The Texas Supreme Court docket lately dominated that when an insurance coverage firm pays an appraisal award plus any statutory curiosity in a weather-related first-party property case, there isn’t a legal responsibility for lawyer’s charges.
The court responded to a certified question from the fifth Circuit Court docket of Appeals on whether or not an insurer who has absolutely discharged its obligations below the coverage’s appraisal provision is precluded from paying lawyer’s charges below the Texas insurance coverage code.
The query introduced to the courtroom arose from a dispute between a house owner, Mario Rodriguez, and his insurance coverage firm, Safeco Insurance coverage Firm of Indiana.
In Could 2019, a twister broken Rodriguez’s residence. Safeco issued a fee of $27,449, which Rodriguez accepted. Rodriguez’s counsel then advised Safeco it owed an extra $29,500 and threatened to sue. Rodriguez sued in June 2020, alleging breach of contract and statutory claims below the insurance coverage code.
After the 2 events did not mediate, Safeco invoked the insurance coverage coverage’s appraisal provision, and a panel valued the injury to Rodriguez’s residence at $36,514. After subtracting prior funds and different quantities, Safeco issued a test for $32,447 protecting the total appraisal, plus one other $9,458 for any curiosity probably owed on the appraised quantity.
Safeco argued that its full fee of the appraisal plus curiosity ought to put an finish to litigation, together with any try by Rodriguez to recuperate lawyer’s charges, to which a district courtroom agreed. Rodriguez appealed to the fifth Circuit.
The fifth Circuit famous that courts are cut up on the problem of whether or not lawyer’s charges are precluded when an insurer pays the appraised quantity below the insurance coverage coverage, and licensed the query to the Texas Supreme Court docket.
In its evaluation, the courtroom centered on Chapter 542A of the insurance coverage code, which limits the restoration of lawyer’s charges in storm-related first-party claims. The statute, amended in 2017, accommodates a formulation for awarding lawyer’s charges when there may be an quantity to be awarded within the judgment to the claimant for the claimant’s declare below the insurance coverage coverage. As a result of Safeco has already paid all quantities owed below the insurance coverage coverage plus any attainable statutory curiosity, “there may be not and by no means will probably be a cash judgment on Rodriguez’s declare below his insurance coverage coverage, so lawyer’s charges are unavailable,” the courtroom’s opinion says.
Insurance coverage protection attorneys hope the courtroom’s ruling will put an finish to a observe by some Texas policyholder attorneys of signing up shoppers on a full contingency price after which placing the issues into appraisal. Attorneys charges and appraisal prices are subtracted from the award, leaving little cash left for the insured to repair their injury, mentioned Steven Badger, a companion with the Dallas workplace of Zelle LLP. Badger submitted an amicus letter in assist of Safeco’s place.
“Appraisal was supposed as a solution to resolve disputes previous to and with out the necessity for litigation,” Badger mentioned. “We have to return to appraisal getting used both pre-suit or instantly after a lawsuit is filed. Neither facet ought to use appraisal as a litigation tactic.”
Badger mentioned appraisal must return to getting used both pre-suit or instantly after a lawsuit is filed.
Policyholders attorneys argue the state legislature couldn’t have supposed Safeco’s interpretation of Chapter 542A and worry the courtroom’s ruling will result in unfair practices by insurance coverage firms.
“The Court docket zeroed in on part of the 2017 amendments that will not align with the general shopper safety objectives of the Code however felt constrained to use the exact phrases of the statute and all however invited the legislature to evaluate whether or not the ‘sensible penalties’ of the attorneys’ price formulation is what it actually supposed,” mentioned Jeff Raizner, companion at Raizner Slania.
Raizner mentioned he hopes the case can function a catalyst for accountable dialogue and legislative motion to repair appraisal in Texas.
Eager about Laws?
Get computerized alerts for this subject.