As a lifelong Texan, Cynthia Leal has lived through a lot of hailstorms, but she’ll not soon forget the storm of 2014.
The day after the storm, so-called “runners” for plaintiffs’ law firms were knocking on doors in Cynthia’s neighborhood. These “runners” are a type of door to door salesman for plaintiffs firms, recruiting homeowners to sue their insurance companies.
“She (the runner) took me outside she said, you see there you see on your roof, that storm caused this,” explained Cynthia. “They showed me pictures of checks, of thousands of dollars. This guy went and he bought a motorcycle, this guy went and he put a pool in his house.”
Leal initially declined to participate, but after weeks of persistence she finally agreed to the lawyers offer to help her file an insurance claim. It wasn’t long before she find out she had been taken for a ride.
The law firm negotiated an $11,000 settlement — far less than the $40,000 Leal had been told it would cost to repair her roof.
For her troubles, Leal would only be offered a few hundred dollars.
“I felt like I was pushed into a corner, I didn’t know where to go, what to do, how to get out of it,” she said. “I was terrified.”
Texas hail storm litigation has exploded in recent years, with some estimates of more than 36,000 cases filed since 2012. The Texas Department of Insurance estimates a 1,400 percent increase in these lawsuits between 2012 and 2015.
Hail is just one type of storm-related litigation. Similar cases are brought after tornadoes and other natural disasters. That’s why Texas has a new law to stem the tide of these storm chase lawsuits — to stop plaintiffs’ lawyers from using homeowners like Cynthia as settlement pawns.
“I don’t know if it’s the lawyers, the adjusters, who it is exactly, but something is wrong with the system,” said Cynthia. “I mean if you go from $40,000 to giving the homeowner $600, I mean, where is it going to?