The Hurricane Katrina insurance coverage litigation along the Mississippi Coast was a once in a lifetime event for most attorneys. For me, it was obvious from the first day we landed at Stennis airport that this was where the Super Bowl of insurance coverage litigation was going to be waged for the next several years. With a lot of help from Florida panhandle trial attorneys Larry Keefe and Sparky Lovelace (Sparky quickly left our venture and started work with his long time friend, Dickie Scruggs), we decided to build two law offices–one in Bay St. Louis and the other in Gulfport. Teenage friends of mine who were local attorneys without law offices as a result of Katrina, Randy SantaCruz and William Weatherly, agreed to sign on with our efforts after Cindy Cady recruited them. With insurance claim denials and low payments running rampant, we were overworked with cases and clients. We already had transferred Jason Ciofalo from Tampa to work full time in Mississippi, and Deborah Trotter was working full time with Randy Santa Cruz out of the Bay St. Louis office.
The editors of Slabbed deserve some type of honor. What do they get for all the education about events of the day they provide? My hat is off to them. All of us are the better for it.
While taking the deposition last week of a Pilot Catastrophe flood adjuster that was a former State Farm claims representative, I was thinking about some recent good news for State Farm. The first had to do with a Palm Beach Post report concerning State Farm possibly continuing to write insurance in Florida. The second had to do with a Hurricane Katrina jury verdict in Gulfport, Mississippi.
The response by Robert Hartwig of the Insurance Information Institute to the landmark Corban decision typifies how executives at many insurance companies feel about their customers. If not, Hartwick would be out of a job. Here is his quote taken from Anita Lee’s article:
Kelly and Craig Kubiak successfully presented a case to a jury this week involving a dispute with a long time USAA policyholder following a denial of her property insurance claim. The $245,000 jury verdict came after lengthy and contentious litigation with USAA. The opposing counsel and his law firm are one of the most successful in Florida. The most USAA ever offered in settlement to our client was fifty thousand dollars, so our client was thrilled and in tears following the jury’s verdict.
I enjoy good lawyering. Corporate America has the best lawyers defending their actions and figuring out how they can be unaccountable for their bad acts. A formidable New York Ivy League trained lawyer, Sheila Birnbaum, is one of those lawyers. I give her, Corporate America, and especially State Farm, all the credit they deserve for showing that they can beat State Farm’s customers and their attorneys in the appellate courts of America. Birnbaum implied that large corporations have greater influence over federal courts of appeal in her webinar with the Washington Legal Foundation last year.
Insurance defense attorneys will not agree with this post. However, they fear the argument enough to falsely argue in some cases that a hurricane is not a “windstorm,” in order to avoid policy language that may provide coverage for total losses where wind and water combine to destroy a structure. As promised in yesterday morning’s post, The Insurance Industry Recognizes Hurricanes are "Windstorms"–An Important Admission, I am providing legal suggestions to help TWIA policyholders and others “slabbed” to obtain full coverage for their losses. Randy Santa Cruz, William Weatherly, and I came up with this idea while working in Mississippi following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I’ve attached a draft memorandum of law so others may use this argument with their own facts and policy language.
State Farm is a tenacious opponent. "If you at first you don’t succeed, try, try again" is a motto which must be emblazoned in bold letters somewhere in its Bloomington, Illinois, headquarters. But, down in the Sunshine State, some are criticizing State Farm for its creative methods of raising rates.
State Farm lost its most significant claims case while Ed Rust Jr. was the "owner/manager" of State Farm. Ed Rust Jr. was the person who ultimately decided that thousands of State Farm policyholders would be underpaid or denied benefits in Mississippi. He is the chief corporate leader of State Farm Mutual, the corporation that allows its wholly owned subsidiary, State Farm Florida, to essentially lie about its financial situation. Everybody—especially Rust–knows that State Farm Florida is paying millions that would otherwise be profits to State Farm Mutual. I suspect a number of highly qualified agents and claims adjusters wonder why there has been no change in the top management for two generations. After all, in the United States, we believe in earning leadership rather than being born into it.
“How did you come up with that amount for my (or my client’s) claim?” I was thinking of that question while taking the deposition of an Allstate corporate representative in an Indiana claims practice case, and how an insurance adjuster should honestly answer it. It is the same question millions of other policyholders, public adjusters, and attorneys ask insurance company representatives every day.
Continue Reading The Obligation of Good Faith Claims Handling and Policyholders’ Perceptions of Why it Does Not Happen