On August 17, 2018, the 49th anniversary of Hurricane Camille, the benchmark in Mississippi for devastation and survivability prior to the impact of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Mississippi Insurance Department (“MID”) filed its adoption of Rule 34.11 to amend the Mississippi Homeowner Insurance Policyholder Bill of Rights (“Policyholder Bill of Rights”) to include an Outline of Coverage and Comprehensive Policyholder Checklist.1
The Policyholder Bill of Rights was created several years after Hurricane Katrina as a result of the persistence and perseverance of many policyholder advocates. I recall working closely with Mississippi Gulf Coast resident, Kevin Buckle, Amy Bach of United Policyholders, and many state lawmakers in the years following Hurricane Katrina to begin the dialogue with the Mississippi Legislature and MID to protect the rights of policyholders. I posted an update in January 2009.2
Finally, later in 2009 there was a slight thaw. MID created a Policyholder Bill of Rights to be included in the issuance and delivery of the personal lines homeowner insurance policy. Relative to other States’ regulations and statutes enacted to enforce the rights of policyholders, the victory here, to acknowledge the mere existence of contractual rights, must have been puzzling. However, you must start somewhere. There were 19 policyholder rights identified.3 Some of my favorites:
L. Policyholders shall have the right to receive a written explanation of why a claim is denied, in whole or in part.
M. Policyholders shall have the right to request and receive from the insurance company any adjuster reports, engineer reports, contractor reports, statements or documents which are not legally privileged documents that the insurance company prepared, had prepared, or used during its adjustment of the policyholder’s claim. A company may keep confidential any documents they prepare in conjunction with a fraud investigation.
Q. Policyholders shall have the right to be treated fairly and honestly when making a claim.
R. Policyholders shall have the right to reject any settlement amount offered by the insurance company.
Yes, it needed to be in writing. And for a lagniappe, MID added guidance regarding the burden of proof as battled out in the courts after Hurricane Katrina:
Rule 34.06: Burden of Proof
As demonstrated by the ruling of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Leonard v. Nationwide, insurance companies are advised that in an all risk homeowners insurance policy an “insurer bears the burden of proving that a particular peril falls within a policy exclusion; the insurer must plead and prove the applicability of an exclusion as an affirmative defense.” Leonard v. Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co., 499 F.3d 419, 429 (5th Cir. 2007).
The recent amendment to include Rule 34.11 in the Policyholder Bill of Rights still shows a focus on acknowledging the rights of insureds, with no remedy to the policyholder or any enforcement measures for violating those rights or breach of the contract of insurance or the breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. So, here we are almost thirteen years post-Hurricane Katrina and that is as far as Mississippi has moved to protect the rights of its policyholders. If you know of another apt slow-moving descriptive, I would enjoy your sharing it—I may need it for the next update.
1 Administrative Procedures Notice Filing, Title 19, Part 1, Chapter 34, Rule 34.11 Mississippi Homeowner Insurance Policyholder Bill of Rights.
3 Title 19, Part 1, Chapter 34, Mississippi Homeowner Insurance Policyholder Bill of Rights.