Summary: Lawyers have volunteered their time and expertise to help Houston residents affected by Hurricane Harvey.
On Friday, Texas’s new law House Bill 1774 changed the amount of damages a homeowner could receive from insurance companies if they were to take the company to court. Days before September 1, lawyers urged victims of the Harvey Hurricane to file claims before the law change, and some attorneys offered their services pro bono.
And it wasn’t just homeowners with insurance claims who received help from local attorneys. According to The Atlantic, legal aid organizations have also been busy helping victims with the tough task of rebuilding.
“Disasters like Harvey can create legal crises for families that last long after the waters recede. Long-term evacuees from neighborhoods like those near the Addicks Reservoir’s spillways, which might be flooded for months, are at risk of having their homes auctioned off if they can’t move back in soon enough,” Vann R. Newkirk II of The Atlantic wrote. “People who flee can lose track of their mortgage payments and face foreclosure when they return. Evacuees from rental properties and apartments can face evictions, rising rents, and other challenges from unscrupulous landlords.”
The Atlantic added that people also lose important documents in floods, and this loss can prevent them from receiving medical care or enrolling their kids in school. Additionally, flood victims risk losing their jobs or personal bankruptcy if they can’t return to work, renters may face raised rents, and homeowners may face headaches dealing with contractors, insurance companies, small business loan authorities, and flood-relief agencies such as FEMA.
To counter this burdensome red tape, professionals such as Saundra Brown of Lone Star Legal Aid have been working around-the-clock to help Houston residents in need. Legal Aid has offices throughout the state, and they offer their services for free.
For those affected by the hurricane who can afford private attorneys, the Big Law Firms in downtown Houston remain mostly spared from damage. According to Bloomberg Law, the firms are still in recovery but offices plan to reopen soon. For instance, Reed Smith’s office plans to open on Tuesday after the Labor Day holiday.
“I would say a fairly high percentage of attorneys live either downtown or within 15 or 20 minutes from downtown, and most of those areas were not flooded,” said Kenneth Broughton, managing partner of Reed Smith’s Houston office to Bloomberg.
According to Bloomberg, Reed Smith attorneys offered assistance with insurance claims and volunteered to help in shelters in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Some clients have used the functional Reed Smith office while their own facilities were shut down.
The Wall Street Journal said that other major law firms such as Vinson & Elkins LLP have also been helping Harvey victims by staffing shelters and offering legal advice. For example, Vinson & Elkins attorney Ellyn Josef spent two days making 26,000 copies of fliers, offering advice on topics ranging from how to get kids back in school to filing insurance claims.
“People are just crying at the [shelter] tables, out of appreciation and frustration,” Josef said.
The flood may have bypassed some of the Big Law firms, but it shut down the Houston court system, which is expected to reopen after Tuesday, according to The Wall Street Journal.
- Hurricane Harvey Halts Houston Court System