PORT ARANSAS, Texas – Take a stroll along a residential block in Port Aransas or Rockport and the ears are bound to come across a symphony of construction.
However, a few blocks away, there is silence.
Chuck Rowsey says it all goes back to TWIA, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, described by Rowsey as “probably the worst organization I’ve ever seen.”
TWIA is the insurer of last resort for property owners along 14 coastal counties and parts of Harris County.
Their post-Hurricane Harvey performance is under scrutiny by property owners who filed claims.
“Let me tell you want I want to say, I want to find a good word for clusterf*%$,” Rowsey said.
For 10 months now, Channel 2 Investigates has been following TWIA’s process for paying out Harvey-related claims.
One common storyline has been the performance, or lack thereof, by adjusters.
The other? Underpaying claims. Cherith Fenton in Port Aransas told Channel 2 Investigates last spring, “I have been given 65,000 now, but I am at a halfway point.”
“It is a bright picture on one hand, but I think there are still some very difficult situations out there and some high costs,” said TWIA board member Georgia Neblett at a recent gathering for TWIA leadership in Galveston. Neblett, who is out of Port Aransas, offered praise and criticism of TWIA adjusters. “There are some bad apples that can spoil the whole bunch.”
David Williams, TWIA’s vice president of claims, pointed out the strengths of TWIA’s operations and staff during the meeting. “They responded very well, they’re adaptable and we’re very emphatic to the policyholders and all of our stakeholders throughout the experience.”
But ask Rowsey and he’s quick to point out weaknesses. “I see experienced professional staff and I don’t know who they are referring to, it’s certainly not their personnel.” Rowsey made the comments after examining an overview where TWIA made available at the Galveston meeting. When asked by Channel 2 Investigates if he could locate the word “adjuster,” Rowsey said, “Not once.” When asked how big of an issue adjusters had been for him, Rowsey responded, “That is the issue.”
Channel 2 Investigates asked to see emails from TWIA’s staff detailing the agency’s performance. TWIA refused to provide many of those emails until the Texas attorney general stepped in and informed TWIA through a ruling that they were required to turn over tens of thousands of emails.
The emails show TWIA established a goal in the immediate aftermath of Harvey to close 1,000 claims a day and as many as 2500 claims over weekends. In a Sept. 14 email, TWIA described the closing of 1,000 claims as a “critical benchmark,” while also stating customers deserved prompt attention and resolution.
Houston-based storm attorney Rene Sigman’s reaction to the emails?
“Quality does not equal getting it done quickly.”
Sigman described TWIA’s practice to Channel 2 Investigates as “turning and burning,” adding, “Their mind was on closing claims as early as September and that is a problem, because damages can’t all be assessed that quickly after a storm.”
Approximately six weeks after Harvey, a TWIA customer reached out to an examiner, writing in an email that TWIA had closed his claim without doing anything. A month later, the same examiner was questioned by a supervisor over files that “barely have notes” while also adding “past claims you have handled do not show you reviewed the claim.” The supervisor then offered to sit with the claims examiner the next day to help him understand the process.
Sigman, who has dealt with TWIA going back to its last major storm, Hurricane Ike, says the emails are concerning. “It is bothersome to look at some of these things and think that they were more interested in closing their claims out and what their numbers look like than their quality.”
While TWIA did not tell Channel 2 Investigates the exact number of cases reopened after Harvey, a TWIA spokesperson says claims are routinely reopened to address new information, questions and additional payments.
A different kind of additional payments are also on the minds of TWIA policyholders, as customersChannel 2 Investigates spoke with said they have seen a price jump in their TWIA policy even as some of them are still waiting to be made whole.