According to Anita Lee’s brief update in the Sun Herald, opening arguments began this afternoon in Linsanby v USAA, the first Katrina case to go to trial in Jackson County, Mississippi.
An attorney for USAA policyholders James W. and Gladys Lisanby said the insurance company “abandoned” them by refusing to cover all the wind damage to their waterfront home.
An attorney for USAA told the jury that evidence including video footage shot during the storm would clearly show that water destroyed the first floor of the Lisanby’s home and USAA covered $45,000 in wind damage to the second floor.
After opening statements, court resumed with testimony from a hurricane hunter, a witness for the Lisanbys.
We’ll update this post as additional information becomes available – keep checking.
Update Anita Lee filed this story for the print edition of today’s Sun Herald:
Hurricane Katrina subjected the waterfront home of James W. and Gladys Kemp Lisanby, insured by USAA, to wind gusts of 124 to 140 mph, a Hurricane Hunter and meteorologist told a Circuit Court jury Monday afternoon in Jackson County.
Lt. Col. Richard G. Henning said he gathered data from numerous sources to re-create intense tornadic-type winds at the Lisanby home 100 feet from the Mississippi Sound in Pascagoula.
“Wind comes in gusts and waves, hundreds of them, during the landfall period,” said Henning, the first witness to testify for the Lisanbys in a trial that pits them against USAA, their insurer for more than 50 years.
The Lisanbys are seeking policy limits from USAA, plus punitive damages. But the insurance company’s attorney, Greg Copeland, said during opening arguments that flood destroyed the home, which would cost an estimated $1.4 million to replace.
USAA paid the Lisanbys almost $45,000 for structural and contents damage to the second floor. Policy limits were $883,000. They received policy limits of $350,000 for flood damage from the National Flood Insurance Program.
“What you’ll see is the lower part of this house is gone,” Copeland told the jury, showing them a photograph of the 1900s home with the outer and inner walls knocked out on the first floor. On the second floor the walls, siding and roof were intact.
“The bottom got the water and the top didn’t. I don’t know if it was 2, 4 or 6 feet of water, but whatever it was, it was enough. This house was washed out below and it’s just fine upstairs.”
Attorney Tom Thrash, who offered opening arguments for the Lisanbys, said the dry contents of drawers 2 feet above the floor will prove the water was not high enough to destroy the first floor.
He said USAA adjusters had led the Lisanbys to believe they would be paid more for the damage, before most of their claim was rejected.
“The Lisanbys will tell you they feel abandoned by their insurance company,” Thrash told the jury.
The Lisanbys are using expert testimony to convince the jury microbursts and other destructive winds could have caused the damage. They also had hoped to call a witness who was in his Back Bay home when the wind destroyed the first floor and left the second floor intact.
Judge Billy Bridges was disinclined to allow the testimony because 36 miles separated the two homes, but said he would hear from the witness out of the jury’s presence before deciding. Copeland argued USAA would be forced to try the case of the Back Bay house if Bridges allows the testimony.
The trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. Two weeks have been set aside for the case.