Why is this man smiling? (a qui tam update)

Judge Senter
Judge L. T. Senter photographed by James Edward Bates, Sun Herald

I have no idea why this man is smiling.  Until this photograph ran with  Anita Lee’s package of stories in today’s Sun Herald, I had never seen his picture, much less had the opportunity to meet him.

Maybe he’s smiling because he’s happy someone finally took a deposition of Lecky King and got answers to their questions.

Just kidding. He looks more like an everyday smiler to me, a generally pleasant person, not one who saves smiles for special occasions.  I hope so as he is none other than  L.T. Senter, Judge for the Federal Court, Southern District of Mississippi – and king of Katrina litigation on the Coast.

Anita Lee’s package was packed with “firsts”.  In addition to Judge Senter’s photograph, her lead story is the first report we’ve had about what Ms.King had to say once she started talking.

State Farm decided within days of Katrina it was storm surge that obliterated Coast homes near the waterfront, a State Farm claims manager has testified, instructing adjusters to pay federal flood claims but wait for investigations to determine if the company owed money for wind damage.

State Farm claims manager Alexis “Lecky” King described how the company approached adjustment of flood claims paid by the federal government, versus claims filed with State Farm for damage caused by wind and rain. Her pretrial testimony, called a deposition, was taken in a whistle-blower lawsuit filed against State Farm and two of its vendors…

The Rigsbys allege State Farm overcharged the federal government for Katrina’s flood damage in order to minimize what the company owed policyholders. State Farm has denied any wrongdoing and maintains the Rigsbys have failed to make a valid fraud claim.In more than five previous Katrina depositions, King declined to answer questions, invoking her constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination because of investigations into State Farm’s claims-handling practices. Those investigations have ended without charges.“At the time that we came down to Mississippi, we — research had been done as to the weather, as to walkthroughs by the government,” King testified.

“I had spoken with Jim Shortley and David Maurstad (of the National Flood Insurance Program and FEMA, respectively). There had been aerial photos. The only areas where there were foundation-only claims were those areas that had been subjected to storm surge and floodwaters of some sort. At that time the determination was made that if a flood policy existed on any of those properties, we were to pay the flood.”

King, a team manager over Coast flood claims, said she did not know who in the company made that decision. She said informal discussions about how to handle the catastrophe claims began the day after Katrina, when thousands of claims-handling personnel for State Farm met at an induction center in Birmingham.

State Farm declined to comment on King’s pretrial testimony because of the ongoing hearing.

Senter is expected to decide whether the Rigsbys, who adjusted State Farm claims until June 2006, should be allowed to continue the lawsuit. State Farm argued the lawsuit should be dismissed. Senter indicated his decision might come later, rather than at the end of the hearing.

A sidestory in Anita’s package provides more detail on the testimony given in Court yesterday.

A State Farm claims manager testified Wednesday in federal court the company was more than justified in paying policy limits on a Katrina flood claim, but opposing attorneys argued the federal flood claim was inflated as part of a calculated conspiracy to minimize State Farm’s liability for wind damage.

Michael Ferrier, a State Farm catastrophe services manager for 10 years, found after reviewing the claims file that the company had a “reasonable basis” for paying Biloxians Thomas and Pamela McIntosh flood policy limits of $250,000 for Katrina’s destruction. The house was still standing, he said, but had a 5-foot interior water line and uniform bottom-up damage that indicated destruction by flood.

Ferrier, who worked in Louisiana after Katrina, reviewed the file in April to testify as State Farm’s corporate representative in a whistle-blower lawsuit filed against the company and two of its engineering vendors by former adjusters Cori and Kerri Rigsby. The sisters claim State Farm committed fraud against the flood program; the company denies the allegation…

Under an agreement with the National Flood Insurance Program, Ferrier testified, insurance companies use one adjuster to adjust wind and flood claims for the same property, which provides consistency.

A State Farm adjuster determined damage to the high-end McIntosh home was more than $457,000, Ferrier said, which is far in excess of flood limits.

He said the amount was based on a computer program that calculates the value of a similar home.

NFIP allowed State Farm to use the valuation method, rather than calculating the cost of each item damaged by flood, where evidence showed damage exceeded flood policy limits, Ferrier said.

State Farm found $39,708 in wind damage covered under its policy.

Ferrier said photos and other documentation in the McIntosh file bolster the findings.

“The further down the home you look,” he said, “the lower part of the home, this is where the severe damage occurred. The force of water is just amazing.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation in Jackson has ended without any charges a probe into State Farm’s claims handling practices after Hurricane Katrina.

The “amazing.. force of water” may only be comparable to the amazing power of State Farm to benefit from amazing coincidences.

Maybe Sop, our resident whiz with numbers, can calculate the odds of having the FBI end its investigation into State Farm’s claims handling practices after Katrina without any charges on the very day Judge Senter began the hearing in the Rigsby qui tam.

Jackson attorney Joe Hollomon, who represented State Farm claims manager Alexis “Lecky” King during the investigation, said Wednesday that the FBI recently notified him the investigation had ended and the agency would be returning to King thousands of documents requested from her.

State Farm officials declined to comment.

3 thoughts on “Why is this man smiling? (a qui tam update)”

  1. [He looks more like an everyday smiler to me, a generally pleasant person, not one who saves smiles for special occasions.]
    Uhrrrrah, Ms Doucy, you got it goin’on.
    If I ever need one, would you write my epitaph?
    Here lies Editilla, the Bishop of Pun.
    Ain’t kicking yet, and got Nooooo plans to…
    just’sayin… you pretty damn funny!
    I get such a kick though out of how y’all give a word like “slab” such a fluid, liquid connotation. Huh? Oh! Oopsee! Time for my meds.

    Editilla

  2. I have to tell you that I was just so relieved to see Judge Senter not only could smile but that it looked as if it “was natural to him”…not that I was expected horns…but he looks like a nice guy…

    Many/most of the people filing these policyholder cases have never even been to traffic court and it made me feel better to know that he looks like someone who would understand that and how much a smile from the judge would mean to them.

  3. Come over to my neck of the woods and you won’t find many “down-home smiling judges” working where most of the cases are being litigated.

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