Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) recently tried to trick Texans into giving up their constitutional right to a trial by jury.
The consumer watchdog of the Dallas Morning News, David Lieber, recently wrote about this outrageous attempt where in exchange for a 10% to 25% so-called discount, a customer would have given up his or her right to file a lawsuit. Instead, he would have to go to mediation and then arbitration if he disputed TFB’s appraisal of his damages.
But the mediator/arbitrator would be paid for/controlled by TFB. Care to guess who was going to win that dispute?
Texas Watch, the leading consumer rights organization, filed a Freedom of Information Act request and obtained internal documents. They revealed that there had been a secret meeting between TBF, our Texas Department of Insurance, and insurance company lobbyists in March. No one representing insurance policyholders even knew about the meeting.
Further, the documents revealed that TBF knew no discount had been offered since it had just hiked up its rates.
Fortunately, after Lieber asked his readers to complain, the insurance department leaned on TBF to stop its request.
The consumer watchdog wrote about this chicanery here: The Great Insurance War of Texas. Lieber noted that “some companies and lobbyists are working quietly to dilute your rights as an insurance holder.” No kidding.
Last year an insurance agent – and now state senator – introduced a bill to permit insurance companies to pay less money and pay those claims even more slowly. Lucky for us, this anti-consumer bill didn’t pass either.
But the state legislature begins meeting in January and anything is possible.
Only pro-consumer groups like Texas Watch and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association stop the insurance companies from taking away the rights of policyholders.
The United States Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial in the Seventh Amendment. Article I of the Texas Constitution also states that the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.
Since we are guaranteed the right to a trial by our peers, insurance companies should not dangle the chance to save a little money and trick innocent Texans out of their constitutional right. What would be next, no freedom of religion in exchange for Happy Meals for their kids?
We personal injury lawyers see insurance companies trying to cheat and take advantage of people every day.
I have a case where a woman from Africa who barely spoke English signed a check from one of the largest liability companies after she was told it was just for her property damage. Later she was told later when she presented her medical bills and lost wages that she had signed away her right to collect her damages, as the check had a full release in small letters. This is unconscionable. We are about to file suit to protect her rights.
State Senator John Whitmire summed it up: “There’s a reason people desperately turn to legal representation. Without that, they wouldn’t have gotten a good settlement.”