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Texas Insurer Seeks More Money for Hurricane Ike, Says it Won't Cover Storm Surge Damage

Sep 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association has voted to collect more money from insurance companies to bolster its reserves.  The vote comes on the heels of Hurricane Ike, which could cost the association $4 billion in claims.  There are also indications that a dispute between consumer groups in the state and the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association could be brewing, because of the association's claim that its policies do not cover storm surge damage.

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is the insurer of last resort for 14 coastal counties in the state. The association covers  142,566 policies in the six Texas counties hardest hit by Ike.  The amount of claims paid through the association depends on how much of the damage is determined to be wind-related.  Texas Windstorm Insurance Association policies do not cover flooding and most other water damage.  

According to The Houston Chronicle, association's $100 million base, along with part of a $500 million catastrophic reserve trust fund, were already used up paying for damage caused by Hurricane Dolly and Tropical Storm Edouard earlier in the summer.  The association raises money through assessments on all property and casualty insurers authorized to write coverage in Texas.   New assessments were needed because the wind pool had only $370 million in its fund.

On Wednesday, the association's board voted to collect an additional $430 million from Texas insurers to bolster claim reserves.  Ultimately, Texas taxpayers will foot some of that bill because insurers can recoup about  $230 million through state tax credits.

The association' general manager had originally proposed assessing insurers $830 million.  But insurance companies, including State Farm, Farmers, Travelers and USAA, opposed that. Insurance company representatives hold five of nine seats on the board.  Given the scope of the damage along the Texas Gulf Coast, combined with the fact that hurricane season is far from over, it is expected that the Texas Windstorm Association will need additional assessments.

Meanwhile, a consumer group is disputing the association's assertion that its polices do not cover damage from storm surge.  "A storm surge is a phenomenon peculiar to windstorms, which should be covered by windstorm insurance," Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch, said in a statement.

The Texas Windstorm Association's general manager told the American Statesman that its  policies are "very specific" that  damages from floods and overflowing of rivers and other bodies of water are not covered.  Courts in other states have backed such exclusions, he said.

The storm surge conflict was a major source complaints among policyholders affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.  A 2008 Government Accountability (GAO) report urged better assessment of "the accuracy of flood payments on hurricane-damaged properties."   Insurance companies' handling of damage claims from hurricanes, where both wind and water destroy property, needs closer government scrutiny, the report said.

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