(Inman News Features) -- The Texas Department of Insurance has restructured the state's residential homeowner's policies to help resolve the controversial issue of claims involving so-called "toxic mold." A Travis County jury earlier this year awarded $32 million to a family that claimed its insurance company's failure to fix a water leak allowed the toxic mold stachybotrys to fester in their home and that the mold caused serious health problems.

Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor conducted hearings in the state to solicit public comment. Provisions of the new hmeowners' insurance plan include "sudden and accidental losses" that are hidden or concealed.

Insurers may offer the new coverage as early as Jan. 1, 2002, and must offer it no later than Jan. 1, 2003. Policyholders won't see a change until the carrier begins offering the new coverage and their policy comes up for renewal.

Homeowners who choose the new, less expensive policy prior to the renewal date may be entitled to a refund on the unused portion of the surrendered policy, the insurance commissioner's office reported.