of high winds. And ever since, Gulf Coast businesses have found wind insurance scarcer and more expensive, according to a RAND Corporation study released earlier this summer.
RAND found that small business owners in high-risk areas like ours were the hardest hit, with some proving unable to buy wind insurance at any price.
Among the reasons for the price increase, according to RAND, were "litigation and government actions following the 2005 hurricane season (that) led to uncertainty about how insurance contracts will be enforced by courts in the region."
Alas, meritorious or not, lawsuits like those drummed up by the Mostyn Law Firm are relevant to more than just their plaintiffs and defendants. Access to insurance impacts business and thus local job growth; it also portends to slow the speed of our recovery the next time a big storm rolls in off the Gulf.
Sometimes it does take a determined lawyer to make firms like State Farm or Allstate live up to their end of the bargain. But not all the time.
The insurance industry makes for a convenient bogeyman. But we mustn't always sue merely because a lawyer says we should.