A bit over a week ago a print journalist familiar with Slabbed’s coverage of the post Katrina insurance wars sent me this link to a National Underwriter top 10 insurance living legends piece that featured Dickie Scruggs (one notch above true living legend Karen Clark) at the 7 spot. We used to feature the NU a good bit on Slabbed but that ended after they ignored the insurance industry getting its ass kicked in Corban v USAA where Nationwide Insurance’s lawyers made particular asses of themselves asserting wind coverage was properly denied if, after the wind 99% destroys the covered property, storm surge destroys the other 1%. The industry contends in such a scenario taxpayer provided coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program was the proper source of coverage and that is exactly the way they adjusted their claims here after Katrina tendering flood insurance policies pretty much sight unseen and denying any wind coverage that would come from their coffers.
For those of you folks still wondering why the country is broke after figuring out it is not the union pipe fitter that goes to work everyday for 6AM at the shipyard, or school teacher unions or Mexican ditch diggers, I’d submit if you multiply the above scenario 1000 times and you’d find the answer as most of the politicians that matter on any level are owned by some special interest. To illustrate the point allow me to update several insurance business world stories Slabbed covered in years gone by and start with that NU story I linked above.
A few weeks ago word filtered out the Rigsby sisters false claims act complaint against State Farm would be moving to trial on the exemplar claim known around the blogs as McIntosh v State Farm. State Farm is PR savvy and when that case heats up, invariably David Rossmiller, a partner at the Portland Oregon insurance defense firm of Dunn Carney pops up like a fly on shit regaling us with his knowledge of the minutiae of insurance contract law. Since Rossie, as he is known on Slabbed, surfaced blogging on Hurricane wind water cases of the type he has never tried in Oregon, it naturally aroused suspicions locally that he was an adjunct of State Farm PR, a view now widely shared in the local print media in South Mississippi. Back in the day Rossie was a darling in local insurance defense circles and on the Hard Line GOP political resource YallPolitics in the blogosphere, which still features the insurance litigation here on the coast in a section termed Scruggs scandal and it is indeed a popular insurance industry meme that the wind damage down here was all a figment of Dick Scruggs imagination thus the lumping. Scapegoating trial lawyers in still popular in GOP circles folks but that stands to reason since the GOP is the party of big business special interests but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I have a trio of stories from last week’s Sun Herald on the efforts to pass consumer friendly insurance legislation this legislative session. Regular Slabbed readers know that consumers have not had much of a chance in our special interest owned legislature but there are some signs that we must be closing in on an election year because a watered down policyholder bill of rights finally made it out of committee in the State House of Representatives as the Sun Herald’s Michael Newsom explains:
The state House Insurance Committee passed a compromise version of the “policyholder’s bill of rights” Tuesday, which kept the bill alive ahead of a legislative deadline to clear committee.
But if the bill passes the full House, it may face long odds in the Senate Insurance Committee, which hasn’t taken up similar post-Hurricane Katrina insurance reform measures.
The House Insurance Committee passed House Bill 563 unanimously. It would put into law language from a court decision that says the burden of proof is on the insurance company to prove an exclusion in a policy applies to a claim. The bill also requires insurers to notify homeowners if they intend to increase the premium by 10 percent or more, by sending written notice of the increase 30 days before the renewal date, among other provisions. If the company doesn’t send notice in time, the policy renews at the same rate.
As people gather in advance of today’s Senate insurance committee hearing Steve reports Commission Chaney has announced several items with respect to State Farm’s participation in the insurance market here in Mississippi. Today is an unbelievably busy news day.
The Farm’s Hurricane deductible will be reduced from 5 to 2% and the Farm will resume writing renters policies in the upper 3 coastal counties. The focus is evidently on EA (agent) revenue enhancement as the Farm’s sales force has been hamstrung for the past couple of years by terrible claims handling and the Farm’s refusal to write new HO (Home Owners) policies here.
I’ll update this post as news trickles in. Steve asked me to pass along his regards to the Senate committee. 😉
Things get a tad busy this time of year and the lack of blogging time on mine and Nowdy’s part means there is insurance news we don’t cover. Fortunately our friend Sup brought up the policyholder bill of rights, a story I’ve been following but which fell on my B list because of severe time constraints. A story we have been following and in fact broke right here on Slabbed was the recent Grilletta decision at the 5th Circuit which was a major victory for policyholders. Thanks to Anita Lee I get to maximize my time and kill two birds with one stone as the legal points that gave policyholders protections against being jerked around by a bad faith insurer in Louisiana do not exist in Mississippi. Before I link the salient source docs in our archives let’s begin with Ms Lee’s excellent story on Grilletta:
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed a victory to Louisiana policyholders this week in a Katrina insurance case, but the ruling won’t benefit Mississippians because the state lacks a law requiring timely payment of claims.
In the Louisiana case of Grilletta v. Lexington Insurance Co., a trial judge levied a penalty equal to 25 percent of the undisputed amount paid for wind damage because the company failed to act on the claim within 30 days of receiving proof of the loss. In fact, the appellate ruling said, “Lexington arbitrarily sat on the claim for over two months” after an adjuster concluded wind had destroyed the house. Lexington then hired an engineering firm that blamed the loss on storm surge, excluded from coverage. The April 2006 report also noted wind damage.
In June 2006, Lexington sent the policyholder a $311,055.38 check for the wind damage.
A trial judge levied a 25 percent penalty on that amount for the arbitrary late payment. The judge rejected penalties for the additional amount awarded at trial, $248,325.42, reasoning there was a legitimate coverage dispute.
The appellate court ordered the judge to assess the 25 percent penalty on coverage awarded at trial, saying failure to make timely payment on a covered claim exposes the insurer to penalties on the entire claim.
Mississippians, hundreds of whom waited more than two years for Katrina payments, lack similar protection and are unlikely to get it from the current Legislature, say policyholder attorneys and state Sen. David Baria. Baria is sponsoring a bill that mandates timely payment of claims.
“I believe that would get the insurance companies’ attention as far as treating policyholders more fairly,” said attorney Ben Galloway of Owen Galloway & Myers in Gulfport. “Right now, the deck is stacked against the policyholder. We’ve seen it over and over in Katrina litigation.