Judge Keeps TWIA Ike Settlement Information Private for Now

By | October 4, 2010

Galveston County Judge Susan Criss on Sept. 27 put on hold a Texas state representative’s request for information from the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association regarding a $189 million settlement in a class action lawsuit stemming from Hurricane Ike. Criss granted a temporary restraining order that prevents TWIA from providing information about the lawsuit to State Rep. Larry Taylor, a Republican who is on the House Insurance Committee and is co-chair of the Texas Joint Windstorm Insurance Legislative Oversight Board and represents District 24 in Galveston County.

Taylor first submitted an open records request to TWIA for information related to the settlement on Sept. 8, 2010. A Galveston County district court placed a temporary restraining order on that request, after which Taylor made some revisions and submitted it again.

The suit was settled in mid-July between TWIA and some 2,400 Galveston County homeowners and TWIA insureds whose properties were destroyed by the Sept. 13, 2008, hurricane.

A lawyer for plaintiffs in the class action, J. Steven Mostyn, in a letter to TWIA CEO Jim Oliver requested that the association not release the information sought by Taylor.

Mostyn asserted that the information in the settlement is confidential and suggested that Taylor was over-stepping his authority as a state representative with his request. He also asserted that Taylor’s reason for requesting the information is politically motivated, as Mostyn is a well-known political donor to the Democratic Party. Mostyn said the timing of Taylor’s request “strongly suggests that he his using his position on the legislative oversight committee for non-legislative political and partisan purposes.”

Information requested by Taylor included identification of each claim and case covered by the settlement, as well as amounts claimed for property damage, non-economic loss, living expenses and attorneys’ fees.

In denying Taylor’s original request, 122nd Judicial District Court determined the named plaintiffs in the case, Joe and Jaquelyn Vardell – who had applied for the temporary restraining order to prevent the release of information – would be “irreparably injured” by its release. The court added that, “Once such information is produced, its confidentiality will forever be lost and irretrievable.”

On Sept. 17, Taylor announced he had sent another open records request to TWIA regarding the settlement. “This request basically follows the information that I initially requested of TWIA in a letter dated Sept. 8, 2010, with a few additions and some further clarification,” Taylor said.

He explained that the settlement details are important for lawmakers “to know as we consider legislation to improve how TWIA can handle these types of claims in the future without the need for litigation by covered claimants.” He also said it is unacceptable “if it is true that $86 million of TWIA funding was used to pay attorneys, rather than rebuild people’s property.”

Taylor said the second “Open Records Request specifically states that, ‘I am not seeking any confidential information relating to any individual or corporate policyholder, such as names, personal addresses, Social Security numbers, or other such personally identifiable information.'”

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Insurance Journal West October 4, 2010
October 4, 2010
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