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Archive for Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Insurer to appeal $2.8 million verdict in Katrina damage case

April 17, 2007

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— Allstate Insurance Co. must pay a Louisiana man who lost his home to Hurricane Katrina more than $2.8 million in damages and penalties, a federal jury decided Monday in a case that hinged largely on whether it was wind or storm surge that wiped out his house.

Allstate spokeswoman Kate Hollcraft said the company will appeal.

"Allstate is shocked with the jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Allstate believes it acted in good faith throughout the entire claims process with the Weiss family," Hollcraft said.

The jury found Allstate - which claimed most of the damage was due to storm surge, an event not covered in its policy - did not pay Robert Weiss enough money to cover wind damage to his home.

The verdict included a $1.5 million penalty for the company's failure to pay the claim quickly enough.

"Our intention was to get what we were owed and to send a message that we would not be intimidated," Weiss said after the verdict was announced.

Allstate lawyer Judy Barrasso said in closing arguments that Katrina's winds were not strong enough to do the damage.

She said Weiss already had received more than $400,000 in insurance payments, including $350,000 in federal flood insurance.

"Have you really seen any proof that the damages were in the million-dollar range?" Barrasso asked the jury.

The lawyer for the Weisses, whose home was in the Slidell area on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, told the jury in closing arguments that the house was too high above sea level to have been destroyed by Katrina's storm surge. The eye of Katrina passed just east of Slidell on the morning of Aug. 29, 2005.

The lawsuit against Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate was the second Katrina damage claim to come to federal trial in New Orleans.

Hundreds of similar disputes are pending in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Jim Neva, a surveyor and engineer who inspected the house for Allstate, initially told Robert Weiss, who is listed as the policy holder, and his wife, Merryl, that wind may have destroyed the home before the surge of water washed away its remnants.

He later backed off that conclusion and deferred to engineering consultant Craig Rogers of Rimkus Consulting Group.

Rogers, who wrote the final report on the home for Allstate, convinced Neva that storm surge demolished the house.

Jeffrey Mika, 30, foreman of the eight-person jury, said the panel was persuaded by Allstate's decision to rely on the assessment by Rogers, who did not personally visit the site until after he wrote the report.

"We didn't feel that Allstate acted in good faith to settle this claim," Mika said.

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