Gale-force attorneys ride tailwinds of Hurricane Ike

Southeast Texas Record
March 5, 2011

Hurricanes are divided into five categories, depending on the force of their winds. To be considered a hurricane, a tropical storm must have sustained winds of at least 75 mph. A Category 5 hurricane, the fiercest of all, boasts winds exceeding 155 mph.At its worst, Ike was a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of 145 mph, but had subsided to a Category 2 by the time it hit Galveston - and thank goodness for that.High winds weren't the only thing unleashed on Southeast Texas by Hurricane Ike.

In its aftermath, we were subjected to the sustained force of high-powered plaintiffs attorneys as well. If lawyers were ranked according to the windfall of fees generated from damage claims, Steve Mostyn would be considered a Category 5.

According to documents released by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) after sustained prodding, $114,000,000 was distributed among 1,300 plaintiffs in one class action suit, for an average payout of roughly $54,000 each. An estimated $44 million went to 64 plaintiffs attorneys, for an average take of nearly $700,000 apiece.

State Rep. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), co-chairman of the Joint Windstorm Insurance Legislative Oversight Board, filed an open records request in September 2010 to find out the details of the settlement between TWIA and plaintiffs in that class. Mostyn, the lead attorney for the class, fought the request, insisting that settlement information was confidential. Unfortunately for him, the state attorney general's office affirmed that TWIA is a governmental body subject to the Public Information Act.

Taylor said he was "appalled" when he discovered the amounts paid to Mostyn and his colleagues." For 1,300 claims, the attorneys received 67 percent over and above what claimants got," he said. "In other words, if there was a $100,000 claim, they would inflate the claim to $167,000" and pocket the difference.Texas officials looking for ways to minimize the damage from future hurricanes might consider building courthouse levees to keep some folks out.