Several county school districts, cities and a community college are headed to court in an attempt to recover about $55 million their attorney says they are due from the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association for damages caused by Hurricane Ike.
The cities of Santa Fe, Dickinson and La Marque; and the Santa Fe, Dickinson and Texas City school districts, along with College of the Mainland, each have lawsuits pending in Galveston County district courts against TWIA.
Add an estimated $11 million stemming from a 2013 hailstorm owed to the financially struggling La Marque school district and the eight entities have yet to recoup about $66.3 million, their attorney Tony Buzbee said.
Buzbee’s firm is also handling cases on behalf of Chambers County and the Anahuac school district.
“There’s clear bad faith by TWIA in these claims,” Buzbee said. “There are some really nasty things involved in this that will give the public a perception of our state and our government that it is not doing what it is supposed to do.”
Buzbee, who in October was asked by attorney Shaun Hodge to join the litigation of the cases, said he was amazed that the cases have gone nowhere seven years after Ike made landfall. After the entities were unable to get their claims paid, lawsuits were filed between 2002 and 2013, court records show.
“There’s been delay after delay after delay,” Buzbee said.
In an effort to get the cases settled, Buzbee said he met face-to-face in late January with Texas Insurance Commissioner David Mattax. The Texas Department of Insurance oversees the Texas Windstorm Association.
The response Buzbee got was “appalling,” he said.
“We were told (by the Texas Department of Insurance) that they had visited with TWIA and TWIA’s lawyers and they were ‘satisfied’ with the way the cases were being handled,” Buzbee said. “And that they were confident in the process and (the department) would not be engaged in it or be involved in any way.”
Neither the Texas Department of Insurance nor TWIA responded to The Daily News.
The Texas City school district has the biggest tab owed by Texas Windstorm at $20.5 million, according to estimates provided by Buzbee.
The Dickinson school district had an estimated $13 million in damage while Santa Fe school district had about $9 million in damage. College of the Mainland is due $7.8 million, according to Buzbee’s estimates.
“These are our internal estimates,” Buzbee said. “We are not allowed to see our (court) appointed appraiser’s estimate or TWIA’s appraiser’s estimate.”
Buzbee said based on his firm’s past work on TWIA cases “our estimates are generally spot on.”
Buzbee said in addition to the massive delays to settle the claims, documents show internal communications of racist, lewd and sexist comments. The comments contained in emails are directed at Hispanics, African-Americans and women by top TWIA officials and its lead adjuster show a “pattern of bad faith.”
Those comments include the use of the N-word to refer to African-Americans, comments about the work ethics of Hispanics and comments about meeting certain women just to see the size of their breasts.
All of the documents with those comments were written at a time when TWIA was reviewing or processing the claims of the entities Buzbee now represents.
Most of those officials are either no longer with TWIA or dead. But at least one of those involved works for the Texas Department of Insurance, Buzbee said.
Many of those documents were first exposed during earlier TWIA claim court cases.
At the heart of the cases, though, Buzbee said, was the lack of response by Texas Windstorm to pay legitimate claims.
“The public entities need the money,” Buzbee said. “They are entitled to the money and have been waiting for a long time for the money.”
Texas Windstorm’s responses to Hurricane Ike claims have long been the source of controversy. Investigations into the quasi-government entity revealed corruption and bad faith by those at the top levels of the organization.
Recently. state Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) introduced legislation that would help school districts recoup the added expense of paying for windstorm insurance premiums. That’s well and good, Buzbee said, but he blasted state leaders for not doing enough to help school districts and other public entities that still have outstanding claims.
Trial dates for the eight Galveston County cases have not been set. While the cases are in different courts, 56th District Court Judge Lonnie Cox is handling the pretrial hearings for all the cases.
Buzbee expects that the city of Dickinson, which is estimated to be owed about $1.5 million, will be the first to go to trial. The city of Santa Fe may also be among the first to go to trial, he said.
Others, such as Texas City ISD, are more complex and may take a bit longer to get before a jury, he said.
The Buzbee lawfirm estimates that about $66.3 million is owed to local entities in Texas Windstorm claims
Cities Estimate Court
La Marque $2.5 million 405th District Court
Dickinson $1.5 million 122nd District Court
Santa Fe $1 million 56th District Court
Education Estimate Court
Texas City ISD $20.5 million 56th District Court
Dickinson ISD $13 million 405th District Court
La Marque ISD $11 million* 405th District Court
Santa Fe ISD $9 million 212th District Court
College of the Mainland $7.8 million 10th District Court
* La Marque ISD claim is for 2013 hailstorm damage
Source: Buzbee Law Firm