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6 Investigates: Windstorm insurers’ response to Hurricane Harvey

Posted: 6:07 PM, May 22, 2018
Updated: 2018-06-27 14:00:17-04

Hurricane Harvey tested an insurance system designed by state lawmakers, and the response has been mixed.

While many on the South Texas Coast have repaired or began to repair what was lost, some are still waiting for an answer.

Like many people rebuilding from the hurricane, Port Aransas resident Jack Jameson had a deadline. But his deadline was deeply personal.

"She was stylish," Jameson said, pointing to a photograph of his wife Helen. They were married for 66 years, and called Port Aransas their home for the last 23.

Helen’s health worsened after the hurricane. It badly damaged their home, and forced the college sweethearts to live in hotels for about three months. Her dying wish was to move back home to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s difficult for Jack to talk about Helen during her final days or how much he still misses her. Jack and his sons honored her wish although the dispute with the insurance company wasn’t resolved.

"They sent me a portion of their payment, but not near enough to cover the damage," Jack Jameson said.

Their bedroom is on the second story, which is where he and one of his sons live. The rest of the house has been torn down to the studs – ready for construction once the insurance dispute is settled. .

It’s now been eight months since the Jamesons disputed the claim with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA). Mr. Jameson told me he had to hire a third-party company to fight for more insurance money. The case is still in arbitration.

Privacy laws prevented TWIA from confirming or denying the existence of Jack Jameson’s claim.

But in general, claims like that are one of a couple hundred claims still pending from Hurricane Harvey, which represents a small percentage, said Jennifer Armstrong, vice president for communication and legislative affairs for the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.

To date, about $1 billion in claims have been paid for Hurricane Harvey.

"Overall, we feel that we’ve been responsive for this storm to our policy holders and to our stakeholders," she said.

And no one has felt it more than policyholders on the Texas coast.

It’s highly likely that if someone owns property on the Texas coast, it’s insured with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA). State lawmakers established TWIA in 1971. That was one year after Hurricane Celia hit Corpus Christi and the surrounding coastline, and insurance companies refused to write policies for those rebuilding. TWIA was the answer. But after Hurricane Harvey, area leaders now say it’s also part of the problem.

"A lot of people are still struggling with the insurance question and haven’t touched their homes simply because the insurance companies have not settled with them," said Charles Bujan, Mayor of Port Aransas.

The back-and-forth struggle is normal for the insurance process, Armstrong said.

And she provided numbers to show how its worked.

Three months after Hurricane Harvey, TWIA had paid about 90 percent of the claims.

The average claim for a residential home was about $17,240 and commercial was $171,257, according to figures from TWIA.

Most of the claims filed were in Nueces County, which is where Port Aransas suffered the most damage. The hurricane winds topped 140 miles per hour and tore apart roofs, walls and wiped away structures. The destruction in Port A is close to $1 billion, Bujan said.

That kind of damage is considered "complex" by TWIA, and it can take longer to process, Armstrong said.

Bujan called the recovering process "very, very frustrating and it makes one very angry."

That sentiment isn’t lost on TWIA, Armstrong said.

"Whenever we make a claims decision we take this seriously and we do that with the knowledge that this impacts people’s lives and it’s not just a decision made in a vacuum from Austin," she said.