AUSTIN – The Insurance Council of Texas recently held its 27th Annual Property & Casualty Insurance Symposium – a gathering of professionals that featured an array of expert speakers exploring a variety of topics, including the impact of the past legislative session on the insurance industry.
The event began Thursday afternoon. The first guest speaker of the day was lobbyist and attorney Jay Thompson, a partner at Thompson Coe, who told those in attendance that it was a “really good” legislative session for Texas insurers.
Thompson called 2018 a “wakeup call for Republicans” and, with a smile, offered a word cloud of words frequently heard in the Texas Legislature this past year, including: “unity, bipartisanship, cooperation, reform” and “Harvey.”
The veteran insurance attorney presented the audience with an extensive list of key bills that passed and failed. The list included House Bill 1739, which relates to recovery under uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance coverage.
The bill sought to force insurance companies to pay uninsured/underinsured benefits without having to file a lawsuit.
HB1739 ultimately failed, but collected dozens of sponsors, many of which were Republicans.
“These types of bills won’t reduce litigation – they’ll encourage more lawsuits so lawyers can get more money,” Thompson said, adding allegations insurers aren’t paying uninsured/underinsured benefits are not true.
HB 4223, which relates to the resolution of contract disputes through a contractual appraisal process, was another key bill that failed, Thompson said.
The bill, if passed, would have stopped parties from invoking the appraisal process 60 days after first receiving notice.
Ware Wendell, the executive director of Texas Watch, a consumer watchdog group funded by trial lawyers, testified in favor of the bill back in April, essentially accusing insurance companies of dragging out the appraisal process for their own benefit.
Thompson said HB 4223 was supported by trial lawyers and would have killed appraisal.
“Fortunately, that bill died,” he added.
HB 2757, which made sure Texas courts don’t rely on the American Law Institute’s most recent restatement of law, landed on Thompson’s list of key bills that passed.
The attorney said restatements don’t restate the law but are rather statements on what law professors want the law to be.
Some of the other key bills that passed include SB 442 and HB 1554.
SB 442 requires disclosure to an insured if their policy doesn’t cover flood damage. Thompson believes the bill will help avoid future confusion, like the confusion for many that followed Hurricane Harvey.
HB 1554 allows personal automobile or residential property policies to be written in a language other than English.
Follwing Thompson, a panel of industry insiders discussed what the new laws mean for insurers.
To start things off, Beaman Floyd, director for Texas Coalition for Affordable Insurance Solutions, reminded the audience that although insurance is a “different animal” it is indeed a business and those in the industry sometimes have to work twice as hard, especially when it comes to lobbying the Texas Legislature.
“We have to make sure the new legislatures understand we are (also) part of the economy,” Floyd said.
The panel discussed a variety of issues, including some of the aforementioned bills and the special relationship insurers share with plaintiff attorneys.
Floyd said insurers have a “more intimate” relationship with trial lawyers, as they often serve as a buffer by standing between them and businesses.
The panel believes the appraisal issue won’t be going away and will be back in 18 months when the Texas Legislature meets again.
The next day, the symposium featured several more prominent speakers.
Roy Wright, CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, was the first to speak.
“This state loves bad weather,” Wright said, telling the audience that Texas is second in wildfires and that since the year 2000, 20 percent of all hail claims have been filed here.
Wright gave a presentation on how better building methods can better withstand fire, wind and hail damage.
He said that Texas is behind on its building codes and that it was “preposterous” the codes weren’t more stringent.
“The idea that we know how to build and choose not to just seems insane to me,” Wright said. “We’re going to keep shining a light on this – it’s really clear what to do.”
Dr. David Harkey, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data Institute, spoke next.
Harkey talked about advanced driver systems in automobiles – systems that enable vehicles to brake on their own and even allow for auto pilot.
Chris Barker, vice president of New Mobility, Communications and Marketing at Keolis, discussed the future of autonomous transportation in cities.
Barker believes self-driving vehicles will not only change how people move around, but also change the physical landscape of cities.
The audience was also entertained with a presentation on the future of property and casualty insurance industry trends, which was given by Dr. Robert Hartwig.
Thursday’s panel was moderated by ICT Executive Director Albert Betts Jr. Other panel members include Lee Loftis, Independent Insurance Agents of Texas; Joe Woods, American Property Casualty Insurance Association; and Shannon Meroney, Meroney Public Affairs.