Texas Supreme Court Rules to Foreclose Attorney’s Fees in First Party Appraisal ContextFebruary 5, 2024 – Legal Alerts
The Supreme Court of Texas has issued its much-anticipated opinion on an open attorney’s fees question in the area of First Party Property appraisals.
The issue came to the Texas Supreme Court on a certified question from the 5th Circuit and considers the practical effect of the Texas Legislature’s 2017 amendments to the Texas Prompt Payment of Claims Act, Chapter 542, Insurance Code. In short, Texas Insurance Code Chapter 542A, among other reforms, sets forth a statutory formula to determine the amount of an attorney’s fees awarded for a prevailing insured in a weather-related first party property case against an insurer. Under the statute, the amount of reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees a prevailing insured can recover is reduced when the “amount to be awarded in the judgment” is less than the amount the insured claims is owed. In the appraisal context, insurers have paid the appraisal award, along with an amount sufficient to cover any potential statutory interest under Chapter 542A, then made the argument there can be no “amount to be awarded in the judgment” such that there is no liability for attorney’s fees.
In the recent ruling, the Texas Supreme Court agreed with this argument, noting that when a carrier pays the appraisal amount plus any possible statutory interest, it has "complied with its obligations under the policy." In doing so, there is no remaining "amount to be awarded in the judgment,” and attorney’s fees are not available.
Going forward, this ruling should return the appraisal process to its intended function - an inexpensive and prompt resolution of claims, without the need for litigation - and avoid late invocation of appraisal as gamesmanship.
If you have any questions about the ruling, please contact the authors of this article or your Dinsmore attorney.