The Press Register Picks up Coverage of Ex Rel Branch: Slabbed gets a link

Kudos and props to Nowdy as all that time and hard work she put in reorganizing our legal pages has been recognized in the media.  Jeff Amy has the story for the Mobile Press Register:

Pilot Catastrophe Services Inc. has been dismissed from a federal lawsuit in New Orleans that claims insurers overbilled the National Flood Insurance Program for flood damage so they could pay policyholders less for wind damage from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

The Monday ruling allowed the whistleblower suit by Branch Consultants, a group of former insurance adjusters, to go forward after two years of wrangling. But it severed Pilot and two other adjusting firms — NCA Group and Crawford & Co. — from the case.

State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. and Allstate Corp. were removed earlier. Left as defendants are Travelers unit Standard Fire Insurance Co., Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co., American National Property & Casualty Co., Fidelity National Property and Casualty Insurance Co., American Reliable Insurance Co., Colonial Claims Corp. and Simsol Insurance Services Inc.

Insurers say there’s no merit to claims that they pumped up flood damage and reduced estimates for wind damage to increase their profits. A similar suit is pending in Mississippi.

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Federal District Court Judge offers tutorial Part Deux: Judge Sarah Vance Educates Insurers about Federal Court Jurisdiction in False Claims Act Cases – A Branch Qui Tam Update

The long and short of Judge Vance’s latest order in the Branch Qui Tam case is LETS GET IT ON BECAUSE THIS BABY IS HEADED TO TRIAL. In a 69 page order and reasons Judge Vance lays out a well reasoned legal opinion with only one hiccup for the plaintiffs which we find on page 54:

Pilot Catastrophe Services, Crawford & Company, and NCA Group must be dismissed without prejudice

But even there the news isn’t so bad for the good guys as Judge Vance continues:

the Court grants Branch the opportunity to amend its complaint to allege an adequate factual basis for its allegations.

Rebecca Mowbray at the Times Picayune picks up the coverage:

The whistleblower suit alleging that insurance companies overbilled the National Flood Insurance Program for flood damage so they could get away with paying policyholders less money for wind damage from Hurricane Katrina is about to begin subpoenaing claim files to get to the heart of the case.

Thanks to a 69-page ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Vance Monday that severed several adjusting firms from the proceedings, the procedural phase of the case is over after two years of motions and appeals.

“We’re now in a position where we can start discovery,” said Allan Kanner, attorney for the Branch Consultants, a group of former insurance adjusters who discovered unusual patterns of how insurers allocated the bills for hurricane damage, and filed suit. “While it doesn’t eclipse the Saints’ victory, it’s one of the best things that’s happened to us in a long time.” Continue reading “Federal District Court Judge offers tutorial Part Deux: Judge Sarah Vance Educates Insurers about Federal Court Jurisdiction in False Claims Act Cases – A Branch Qui Tam Update”

Ahoy WYO Fiduciary, Icy Waters of NFIP Lie Ahead!

Katrina through the eyes of State Farm: a now familiar story that begins in Bloomington, in a boardroom, awaiting an angry sea. August 29, a third of Mississippi is nuked. In comes a headline-starved lawyer, well healed and ready to “save the people.” State Farm repairs to Birmingham, a Roveside rat’s nest. Alas, the 4 year odyssey begins.

In the meander of this cyclonic tragedy, countless homes, lives, reputations and chattel are ravaged like the spoils of war. A senior federal judge, bent on political revenge, soils the bench he occupies. Two “factory” girls of the Cat adjusting world, forthright and honest-to-a-fault, are savaged by a $56 billion racketeering monopoly and its Hessian body broker. Associated hard-driving plaintiff lawyers, indispensible lifelines to thousands of victims, are systematically slandered by thug corporate lawyers, and then, through no fault of their own, thoughtlessly disqualified by a rudderless federal court. Behind the scenes, lifer law clerks – insidious martinets of the inner sanctum – work the ex parte back channels for ways to advance their impish political agendas. A 30 year pimp politician is stripped bare and lampooned, a righteous comeuppance for the thousands of lives he’s ruined. A neophyte lawyer-journalist who wouldn’t know a hurricane loss if it bit his private parts off, shills and cons his way into the affray, and trafficking on scandal, emerges as a self-ordained insurance expert.

Four (4) years of rampant fraud, $13 million a day in falsely settled claims, without so much as a single uptick on the legal side. Think of the money spent, the millions wasted, the dreadnought trial schedules, as if the whole thing were an interminable English parlor game. Motions, replies, briefs, extensions, sanctimonious trials, an endless procession of mindless bureaucracy, saddling already helpless people with cost in the hundreds of thousands, all just to get a contract debt paid. Unable to deliver even basic service, the court outsources, dumping bereft insureds in the laps of purchased mediator-lawyers, eager to stay in good with their fee paying, corporate check writers. Judged for fidelity of service and “get-er-done” efficiency, the legal system is an antideluvian disaster, a deus ex machina, lacking rope and hoist. Continue reading “Ahoy WYO Fiduciary, Icy Waters of NFIP Lie Ahead!”

Dean Starkman – SunHerald

Dean Starkman’s very fine writing about the insurance industry’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Insurance Transparency Project blog, continues to be an invaluable resource for SLABBED.  In fact, it was my search for something he’d written that led me to the Columbia Journalism Review where I found (much to my delight)  SunHerald’s Lee, Times-Pic’s Mowbray: Still on it

One of the true pleasures of reporting on the insurance industry’s response, or non-response, to Hurricane Katrina was meeting, and reading the reporting of, the principal Gulf-area papers’ reporters on the insurance angle, Rebecca Mowbray of the Times-Picayune and Anita Lee of the SunHerald of Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss.

It is heartwarming to see them still on the case, four years later. It is heartbreaking to read what they are reporting.

Mowbray: “Report dubs FEMA poor watchdog”

That one, from September 22, is about how the government fails to supervise the private insurers who administer the federal flood program under a “private-public partnership” (always a good idea to check your wallet when you read those words):

FireShot capture #104 - 'SunHerald's Lee, Times-Pic's Mowbray_ Still on it _ CJR' - www_cjr_org_the_audit_sunheralds_lee_timespics_mowbr_php

That’s for expenses, people. Insurers under this program bear no risk. What financial product comes with a 66% load? Continue reading “Dean Starkman – SunHerald”

Reaction to Corban Ripple Across the Media

Anita Lee’s story on Corban is here with commentary from head III shill Robert Hartwig himself (picture found here). The bottom line per Judy Guice:

“To me, this was always much more than just a business issue. This was a personal issue to me. Getting the law straight was really one of the critical parts of my recovery and I’m relieved that has now happened.

“The overwhelming feeling I have right now is relief that our children and grandchildren, and everybody else who had to suffer like we’ve all suffered since Hurricane Katrina, will not be stuck with the harsh law, the incorrect law that was previously created and has now been corrected by our Mississippi Supreme Court.”

Chip Merlin has written a series of 3 posts on Corban which address all the fine points of the decision. This is from Part 2:

This ruling confirms State Farm’s Wind/Water Protocol is the wrong test under Mississippi law because it improperly shifted the burden upon the policyholder to prove that the wind caused the damage rather than the insurer having to prove that the damage was excluded. Corban undermines the Fifth Circuit reversal of Judge Senter in Broussard vs. State Farm and as I suggested in Broussard’s Bad Faith Decision Impaired by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

There is one important mistake the Court did make in its decision when it held: Continue reading “Reaction to Corban Ripple Across the Media”

Let’s talk – the Branch qui tam, Rigsby, and Judge Sarah Vance

SLABBED has been talking about the Maustaud directive on expedited claim handling process. Like most good conversations, one thing led to another – and the most recent “another” was a discussion of the relative merits of the qui tam claims filed by the Rigsby sisters and the Branch consultants.

The last SLABBED update on Branch – Support for Rigsby qui tam found hanging on the Branch qui tam docket – reported Judge Vance had requested the parties submit an order for preservation of documents.

The content of that post as well as that of a more recent post on an order issued by Judge Vance – Federal District Court Judge offers tutorial – proof of loss and segregation of damages – is relevant to the ongoing conversation about the Maustaud directive.

For example, the June update on Branch reported a Statement of Interest in Opposition to Defendant State Farm’s Motion to Dismiss filed by the United States among the entries made before the Order dismissing Branch was issued:

The fact that FIA and the WYO carriers enter into an agreement, and the agreement relates to the WYO carriers’ alleged violation of the FCA, does not mean that the FCA claim is founded on that agreement. Rather, the FCA claim is founded on the defendants’ alleged violation of a federal statute which prohibits a person, like the defendants, from acting with appropriate scienter to submit false or fraudulent claims to the government or make false statements in order to avoid an obligation to the government. Further, the FCA provides for relief – treble damages and penalties – that is not available under the Arrangement but that arises instead by statute.

The Fifth Circuit reinstated Branch, in part, last February.  The current conversation, like an off-blog mention of the case last June, reminded me to check the docket where this time I found the most recent entry was this past July, the Order and Reasons of Judge Vance’s decision on the preservation of documents : Continue reading “Let’s talk – the Branch qui tam, Rigsby, and Judge Sarah Vance”

Editilla asks What if Hurricane Katrina impacted your city?

FireShot capture #095 - 'New Orleans Ladder' - noladder_blogspot_comSLABBED does love to read the Ladder – and Editilla had a big question and great maps hung on the first rung today.  (thanks Editilla!)

If hanging on the Ladder, a click of the headline will take you to a set of incredible maps showing the impact of a Hurricane Katrina on other cities – Washington, D.C. for example (shown below) – and, if you keep scrolling down, you’ll find the radar map of Katrina making landfall on the Coast and see tornado after tornado on the coast (the ones that didn’t exist to insurance companies).

wdc flood projection

 
 
 
 

 

Let’s talk – the Maurstad directive on post-Katrina Expedited Claim Handling UPDATED

Can you post Senter’s Order from August 10? Order 344. I’d like to see the “criteria”.

In my hurried response to this request from SLABBED reader James Barbieri, I provided the link to Judge Senter’s Memorandum Opinion.  However, both the Order and Opinion contain the criteria Judge Senter established for the list of claims he has ordered State Farm to deliver for his in camera review:

  • The insured property did not fall within any of the three categories of storm damage for which FEMA approved payment of SFIP limits, i.e. insured dwellings that were not left as slabs, pilings, or empty shells; and
  • For which SFIP limits were paid on the grounds the property was a constructive total loss; and
  • For which no “stick built” or Exactimate estimation of the flood damage was made before the SFIP limits were paid.

Mr. Barbieri also requested the Attachments to Maurstad’s letter, which I’ve linked here as Memo and attachments Expedited Claim Handling Process – and added:

I’m also very interested in starting a discussion on the Maurstad letter. Continue reading “Let’s talk – the Maurstad directive on post-Katrina Expedited Claim Handling UPDATED”

NFIP Extended Again (Updated)

We’ve covered all the extensions and Steve phoned me with news it was extended again. $enator Chri$ Dodd and the insurance lobby that owns him wanted an entire year. They didn’t get their way. I hope to have more details later.

Update:

Our friend Mr CLS at Yahoo ALL came through with the time frame and link. The extension is for one month only.

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Drake v Nationwide goes another emotionally distressing round

The high water level or storm surge of a hurricane and specifically Hurricane Katrina is generally misunderstood by the general public. Most people think that the storm surge is a virtual wall of sea water that suddenly comes ashore as the hurricane makes landfall.

While this may be true to some extent at the actual center of the eyewall of a hurricane as it makes landfall, it is not true for the storm surge or high water away from the center of the storm. Rather, the rising of the storm surge or high water is a gradual occurrence as you get further from the center -of the storm, even in the most intense winds of the northeast quadrant of the hurricane.

I have interviewed two eyewitnesses to the Hurricane Katrina high water occurrence, and they each tell very similar accounts. A third eye witness on lovers lane in Ocean Springs reportedly tells a similar account. The witnesses state that the water rose gradually, first in the edge of their yards, then by progression up to the steps of their house and finally up on the sides of the house to the highest water level.

The witnesses state that the high water stayed at the highest level for a short period of about 30 minutes and then receded in the same gradual manner as the water rose. The witnesses who gave these accounts were located in Pascagoula near the water; at D’Iberville on the Back Bay of Biloxi; and on the waterside of Lovers Lane in Ocean Springs. (emphasis added)

With Ted Biddy’s February 9, 2006 forensic analysis of the loss documenting wind speed and water level across the Coast , it is difficult to believe Nationwide let the Drake’s claim for ALE reach the point of litigation.  The State’s windpool and the Federal flood program picked up the tab for the slab; and, all that was left for Nationwide to pay was approximately 1/10th of the total loss.

Nonetheless, four years after Katrina left the Drake’s with a slab, Nationwide is Continue reading “Drake v Nationwide goes another emotionally distressing round”