Lisanby v USAA Continues: USAA’s Engineering Expert Takes the Stand

So much for the theory the Sun Herald would only cover the Plaintiff’s side of the case. Karen Nelson reports on the resumption of the trial with the testimony of engineering expert Doug Smith on the damage patterns and USAA call center employees on the mystery phone call reporting flood damage while the storm was still howling:

An engineering expert hired by USAA insurance company told jurors Wednesday water destroyed the first floor of the Lisanby home on Beach Boulevard, blew out the front and east walls and twisted the structure, which caused damage to the second floor. 

Doug Smith, an assistant professor at Texas Tech University, testified that as Katrina progressed, the pressure from the storm-surge water compromised the walls before wind could have.

He was a key witness on the third day of defense testimony. Adm. James W. Lisanby and his wife, Gladys, are suing their insurance company for policy limits of more than $800,000 for unreimbursed Katrina damage to the house, which was eventually torn down.

USAA paid the couple about $46,000 for wind damage, contents, out-of-pocket costs to prevent further damage and two months’ rent, saying the policy did not cover flood damage.

They were paid the maximum $350,000 from the federal flood insurance program for the house and contents. The estimated cost to rebuild the 6,000-square-foot home is $1.4 million to $1.6 million.

The Lisanbys are also asking for punitive damages.

Smith told the jury no windows were broken on the second floor and he saw no indication major wind-driven debris had hit the house. He said he used 99 mph for the wind in his model, but that wind of 130 mph would not have done the damage to the Lisanby home, either.

He said 300-mph wind might have, but it wouldn’t have damaged just the first floor, it would have done major damage to the entire structure, including the second floor.

Smith said the Lisanbys’ roof trusses were not stressed, which would have been an indication of major wind pulling at the roof. And he said in photos of daylight coming in along the roofline, it was not the roof separating, but rather the cap of a roofing-ventilation device being blown off.

The Lisanbys’ attorney, Tom Thrash, worked to discredit Smith’s testimony by indicating he used another’s calculations and he didn’t visit the home site in a timely manner before completing his report; he portrayed him as a gun for hire by insurance companies.

USAA attorneys also put on the stand two company employees who explained call center data that indicated Adm. Lisanby called his insurance company from his cell phone at midday on the day of the storm and reported six feet of water in his house and the roof had blown off.

The Lisanbys have disputed that claim.

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