Tim Marshall, storm chaser…drove from his home in the Dallas area to a Slidell parking garage in an extended cab Chevy pickup, loaded down with supplies and technology, to track Hurricane Katrina…
The Sun Herald’s Anita Lee described Marshall, a shareholder in Haag Engineering, as appearing every inch the mild-mannered engineer in his business suit and oversized wire-rimmed glasses on the witness stand. But get him out of a courtroom and it’s like Superman stepping from the phone booth.
Oklahoma attorney Jeff Marr, on the other hand, told Lee, The jury hated him…They viewed him as a professional witness… gave him the consideration his expert opinion deserved and wrote him off.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Haag’s Superman, the professional witness, became a survey-thumping Reverend Leroy holding forth in the Church of What’s Happening Now -Mississippi’s Southern District Federal Court.
Abundant evidence exists to document the role Haag played in State Farm’s claims handling. The date of the Survey’s publication, on the other hand, only documents the date a published report was available; but, Haag’s post-hearing brief attempts to play word games with the Court:
The evidence [sic] has shown that the Haag Survey did not exist at the time the McIntosh flood claim was adjusted and submitted to the government.
The 30(b)(6) deposition of Marsha Slaughter in Williams v State Farm, taken October 19, 2006, provides a start point for discussing the Haag Survey in the context of State Farm’s claims handling after the storm – contrary to what Haag’s recent [sic] Answer and Amended Answer to the Rigsby qui tam complaint suggests.
Mr. Walker (Counsel for Plaintiffs):
Before we launch into anything, I have got — you have previously produced the claim file up through 10/24/05, it seems to me to be the last entry…
And I’m going to ask Ms. Slaughter, is this document, this wind water claim handling protocol a document that was utilized in connection with handling of the incident claim
A. I’ve never seen that.
Q. Did you receive any direction from anybody at State Farm relating to a wind water protocol and/or a procedure for handling these Katrina claims?
…Let me go back. You were told to look at various things. And as I understood it, part of this was designed so that an adjuster could be in a position to decide whether or not water caused damage or wind caused damage; is that correct?
A. That is correct.
Q. …if it was just a slab, tell me what you did to determine whether water caused the damage.
A. We took into consideration the proximity of the property to the water, looked at, you know, trees, if the bark and watermarks were on the trees, if debris was in the trees, the surrounding property.
When we received the National Weather reports and the FEMA reports and the Haag Engineering, we used those items to determine whether water caused the damage.
Q. Do you know when you received those?
A. I do not know the date?
Q. Do you know in conjunction with the handling of this claim, do you know whether or not you received those while this claim was being handled?
A. Looking at the data, I would say we had that information.
A State Farm employee since 1986, Marsha Slaughter had worked her way up in the Company’s catastrophe services department. She had worked hurricanes Andrew, Hugo, Barney, Charley, Ivan, Jean, and Katrina and been promoted to a training position the June following Hurricane Katrina.
Despite her experience in hurricane claims handling and the competence evident by her recent promotion, State Farm moved to have her deposition excluded in Broussard v State Farm:
…State Farm would also show that the 30(b)(6) deposition testimony of Marsha Slaughter taken in Williams v. State Farm, supra, as proffered for use in the Pre-Trial Order in the instant action is unfairly prejudicial to State Farm and that danger of prejudice substantially outweighs the probative value of the evidence…
State Farm would further show that admissibility of any portion of the 30(b)(6)
deposition testimony taken in Williams v. State Farm regarding claim handling is likely to confuse the jury regarding actual claim handling in the instant action.
Terry Blalock, manager over the supervision of claims and claims staff for State Farm in Mississippi gave was the designated 30(b)(6) representative in Broussard. Blalock’s claim consultant in Bloomington was Stephan Hinkle, the State Farm Mutual employee who authored the Wind Water Protocol.
Mr. Hinkle was the designated 30(b)(6) representative in Pontius v State Farm. His deposition was taken October 31 and November 1, 2006 (Exhibits) – almost two months before State Farm filed the December 29, 2006 motion to exclude Slaughter’s deposition testimony.
A man of many questions, Derek Wyatt representing the Plaintiff on behalf of the Scruggs Katrina Group, took the deposition. Hinkle’s answers to questions posed on the second day provide context for Slaughter’s testimony about the use of data from the Haag report:
BY MR. WYATT:
Q. Mr. Hinkle, were you directly involved in the Katrina claim handling process?
A. Yes, I was on-site down there in Biloxi.
Q. From what dates ’til when?
A. Actually, from when it hit you want to know when I was Biloxi or when I was involved in the process?
Q. When you were first — when you first had any involvement at all in Katrina, and then
inclusively, how long were you there on-site?
A. Well, I attended a couple meetings before it hitted — before it hit, by telephone.
Q. And where were those?
A. I was here. There were core group meetings in Bloomington and in Duluth, Georgia.
Q. And those were in preparation of Katrina?
Q. All right. So the Bloomington meeting was the first one?
Q. And that would have been what date? If Katrina struck on August 29, 2005?
A. I think the first one I went to was the day before, the 28th. I say I went to it. I attended it by telephone.
Q. Here in Bloomington?
Q. Where were you physically?
A. I was here. I just didn’t — it was in the big conference room. And I attended from my office.–
Q. Your office is where?
A. In Bloomington. Corporate headquarters…
Q. Okay. Now, there were two meetings, at least, in Duluth?
A. There was one every day —
A. — from two days before the storm until probably three or four weeks into it…
Q. Were those all-day meetings?
A. No. But they were two, three hours probably.
Q. Had you already written the wind/water protocol?
A. Well, that was written — I started writing it on the10th. So I don’t know — I’ll just say I started writing it on the 10th. I don’t know.
Q. Wait. I’m not sure I understand. When the Duluth meetings took place — Duluth, Georgia
Q. — had you already written the wind/water protocol?
A. Well, the meetings were ongoing. So I wrote it on the 10th. I mean, I don’t want to — that has absolutely nothing to do with the Duluth. The first draft was done September 10th.
Q. Okay. And what prompted you to write it?
A. Okay, we’re away from the Duluth meeting now, right?
Q. We are. Because I think you’re telling me that the wind/water protocol was not discussed at the Duluth meeting because you hadn’t written it yet. Is that a correct statement?
Q. That was not discussed at the Duluth meeting?
A. Prior to September 10th.
Q. And was it discussed in Bloomington at the meetings there?
A. Not at the core group meetings.
Q. Not at the core group?
Q. But at some other meeting?
A. I don’t have the date, but it was – – the meetings there? Tuesday after Labor Day a meeting was held by our Fire Claim Council, a group of lawyers that we have, P&C claims Fire, to discuss various issues. Included in that discussion was the thought that catastrophes to issue some kind of coverage document that be aware of these things for this type of catastrophe.
Q. Was that the purpose of this —
Q. — to give the field claims personnel a quick reference that they could use to help them make a claims decision?
A. Yes. We had — most of the people like myself had a lot of hurricane experience like from Andrew. But never, ever has there been a situation with this significant amount of storm surge. That’s a one-of-a-kind situation. That’s what prompted this.
Q. What did you learn the highest storm surge level in Mississippi coastal area to be?
A. Some areas, it was 31 feet.
Q. And part of what motivated State Farm to have you write this protocol was the unusually high storm surge.
Q. — that Katrina brought?
Q. And that data came to you all via Haag Engineering?
A. We got data from Haag, but that was much later than this.
Q. Did you get the original Tim Marshall hurricane document that he created right after he was in Slidell, Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit?
A. Yeah, we had Tim Marshall’s Haig document. I can’t — it was — it was, let’s see, probably first part of October.
Haag obviously – and conveniently – forgot there was an earlier version of Marshall’s Survey printed – one with no pictures as the firm claimed in its post-hearing brief:
…the Survey contained pictures and examples of both wind and water damage to structures by Hurricane Katrina.
Consequently, Haag’s claim – The Survey was not transmitted to State Farm until after the McIntosh flood claim had been inspected, adjusted and closed – if truthful at all, only applied to the version with pictures of wind and water damage.
Haag’s use of text from Rigsby depositions taken in other cases points out there has never been the full discovery the Rules require in qui tam litigation – despite the extensive documentation in the Relators’ Motion to Lift Stay of Discovery and exhibits filed October 8, 2007:
Because of the unsealing of the qui tam case, counsel in other litigation are conducting discovery in the qui tam case sub rosa through discovery requests aimed at discovering the contents of Relators’ evidentiary disclosure to the Government and invading the lawyer-client privilege in this litigation.
In the Church of What’s Happening Now, sin without sanction is the gold(en) rule – and, the ushers need to show Reverend Leroy the door and give Lady Justice a seat.