This year when the Texas Legislature met, there were two very important personal injury-related bills introduced for consideration. One was aimed at bringing to justice sexual predators for their past transgressions while the other was aimed at protecting consumers from unfair settlement practices of unscrupulous insurance adjusters. Despite the legislature reconvening several times to address important laws, the Texas Legislature failed to pass both of the two personal injury-related bills.
House Bill 206 – Civil Liability for Sexually Assaulting a Child
Representative Ann Johnson (D) of Harris County introduced HB 206. The bill sought to abolish the statute of limitations in Texas for bringing a personal injury lawsuit against someone who commits sexual assault and other related crimes against a minor. Had the bill passed, it would have removed the statute of limitations for not only cases moving forward but also cases that had occurred in the past—regardless of whether the statute of limitations had already run.
National Movement to Create “Lookback” Statutes
A number of states have recognized that sexual assault against a minor often involves threats, coercion, and psychological abuse that results in the minor repressing the events. These events often involve people in a position of power or control using their position to manipulate minors under their supervision. The child completely buries the event in their mind in order to block out the emotions and feelings that come with it. It may not resurface for decades. In order to prevent child predators from getting a free pass due to the repression of these events, a number of states have extended their statute of limitations and passed “lookback” statutes that allow a wind of a year or two for victims of past crimes to come forward now and seek justice even thought their statute of limitations had already run. See New York lookback statute and Louisiana lookback statute.
Ann’s Forward-Looking Take on the Lookback Statute
Ann Johnson is a former Chief Human Trafficking Prosecutor. As a result, it is no surprise that when it came to seeking a lookback statute for Texas, her proposal would have put Texas one step ahead of the country in the battle to stop crimes against children. HB 206 would have created a lookback statute with no restriction on how long past victims had to come forward. Unfortunately, HB 206 died in committee.
HB 150 -The Swoop and Settle Bill
A second bill that was left pending in committee was a bill authored by Julie Johnson (D) of Farmer’s Branch. Many people do not realize that in Texas, an oral agreement to settle a case is binding. This applies to auto insurance claims. So if an adjuster calls you up the day after a wreck and says: “I’ll pay you x” today to settle but we might not be willing to do this later if you don’t accept it now,” and you agree, you are stuck no matter what it costs to repair your car or your person.
The practice of tricking and coercing claimants into settling their claims orally by way of an early offer before they have a chance to determine the full extent of their damages is allowed in Texas. HB 150 would have blocked this practice by requiring that all insurance claim settlements must be in writing to be valid. Interestingly enough, an identical bill to this was filed in the Senate (Senate Bill 1042) by Republican Senator Bryan Hughes. How often do we hear about a bill that has bipartisan support? Despite the bipartisan support and it being before both the House and the Senate, the bill was allowed to die in committee. This shows you how powerful the insurance lobby is in Texas. Sadly, this means that consumers and kids will have to wait two more years to see if our Texas government will ever recognize the need for these important laws.