Contact Form


Email *

Message *


Friday, August 14, 2009

Farmers Drive In Claim Service

Beginning August 17th, 2009, a full time drive-in claims program will be established at:

Austin Area
• Cedar Park Body and Frame 102 N Park Circle, Cedar Park, TX 78613 (512) 258-6160
• Austin CSC 3910 S IH 35 Ste 100, Austin, TX 78704 (512) 445-4151

Houston Area
• D & D Collision 23530 IH 45 North Spring , TX 77373 (281)350-4200
• Westside Collision 10835 W. Little York Houston, TX 77041 (713) 937-9297
• Russell/Smith Ford –Honda 1109 South Loop West Houston, TX (713) 663-4235
• Xpress Collision 2500 FM 528 Alvin, TX 77058 (281) 331-8600
• Momentum BMW 9111 Centre Parkway Houston, TX 77036 (713) 596-3250
• Don McGill Toyota 21555 Katy Freeway Katy, TX 77450 (281) 588-2627

San Antonio Area
• Caliber Collision 5818 Stemmons San Antonio, TX 78238 (210) 509-9590

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Seatbelts, Cellphones, Handguns Addressed in New Texas Traffic Laws

Texas / South Central News
Seatbelts, Cellphones, Handguns Addressed in New Texas Traffic Laws
August 12, 2009

E-mail this Article Post Comment Print this Article Article Reprints
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has issued a summary of new traffic laws passed by the Texas Legislature that are set to become effective Sept. 1, 2009.

Among those laws that may affect the property casualty insurance industry are:

Seatbelts: HB 537 requires all occupants of a vehicle, no matter their age, to be secured by a safety belt, no matter where they are seated in the vehicle; changes the definition of a passenger vehicle to include a passenger van designed to transport 15 or fewer passengers including the driver; removes the current exemption for third-party Medicaid transportation provisions regarding the use of child passenger safety seats; and prohibits a motorcycle operator from carrying a passenger under the age of 5 unless the child is seated in a sidecar attached to the motorcycle.

SB 61 amends the existing statute regarding child passenger safety seats. The bill requires that any child younger than 8 years of age be restrained in an approved child passenger safety seat unless the child is at least 4 feet, 9 inches in height. The fine is no more than $25 for a first offense and $250 for a second offense. The law also creates a new court cost for conviction of an offense under this section to be collected and used by TxDOT to buy safety seats for low income families. The law becomes effective on Sept. 1, 2009, but tickets for this offense cannot be issued until June 1, 2010. Police officers are allowed to issue a warning before that date.

Driving: HB 55 makes it illegal to use a wireless communication device in a school zone unless the vehicle is stopped or a hands-free device is used. Cities or counties wanting to enforce this law must post a sign at the beginning of each school zone to inform drivers that using a wireless communications device is prohibited and the operator is subject to a fine. It is a defense to prosecution if the operator was making an emergency call.

HB 2730 increases the penalties for driving while intoxicated with a child passenger by adding an automatic driver license suspension period for first-time offenders and an increased suspension period for repeat offenders. The driver license re-instatement fee for completing an education program will rise from $50 to $100. Closes a loophole so a person who commits an offense as a minor cannot circumvent the driver license penalty if the person turns 21 before their court date.

HB 2730 allows a new Texas resident to operate a vehicle without a Texas license for 90 days instead of the current 30. (This provision went into effect on June 19, 2009.)

HB 2012 creates two new punishment enhancements: a Class B misdemeanor if a person drives with a suspended license and without insurance; and a class A misdemeanor if the person driving without insurance or a valid driver license has an accident and someone is seriously injured or dies as a result of that accident.

SB 129 authorizes neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) to be operated on roads with a posted speed limit of 45 miles per hour or less. The bill authorizes driver license holders to operate NEVs without having a motorcycle endorsement, clarifies that drivers and passengers in such vehicles are not required to wear helmets and specifies that enclosed three-wheeled vehicles as described in the bill are authorized to operate in preferential lanes.

Concealed Handguns: HB 2730 amends numerous provisions regarding concealed handgun licenses (CHLs), including eliminating student loan defaults as a disqualifier, to clarify that DPS must suspend or revoke a license when the licensee becomes ineligible and mandating that a magistrate suspend a CHL held by the subject of an emergency protective order.

HB 2664 provides a defense to prosecution if a concealed handgun license holder carries a concealed handgun into an establishment that gets 51 percent or more of its income from the sale of alcoholic beverages, but has failed to post the statutorily required notice that it derives 51 percent or more of its income from the sale of alcoholic beverages. (Under current law, a concealed handgun licensee can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for doing this.)

HB 2730 removes DPS authority to suspend a concealed handgun license (CHL) for the holder's failure to display the CHL to a peace officer on demand. It removes associated penalties and suspensions for the failure to display.

Driver License: HB 2730 requires that all applicants under the age of 18 take the driving skills exam to receive a driver license. The law also requires that a provisional driver license (under 18) or instruction permit expire on an individual's 18th birthday, removes the requirement that a provisional driver license or instruction permit be renewed annually and increases the fee for those licenses from $5 to $15. It also extends the current phase-two restrictions for holders of a graduated driver license from 6 months to 1 year. These restrictions include limited night driving, prohibited use of wireless communication devices and a limited number of passengers.

HB 339 increases the total hours of behind-the-wheel driving instruction a teen receives from 14 to 34 and creates an adult driver education requirement for applicants older than 18 and younger than 21.

SB 1317 creates a six-hour driver education course required for driver license applicants 18 years of age or older. It also mandates that applicants 25 or under must submit to an approved driver education course. (Goes into effect March 1, 2010.)

SB 328 gives DPS the power to suspend a minor's driver license if they fail a breath or blood alcohol test while operating a watercraft. Chapter 524 of the Transportation Code also clearly defines the suspension period for an individual who was under the age of 21 at the time when the offense of boating under the influence or driving under the influence of alcohol occurred. The law also increases the reinstatement fee for a license suspended under sections 49.04-49.08, Penal Code from $50 to $100.

HB 2730 increases the driver license sanction from a one-year CDL license disqualification to a lifetime disqualification if a person uses a motor vehicle to transport, conceal or harbor an alien. If a child is engaged in conduct involving a severe form of trafficking persons, a judge at a juvenile hearing is required to order the juvenile's driver license or permit to be suspended.

HB 2730 prohibits DPS from issuing a driver license or identification card to a person who has not established a domicile in Texas. The law specifies that an applicant may receive a driver license at a post office box only if the applicant's residence address has also been provided, with some exceptions.

Motorcycles etc.: SB 1967 requires that applicants for an original class M license or class A, B or C driver license (including commercial driver licenses and permits) with authorization to operate a motorcycle, provide evidence of completion of an approved motorcycle operator training course. It also repeals the helmet exemption sticker program.

Current law requires a person be covered with a minimum of $10,000 in health insurance for injuries incurred in a motorcycle accident to be eligible for an exception for the offense of operating or riding a motorcycle without a helmet. As of Sept. 1, the minimum amount is removed.

The bill requires the Texas Department of Insurance to prescribe a standard proof of health insurance for issuance to persons who are at least 21 years of age and covered by an applicable health insurance plan. The law also increases the penalty for failure to yield the right-of-way if there is a crash that results in injury to a person other than the motorcycle operator.

Vehicle Inspection: SB 589 requires that a vehicle equipment safety compliance label be placed on a windshield, side or rear window stating that the window tinting complies with the appropriate provisions of the Transportation Code. Failing to place the required label on the vehicle could lead to a $1,000 fine.

Source: Texas Department of Public Safety,

Monday, August 10, 2009

Agents, Meteorologists Gear Up for Annual Texas Hurricane Tour

Agents, Meteorologists Gear Up for Annual Texas Hurricane Tour
August 10, 2009

E-mail this Article Post Comment Print this Article Article Reprints
For the fourth year in a row insurance spokesmen will team with meteorologists from the National Weather Service and independent insurance agents to warn Texas coastal residents of the potential dangers of hurricanes. This year's message is "What We Learned from Hurricane Ike," the costliest storm in Texas history. The coastal tour will commence Aug. 24.

"We can't emphasize enough that when our office sends out weather bulletins describing the intensity of a storm, coastal residents need to heed our warnings," said Gene Hafele, warning coordination meteorologist for the Houston/Galveston National Weather Service Office. "We would have lost fewer lives if many residents on Bolivar Peninsula would have evacuated, rather than trying to ride the storm out."

Twenty two people drowned when Hurricane Ike's 20 foot storm surge engulfed Bolviar Peninsula along with portions of Galveston, Harris, Chambers and Jefferson Counties. Ike's 110 mile per wind gusts were responsible for damage to half of all homes in Harris County. Ike created more than 800,000 claims with insured losses in excess of $10 billion.

In the past ten years six hurricanes have struck the Texas coast. They started with Hurricane Bret that made landfall in the isolated ranch lands of Kenedy County in 1999, followed by Hurricane Claudette that struck Port O'Connor and Victoria in 2003, Hurricane Rita in southeast Texas in 2005, Hurricane Humberto over the same region in 2007 and Hurricane Ike over Galveston Island in 2008.

"There are generations of Texans living along the Texas coast in places like Corpus Christi who have never seen the affects of a hurricane," said Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas. "Our coastal tour is a warning to all homeowners not to become complacent or unprepared for a catastrophic storm."

Hanna and others will be distributing brochures entitled "What We Learned from Hurricane Ike" in both English and Spanish and recommending that homeowners heed evacuation orders, conduct home inventories and consider purchasing both windstorm and flood insurance.

The hurricane tour also consists of purchasing English and Spanish newspaper ads and radio spots in employing a similar message. Last year's tour reached an estimated 2 million Texas coastal residents.

The tour will start in the Beaumont, Orange, Port Arthur area and end in the Rio Grande Valley after 37 media stops in five days.

The Insurance Council of Texas,

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Some homeowners turn to alternative insurers

But ‘surplus lines carriers’ aren’t regulated, backed by Texas
Aug. 1, 2009, 4:05PM

The state's largest home insurance companies have hiked rates or announced increases this summer, hitting coastal areas such as Harris County the hardest. Meanwhile, others have pulled out, stopped selling new policies, or stopped selling windstorm coverage in the county.

As a result, some homeowners are turning to companies, known as “surplus lines carriers,” that aren't regulated or backed by the state. If the company goes belly up, there's no guarantee that policyholders' claims will get paid.

Policyholders of traditional companies, like State Farm and Allstate, would be paid by the state guaranty fund should the companies go under.

“People really need to be educated about what they're buying, and if the agent's not telling them, it's dangerous,” said Randy Templeton, an insurance agent in north Houston who tries to avoid selling consumers surplus lines coverage.

Insurers blame increasing claims and construction costs as well as higher risk of catastrophes in the area for their retreat from the coast. But for homeowners who turn to surplus lines companies, experts said, it often means paying more for less coverage to insurers who generally charge more because they take on customers other companies won't accept.

Surplus lines companies are sometimes licensed in other states or countries, but aren't subject to Texas law on the rates they charge. Twenty-five such companies sell home insurance in Texas, including England-based Catlin Insurance and Markel International Insurance.

State insurance regulators receive annual statements from the companies to make sure they have minimum capital requirements, but regulators don't conduct audits or detailed financial analysis, according to the Texas Department of Insurance.

“I certainly would encourage the insurance commissioner to keep an eye on this and make sure it doesn't become a trend whereby insurance companies are trying to make an end run around any sort of rate oversight,” said Alex Winslow, head of consumer group Texas Watch.

The companies may not be licensed in Texas, but they are required to have a minimum of $15 million in capital available after their expenses have been paid, often more than other companies, said Phil Ballinger, executive director of the Surplus Lines Stamping Office of Texas, a state-created non-profit that oversees the out-of-state insurers.

“Surplus lines are known as the relief valve. If there is no surplus lines market, people couldn't get insurance,” he said, noting that the last time homeowners turned to such insurers in large numbers was in 2003 when insurers faced large losses on mold claims.

Exposure on coast
Despite being an alternative, surplus lines companies also will only sell so many policies along the coast, he said.

“They too are concerned about their exposure,” Ballinger said.

Overall, the total premiums collected by surplus lines companies have declined in recent years. But since January, at least seven have reported increases, according to data collected by state regulators. And two new companies have started selling homeowners insurance, signaling potential growth in the market.

“We're always concerned about availability on the coast,” said Jerry Hagins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance who noted that the seven companies could be indicative of a trend, but it's not showing up in statewide data yet.

Still, it could be building as other companies pull back and raise rates.

Limits in Harris County
Allstate and National Lloyds have stopped selling new policies in Harris County, while others such as Nationwide and Hartford are doing so on a “limited basis,” but spokesmen for the companies declined to elaborate.

“After Ike everybody re- assessed what the right amount of business was given that Ike was a category 2 and not2 a 5,” said Parker Rush, CEO of Republic Insurance, which has started to rein in its growth in Harris County.

State Farm and Farmers haven't restricted selling in Harris County, representatives said, but both have raised rates this year, as has Allstate.

“Lots of companies are dropping business indirectly by increasing the price,” said Mabel Bryant, an agent in northwest Houston. “If it goes up 50 percent or more, they're telling you to go somewhere else.”

Sometimes Bryant refers homeowners to the Texas FAIR Plan Association, which sells coverage to those who can't find it elsewhere. But it too is often more expensive than the private market and offers limited coverage, discouraging many homeowners, she said.

The number of policyholders in the FAIR Plan has dropped to about 45,000 in Harris County as of June 2009, down from nearly 52,700 in June 2008.

The decline may indicate the surplus lines market is absorbing some consumers, said Jerry Johns, a spokesman for Southwestern Insurance Information Service, an industry trade group. But it also signals that the overall home insurance market in Texas is competitive, he said.

What's true for the state isn't necessarily true for those closer to the coast.

‘Go begging'
Some traditional companies, including Columbia Lloyds, aren't selling new policies in southeast Houston.

“For folks living in the southeast quadrant, they're really going to go begging and surplus lines is the only for them to go,” said Jeff Cross, with Houston-based broker Wortham Insurance.

He worries it may only get worse because insurers usually take up to a year to settle claims and evaluate their losses to determine if they need higher rates and should limit selling after a major catastrophe. “I don't think the other shoe has quite dropped yet.”