Texas Lawmaker Revives Disputed TWIA Information Request

September 23, 2010

A Texas state representative has issued a second request for information from the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association regarding a $189 million settlement in a class action lawsuit stemming from Hurricane Ike that was previously denied by a Galveston County district court.

State Rep. Larry Taylor, a Republican who is on the House Insurance Committee, is co-chair of Texas Joint Windstorm Insurance Legislative Oversight Board and represents District 24 in Galveston County, originally submitted an open records request to TWIA for information related to the class action lawsuit on Sept. 8, 2010.

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

A lawyer for plaintiffs in the class action, J. Steven Mostyn, responded in a letter to TWIA CEO Jim Oliver requesting 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 in requesting information about a confidential settlement.

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 stated in the letter that 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 in his original letter to TWIA 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.

The 122nd Judicial District Court imposed a temporary restraining order denying Taylor’s original request. According to court documents, the court held that the named plaintiffs in the case, Joe and Jaquelyn Vardell — who had applied to the court for a temporary restraining order to prevent the release of information — would be “irreparably injured” by its release.

Specifically, the court said, “it appears that confidential and personal information of the Plaintiffs will be produced by Defendant TWIA pursuant to a letter of Representative Taylor if TWIA is not enjoined. Once such information is produced, its confidentiality will forever by lost and irretrievable.”

On Sept. 17, Taylor issued a statement saying he has submitted 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 September 8, 2010, with a few additions and some further clarification,” Taylor said.

He explained that the settlement details are important for him and his legislative colleagues “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. Having TWIA policyholders wait for over 2 years to find out how much their Windstorm Insurance is going to pay is not acceptable. Additionally, if it is true that $86 million of TWIA funding was used to pay attorneys, rather than rebuild people’s property, that too is unacceptable.”

He stated that contrary to earlier reports his original request did not seek “private information and it did not intend to. However, to clarify and to make it perfectly clear, this 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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