What’s up? What’s going down? – a quick look around at Katrina litigation

Let’s start with this update on Rigsby qui tam defendant Forensic Engineering (FAEC).  At last mention, Forensic had not obtained substitute counsel and Judge Walker had denied current counsel’s motion to withdraw. setting an April 2 deadline for submission of the Company’s designation of experts.   What’s up includes FAEC’s Joinder and Designation of Experts:

(“Forensic”)…joins in the Supplemental Combined Expert Disclosure…and Supplemental Expert Disclosures…filed by State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (“State Farm”) in this matter, to the extent applicable to Plaintiffs’ claims against Forensic.

Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 (a)(2), Forensic also designates John B. Kelly, P.E., as one of their experts. John B. Kelly is a Principal Structural Engineer that will opine that all the engineering reports and revised engineering reports were true and correct, and done in accordance with sound scientific/engineering principles and observation of the conditions at the site.

Forensic, of course, “reserves the right to call any expert listed, designated or called by any other Party” – and it’s safe to say there will be witnesses that offer a view contrary to that of Kelly.

What’s going down? It seems the Easter Bunny joined Santa Clause and the O’Keefe’s have now reached a settlement in Dancel Group, Inc. et al v. United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company et al in addition to the settlement of O’Keefe v State Farm, announced in the SLABBED post that published Christmas Eve.

What’s up with Kuehn v State Farm? Hard to tell, frankly.  In the Christmas Eve catch-all linked above, SLABBED reported the what the Kuehn’s Counsel, Earl Denham, wanted to go down.

If it occurs to you and to State Farm to do the right thing by the Kuehns, instead of the strategic thing, which you have attempted through this cynical, tardy tender, then why don’t you engage in meaningful and realistic negotiations to settle my clients’ damages instead of continuing at the Kuehns’ expense in trying to redirect the law of appraisal in Mississippi? We stand ready, as we have always been, to engage you in good faith.

What Denham got in return for his offer of “good faith” was the legal equivalent of ashes and switches, an Offer of Judgment on the 20th of January – and today State Farm filed another.  Continue reading “What’s up? What’s going down? – a quick look around at Katrina litigation”

Judge Senter issues a “think-you-got-it-now?” Order in Sunquest v Nationwide II re Jackson County’s Compass Point Apartments

In the last post on Sunquest v Nationwide, SLABBED referred to a second case filed on another Sunquest-owned property in Jackson County, Mississippi:

Considering Nationwide’s success at dragging out the case thus far, it may very well be five years following Katrina before this case settles – and following along behind, Sunquest also has a second Jackson County apartment complex with a Katrina claim in litigation with O’Leary as an Expert Witness is that case, too.

Compass Point litigation, Sunquest v Nationwide II, is not only following behind the litigation on Katrina damage to the Carriage House property, it is all but a mirror image of Sunquest v Nationwide I.  The Compass Point Complaint makes the same claims about Nationwide’s conduct and, like the Carriage House litigation, the dispute arises from the Sunquest request for an appraisal.

Nationwide also replicates its attack-strategy defense in Compass Point – or has prior to Judge Senter’s “now-do-you-get-it?” Order:

The Court has before it seven motions that are in many respects similar to the motions I ruled upon in Sunquest Properties, Inc. v. Nationwide Property and Casualty Insurance Company, Civil Action No. 1:08CV687 LTS-RHW. (Sunquest I) I intend to make the same rulings here, based on the same considerations, findings of fact, and conclusions of law…

Accordingly, it is ORDERED: Continue reading “Judge Senter issues a “think-you-got-it-now?” Order in Sunquest v Nationwide II re Jackson County’s Compass Point Apartments”

Let’s talk bad faith insurer Prime Insurance Syndicate and Appraisal

A few weeks back I was contacted by a journalist inquiring if we knew anything about a small time non-admitted carrier based out of Utah, Prime Insurance Syndicate as they had plastered a press release all over the internet trumpeting a jury verdict down here in their favor as something unique and GASP they found the local jury to be very fair. The press release was so over the top we did some checking and after pulling the case up on PACER we decided it was not worth wasting time or space here on Slabbed covering. Insurers have won several verdicts here including some cases we profiled in Aiken and Bossier so we considered the source and moved on. Then in one of those famous serendipitous Slabbed moments I ran across an article in Claims Magazine which covered the verdict. As the blue collar retirees that were through my office yesterday giving me their tax information would say let tackle this for shits and giggles. We begin with last month’s press release:

Prime Insurance Syndicate, Inc. was successfully defended in a Hurricane Katrina lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. This is believed to be the first jury verdict in Mississippi exonerating an insurer in a Hurricane Katrina claim.

After six days of trial, the jury unanimously rendered a defense/zero verdict on January 19, 2010. The Plaintiffs’ complaint, filed in October 2007, alleged bad faith refusal to pay the insurance claim, willful and negligent breach of contract, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing and other claims, for which Plaintiffs claimed over $7 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The jury returned a defense/zero verdict, finding that Prime Insurance Syndicate, Inc. did not breach its contract with the Plaintiffs.

A challenging case in the post-Katrina environment, Prime had already paid everything that was owed under the policy and had come to an agreement with the Plaintiff’s own representative.

Prime withdrew from the INEX Insurance Exchange on December 31, 2009. Continue reading “Let’s talk bad faith insurer Prime Insurance Syndicate and Appraisal”

Judge Senter completes his appraisal – Order says Nationwide on wrong side with objection to Lewis O’Leary

Lewis O’Leary is known to SLABBED readers as the  Plaintiff’s appraiser in Kuehn v State Farm.  Consequently, we took note of Nationwide’s objection to O’Leary as the appraiser in a commercial property case and have been following  Sunquest Properties v Nationwide for some time.

Unlike State Farm’s “experts” in Bossier, Mr. O’Leary is qualified to offer testimony under related Mississippi law. Nonetheless, Nationwide wanted to get in the on the act and the “bright lights” of Nationwide legal filed a Motion to Strike Lewis O’Leary as Plaintiffs’ “Competent and Impartial” Appraiser.

… ample evidence of Mr. O’Leary’s partiality renders him unqualified to serve as a “competent and impartial appraiser,” as required by the appraisal clause in Plaintiffs’ policy. Simply put, a person who has been paid to work for several years on the development of a claim and continues to be paid to support that claim, is not sufficiently “impartial” to pass judgment of any kind upon that claim. Yet this is precisely what Plaintiffs suggest in nominating Mr. O’Leary as their purportedly “impartial” appraiser.

Judge Senter ruled on the Motion last week and Nationwide came out on the wrong side: Continue reading “Judge Senter completes his appraisal – Order says Nationwide on wrong side with objection to Lewis O’Leary”

What’s not expert about Bossier’s appraisal?

expertsAn issue at trial will be the value of Plaintiff’s home at the time of the loss. In this regard, certified and/or licensed appraisers Schroeder and Shaw performed an appraisal report of the subject property as of August 28, 2005, and concluded that the market value of the dwelling and land totaled 831,00.00…

Subtracting the value of the property indicates a replacement cost for the dwelling of $599,835.00. The depreciated replacement cost, or actual cash value, would be $551,848.00. Both amounts exceed the policy limits in this case…

At the time of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Bossier’s home was insured under a [State Farm] policy with dwelling limits of $409,452.00. Mr. Bossier did not have flood insurance or any other insurance covering the property at the time of the loss.

Although I’m genuinely perplexed by Bossier’s lack of flood insurance, the issue here is State Farm’s motion to exclude the testimony of  Bossier’s two expert witnesses, J. Daniel Schroeder and Tim Shaw.  However, in the Plaintiff’s Response, we learn Bossier hired Schroeder and Shaw to appraise his property for tax purposes, not litigation. Continue reading “What’s not expert about Bossier’s appraisal?”

Henry and June and the Topic of State Farm’s Cancerous Claims Handling: A Kuehn v State Farm Update (Updated)

Far from the claims handling equivalent of this literary masterpiece, the case of Kuehn v State Farm has more twists, turns and legal perversions than Anaïs Nin’s book on the writing of that literary masterpiece.  We’ve presented this case on Slabbed in part to highlight the bad faith methods State Farm, with the help of the Mississippi Department of Insurance, utilized to  adjust their slab claims on the coast after Katrina. Kuehn was also of interest because it gave us a chance to also highlight the type of lawyer State Farm uses to abuse the process in the proverbial “hired gun lawyer” in this case Oxford Mississippi based lawyers Scot Spragins and Lucky Tucker. On Monday of this week Nowdy profiled the fine mess the dufuses found themselves in after the plaintiff’s lawyer Earl Denham made them his beetchlaurel and hardy. Anita Lee covered the evidentiary hearing and frankly it doesn’t look good for Spragins or Tucker as State Farm had to take one for the team to save their hides (from being DQ’d as counsel) in the process laying bare their sleazy claims practices and the type of lawyer that will do anything (and I mean anything) to get on State Farm’s legal gravy train.

State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. argued in federal court Wednesday that the company should not have to pay policyholders $174,811.80 for Katrina damage attributed to wind because an umpire and two appraisers who set the amount strayed into determining the cause of loss.

State Farm policies give policyholders the option of appraisal when “the amount of the loss” is in dispute. Under Mississippi law, U.S. District Court Judge L.T. Senter Jr. has already ruled, appraisal is not meant to decide liability. State Farm polices cover wind damage, but loss from water is covered by federal flood insurance.

However, attorneys for policyholders Henry and June Kuehn of Ocean Springs presented evidence that only wind damage was considered during the appraisal process.

As provided under the policy, each side selected an appraiser and an umpire was appointed to resolve any disputes.

State Farm’s appraiser, John Minor, testified that only those damages above the water line were included in the appraisal award. The water line reached 2 feet onto the second floor of the Kuehn home.

Minor said a State Farm attorney who had offered confusing advice during the appraisal process was not happy with the result.

“I got chewed out,” Minor said.

He said he handled the Kuehn appraisal in the same way he did others for State Farm, but the attorney, Lawrence J. “Lucky” Tucker Jr., seemed to want the Kuehn appraisal handled differently. Continue reading “Henry and June and the Topic of State Farm’s Cancerous Claims Handling: A Kuehn v State Farm Update (Updated)”

A Kuehn Appraisal Postscript: Hired Guns and Childrens Imagination Station v Prime Insurance Syndicate

Our posts on Kuehn v State Farm have created a good bit of buzz in certain insurance and legal circles as interested parties have flooded us with information on the appraisal clause, insurance cases involving appraisal and of course its misapplication in Dwyer which I profiled earlier today. Chip Merlin picked up our Kuehn coverage on his blog writing a couple of posts that copiously linked us. We’re grateful to be listed on Chip’s blogroll.

Unlike Chip I’ve never worked with Scot Spragins, the partner at Hickman, Goza & Spragins representing State Farm in Kuehn so I do not have that personal experience to add to my opinion of him. Like everyone else who hasn’t worked with Mr Spragins I only have the evidence submitted into the record of Kuehn to judge his professionalism by which I’ve concluded is very lacking. Simply put Mr Spragins and his firm are steppin’ out from literally hundreds of years of case law and insurance lore on both the appraisal clause and its application and he is smart enough to know it.

In my career as a CPA I’ve seen more than a few people refused legal services by ethical lawyers who recognized their prospective client’s legal position was contrary to established law. That is as it should be IMHO, practicing lawyers are the gatekeepers to our judicial system in respects and it keeps crap from clogging the court system. In looking at the Katrina insurance related litigation it has become clear there are certain lawyers, both plaintiff and insurance defense alike that will pump a dog legal position if the money is right. It is there that I still think Scot Spragins and his law firm resides.

Beyond the emails in the Kuehn evidentiary record we found there is a good bit of case law in this area. One such recent case was heard by Judge Louis Guirola little more than a year ago in the Children’s Imagination Station v Prime Insurance Syndicate that addressed these issues spot on. Like State Farm in Kuehn, Prime Synidcate was unhappy with the results of appraisal.  Unlike Kuehn and its blockbuster exhibition of bad faith by Team Spragins, Prime’s lawyers did not try to interfer with the process itself while the appraisal was ongoing. Prime simply tried to negate the results which was quickly bounced out of court house. I noted one final commonality with Kuehn in that appraiser Lewis O’Leary was involved, this time as umpire. Prime fought Children’s Imagination Station tooth and nail from ever getting the appraisal pursuant to the policy provisions, probably because they knew they lowballed the damage.  Here are some snippets from the granted motion for partial summary judgment against Prime: Continue reading “A Kuehn Appraisal Postscript: Hired Guns and Childrens Imagination Station v Prime Insurance Syndicate”