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In tornado season, Texans need insurers to come through in good faith

Insurance companies have the legal duty to handle tornado claims in good faith and with fair dealing.

Its only June in 2015, and tornados have already slammed Texas so many times this year that people have lost count of the unlucky locales: Van, Runaway Bay, Mineral Wells, Boonsville, Bridgeport, Giddings, Eastville, Cisco and more.

CNN explains that the collision of cold, dry air from the Pacific Northwest with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico can create the perfect storm, so to speak, over the Lone Star State and the rest of the Central Plains, earning the corridor the nickname Tornado Alley.

These intense storms have left death, injury and property damage - not only to vehicles and personal property, but also to residential, commercial and public buildings - in their wakes.

Obviously, individuals and businesses in Texas must be sure that their homeowner, renters, vehicle and commercial insurance policies adequately protect buildings, vehicles and personal property from tornado damage. In particular, policyholders should inquire about protection for damage from floods, wind and hail. Coverage amounts and deductibles should be carefully considered in light of increases in value of property and real estate.

Before the big one strikes, insured parties should carefully document their property values with pictures, appraisals and receipts, and keep these important documents in safes or safe deposit boxes in case of extensive damage to home or business.

When faced with tornado damage, Texans must be able to rely on their insurance companies for quick and comprehensive service and prompt payment so that damage expenses can be contained and rebuilding can begin in a timely manner. Just as insured parties are obligated to make premium payments and provide required documentation and notices, insurers must comply with their legal obligations to their insureds pursuant to insurance contracts in cases of storm damage.

Texas law requires an insurance company to comply with its duties under a policy in good faith, meaning "to effectuate a prompt, fair, and equitable settlement" of a claim once the insurer's liability "has become reasonably clear." An insurer acts in bad faith if it fails to reasonably communicate with a policyholder about a claim, fails to adequately investigate the matter, delays payment or settlement, or engages in similar unfair and illegal behavior.

If an insurer breaches its duty to act in good faith in a claim for tornado damage, the insured may be able to sue the company for its bad faith behavior. Money damages available in a Texas bad faith insurance suit may include those for financial loss, mental anguish and more. If the policyholder can show that the insurer acted with malice or fraud, punitive or exemplary damages (meant to punish and deter others from similar conduct) may be recoverable.

Any Texan having trouble working with his or her insurance company in a tornado damage claim should speak with an experienced insurance attorney about potential legal remedies, including a bad faith or breach of insurance contract claim.

From its office in Richardson-Plano, the lawyers at The Fell Law Firm represent individual and business clients in claims against insurance companies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and across Texas.

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