Results matching “katrina”

State Farm moves to disqualify Scruggs - PointOfLaw Forum

...citing alleged ethical lapses arising from the Renfroe-document heist. David Rossmiller has a thorough report, with links to original documents (PDF). The memorandum in support of the motion, he writes, draws on work by Cornell legal-ethics "heavy hitter" Charles Wolfram, and "was written with a gusto and joie de vivre I have not often seen in State Farm's Katrina briefing." The WSJ editorialists (sub-only) were on the case yesterday, too.

Katrina claims and sovereign immunity - PointOfLaw Forum

While the continuing saga of Katrina insurance litigation provides this site with no shortage of grist for commentary, it's worth remembering that even bigger chapters in courtroom conflict might lie ahead, as the courts take up flood claims directed against the U.S. government. How vast are these claims, and the concomitant exposure of federal taxpayers? According to the Washington Post last month:

After a massive deadline filing rush recently that is still being sorted through, the United States is facing legal claims from more than 250,000 people here demanding compensation because, they allege, the Corps negligently designed the waterworks that permeate the city. ...

...officials said the damage claimed against the Corps exceeds $278 billion, an amount that dwarfs even the estimated $125 billion that the federal government has put up for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery.

Of course there's a good chance that courts will put an end to these claims by applying longstanding doctrines of sovereign immunity, despite the best efforts of trial lawyers to manage an end run around those doctrines. It would be interesting to ask the various presidential candidates whether they agree that the Department of Justice should defend the sovereign immunity principle with all due vigor against these claims, both in the financial interests of taxpayers nationwide and in the interest of preserving the federal government's own future policymaking latitude on engineering decisions and many other matters.

Katrina litigation update - PointOfLaw Forum

David Rossmiller continues to have the best Katrina insurance litigation coverage in not just the blogosphere, but the entire media. It appears Scruggs is targeting Allstate these days.

Around the web, May 8 - PointOfLaw Forum

  • Gov. Schwarzenegger declares support for California class action reform [CJAC; earlier]

  • Judge dismisses Katrina wrongful-death claims against U.S. government [Times-Picayune; Jurist]

  • Cost of lawsuits? Of lawsuit abuse? Some problems/cautions/caveats regarding those widely bandied-about figures [Bialik/WSJ, WSJ Law Blog]

  • Okay, so it's a given that the Columbia Journalism Review would be clueless about insurance controversies, but you'd think George Soros would have better uses for his money than to support warmed-over Dickie Scruggs-ism on the subject ["Insurance Transparency Project"]

  • Advocates have been hoping to break through with a big damages win over "anesthesia awareness" during surgery, and a dramatic W.V. case may fit the bill [Fox News]

  • Illinois trial lawyers pushing legislature for grief damages in wrongful-death cases [Post-Dispatch]

  • Good primer from Beck and Herrmann on "municipal cost recovery rule", which bars most suits that seek to recoup public expenditures [Drug & Device Law]

Around the web, April 30 - PointOfLaw Forum

  • The calming storm? Sen. Lott and State Farm settle his Katrina insurance suit [AP]

  • Did you know much-honored Harvard lawprof Arthur Miller "has had a longstanding relationship with Milberg Weiss"? [Lattman; more on lawprof consultants from NLJ]

  • Despite hype, activists have failed to prove bias underlies male-female pay gap [Chapman]

  • Calling Gerry Spence a limousine liberal may not be great for your career as a young trial lawyer [Cernovich]

  • Some N.J. lawmakers would like to ban lawyers from soliciting as clients persons whose names are scraped from court and police records [NJLJ]

  • Billions at stake as Supreme Court mulls whether to uphold exemption of home health workers from FLSA wage/hour standards [AP]

  • Just sad: tenured prof departs Iowa Law School (albeit with big severance) after faking student evaluations [Volokh]

Katrina malpractice theory - PointOfLaw Forum

Lack of evacuation plan and adequate backup power system = practicing medicine below the standard of care, or so alleges a suit against New Orleans's Methodist Hospital (via KevinMD).

Those State Farm emails - PointOfLaw Forum

A plaintiffs' lawyer recycles some old State Farm emails and calls them a smoking gun, and the Associated Press and Clarion-Ledger repeats his story uncritically. David Rossmiller posts the emails and lets you know what the plaintiffs' lawyers (and the newspapers) left out. More in selective and twisted readings by plaintiffs' lawyers: Jan. 4 and Nov. 10, 2005.

Trent Lott lawsuit against State Farm - PointOfLaw Forum

A note on Katrina coverage suits - PointOfLaw Forum

I notice that at the trial-lawyer-defense website TortDeform.com, Cyrus Dugger takes issue with the statement in my recent Times (U.K.) op-ed that in Mississippi, "insurers besieged by the state's politico-legal tag teams are offering billions to settle Katrina flood-damage claims, notwithstanding clear flood exclusions in their policies." Let me clarify, then. Since their initial attempt to knock out flood exclusions fared badly in court, Hood and Scruggs are no longer characterizing the claims as being for flood damage which insurers must pay for notwithstanding the exclusion. Instead they are presenting them as "my house is gone and you can't prove it wasn't wind" claims. Besieged by the aforementioned tag-teams, insurers are offering billions to settle claims which both sides know perfectly well were caused by the storm surge rather than wind, even if for purposes of litigation Scruggs and Hood pretend otherwise. In other words, I think NYT business columnist Joseph Nocera is exactly right in writing recently that this is not a case of "reasonable people contesting water versus wind", as goes on elsewhere in insurance coverage litigation, but rather that "in Mississippi, the insurance contract has been largely tossed aside by the power of litigation" and that claimants there are "trying to abrogate the terms of the contract they�ve signed with their insurers. It is hard to see how an economy can function if contracts are not upheld."

Dugger also falsely attributes to me the position "that even if the home is damaged by wind, if the already damaged/destroyed home is later further damaged by flooding, even hours or perhaps days later, the insurance company no longer has to pay ... anything". He does not document where I supposedly said this, not surprisingly since it is not in fact a position I have ever taken. So far as I can recall, I have referred in print only twice to this particular argument for denying coverage, here (a brief and neutral description, before I read Judge Senter's opinion) and here (two days later, where I described such a grounds for denying coverage as one that was "strained" and would be "harsh if not fraudulent" in the context of the Nationwide policy, and pointed out that Nationwide itself was not asserting a right to deny coverage on such grounds to Katrina victims).

More: David Rossmiller contributes a calm and informative discussion of "anti-concurrent" clauses and their interpretation.

Around the web, March 20 - PointOfLaw Forum

Updating some ongoing Point of Law stories:

Another favorable Scruggs profile in NYT - PointOfLaw Forum

[Originally posted Sat. 3/17 11:30 a.m., bumped for Monday readers]

Because the moistly admiring profile that it ran a year and a half ago ($) just wasn't enough, the New York Times was back yesterday with another moistly admiring profile of trial lawyer zillionaire Richard ("Dickie") Scruggs, once again letting Scruggs's contentions pass without challenge on a series of controversial Katrina-coverage questions and for good measure quoting a common-man description of the Pascagoula potentate, by a casino security guard, as "good people. ... If he tells you something, it�s gospel."

Although Scruggs has been making a lot of news in recent days, the Times piece is curiously selective about what it chooses to mention. For example, the profile does not consider it newsworthy that Scruggs is due in court next week to answer contempt charges relating to his handling of much-trumpeted adjustment documents which are said to show that State Farm over-scrutinized claims of wind damage. Those who read a WSJ editorial on Thursday were aware that this coming Wednesday, March 21, federal judge William M. Acker Jr., in Alabama has scheduled a hearing on whether Scruggs should be held in contempt for having arranged with his pal, Mississippi AG Jim Hood, to shuffle some of the papers into Hood's possession in order to evade an injunction requiring their return. The W$J editorial fills in some of the legal and ethical background about the story, which

revolves around E.A. Renfroe, a company with offices in Alabama that was hired by State Farm to send insurance adjusters to evaluate Katrina claims. Two sisters, Cori Rigsby Moran and Kerri Rigsby, had worked as adjusters for Renfroe since the late 1990s. Both had signed employment agreements and codes of conduct promising to protect the confidential information of companies for which Renfroe worked.

Yet around February of 2006, the Rigsby sisters seemed to be thinking of something beyond contracts. According to court documents, they met with Mr. Scruggs (a friend of their mother's) and gave him State Farm documents they'd stolen from work. Mr. Scruggs at this point was working on his civil litigation against insurers, and the Rigsbys started clandestinely working with him. In June of 2006, the two copied 15,000 more pages of claims information and, on Mr. Scruggs's advice, gave a copy first to Mr. Hood and then to Mr. Scruggs. They also went on national television to crow about their theft, and to accuse State Farm of misconduct....

...neither woman went to Renfroe management with their concerns before they stole the papers. Instead, they both took jobs with the Scruggs Katrina Group -- a coalition of trial lawyers suing over the hurricane -- and are now each earning $150,000 a year as "consultants" for advising on insurance litigation.

Nor does the Times mention Scruggs's appearance last week as a witness in the high-profile retrial of his former close associate, leading Mississippi attorney Paul Minor, on charges of judicial bribery. The U.S. Department of Justice offered Scruggs immunity for his testimony; Scruggs chose not to take the proffer of immunity and testified anyway, but the whole episode, with its details of how Scruggs arranged for loans and repayments for friendly judges, might have introduced a jarring note into all the talk about "good people" and taking his word as gospel and so forth.

Times insurance-beat reporter Joseph Treaster does quote a few Scruggs critics, who it seems "sniff" their objections over matters of "decorum". Little or no mention is made of the ethical questions and allegations of orchestrating meritless legal claims that have dogged the Scruggs law practice over its tobacco, asbestos, HMO, and hospital claims (and on and on).

Even assuming Katrina litigation were to be the article's only focus, Friday's beat-sweetener has curious omissions. For example, in a passing mention of "complaints from rival lawyers about potential fees of more than $46 million for Mr. Scruggs and the pick-up team of two dozen lawyers in his Scruggs Katrina Group", you'd think a Times reporter might pursue the question of how well that $46 million figure squares with Scruggs's talk a year and a half ago about how "he did not see the insurance battle as a personal gold mine. He said he was prepared to take as little as 1 percent of any settlement or jury award -- far less than the typical contingency fee of one-third or more". It's hardly as if reporter Treaster could have missed the earlier profile where those lines appeared, since it carried his co-byline. Or is the danger that readers will suspect that they -- and the newspaper's own editors -- are being played for credulous fools by Mr. Scruggs's public relations machine?

P.S. I see Peter Lattman at the WSJ law blog preceded me in taking note of the contrast between the NYT's and WSJ's Scruggses.

Randy Maniloff wins the award for best one-liner so far:

Mr. Hood�s feelings toward State Farm are reminiscent of that great joke recounted by Alvy Singer in Woody Allen�s �Annie Hall�: �The food in this place is really terrible. Yes, and such small portions.�

David Rossmiller comments. Speaking of circuses, State Farm has moved to recuse Judge Senter and there has been supplemental briefing in Woullard regarding the settlement class action. David Rossmiller's blogging is on the case. Earlier POL coverage: Feb. 16 (State Farm withdrawal); Jan. 30 (Woullard); Jan. 12 (Broussard).

More on Mississippi insurance and State Farm - PointOfLaw Forum

Others have mentioned or anticipated State Farm's withdrawal from the Mississippi homeowners' and commercial insurance markets in the wake of the Jim Hood/Dickie Scruggs campaign against them (Krauss; Olson; Wallace; Adams; Rossmiller). But how many tie in Hurricane Katrina, Dickie Scruggs, Jim Hood, Trent Lott, and William Wordsworth? I provide a historical perspective in today's American.

Dickie Scruggs and Jim Hood have a proposed solution to the State Farm withdrawal: tell them they can't write auto insurance, either. That will make Mississippians better off!

Tomlinson v. Allstate Insurance - PointOfLaw Forum

The federal Louisiana Katrina insurance lawsuit was dropped right before it went to the jury, presumably in a walk-away settlement to avoid sanctions after it was revealed that the plaintiff couple (the wife of which is a lawyer) triple-dipped a damages claim by (1) having Allstate pay for a lease for living expenses (2) that the Tomlinsons also sought as "damages" (3) even though the rent was paid to themselves because they owned the rental property. The couple was forced to resort to the implausible argument that fraud doesn't nullify an entire claim for insurance damages, though the contract says otherwise. David Rossmiller has a more complete report (including the briefs). Full AP coverage is more complete than the version printed in the Chicago Tribune that Rossmiller linked to; the published version only hints at the problem.

Yahoo! News reports that State Farm no longer trusts Mississippi's legal system to enforce its contracts. The state's "current legal and political environment is simply untenable. We're just not in a position to accept any additional risk in this homeowners' market," said public affairs VP Mike Fernandez.

The damage this time was caused by federal courts, as readers of this e-zine know very well. One might think that State Farm's decision will exacerbate hostility toward the company -- I imagine some interesting simulations were undertaken before this decision was reached.

Via Rossmiller, Randy Maniloff has a lengthy article on Judge Senter's rejection of the Katrina settlement (Jan. 27; see also Jan. 23 and earlier Katrina coverage). Highlights plus my comments:

  • The settlement leaves open 200 non-Scruggs Mississippi claims pending in court, as well as those of any opt-outs, meaning State Farm's liability wasn't even being capped by the settlement. Maniloff doesn't mention it, but previous mass tort settlements have started a feeding frenzy where lawyers will have an incentive to encourage further opt outs. (Maniloff does not discuss where the statute of limitations fits in to opt-outs: however, if a class is certified, it might imply American Pipe tolling, which could mean that State Farm ends up buying more claims for its trouble than it's settling.)
  • The settlement has put pressure on Louisiana Attorney General to match the price achieved in Mississippi. I note that Jim Donelon hasn't brought the same sort of extortionate illegitimate criminal investigation that Jim Hood did, but State Farm is creating the perverse incentive to do so.
  • Senter denied class certification in Woullard, just as he did in Guice. While settlement class certifications are easier, this is still a hurdle for the parties that probably was not fully contemplated in the drafting of the settlement papers.
  • Maniloff correctly singles out Judge Senter's statement that "I will never approve a procedure that would allow the resolution of claims under standards that are, or may be, different from or contrary to this Court�s prior rulings" as especially problematic. It simply is not the case that parties are required to disregard the possibility of appellate reversal when reaching settlement. One hopes that Senter was simply sloppily referring to the disparate treatment of the Scruggs clients from the unrepresented class members (a not implausible interpretation, given the fact that Senter granted interlocutory appeal in Tuepker), but if Senter is demanding that his decisions be treated as immutable law for any settlement framework, it is difficult to see how the parties can settle until the Fifth Circuit resolves at least some appeals of Senter rulings.
  • Speaking of likely reversals, Maniloff is justifiably critical of the Broussard directed verdict (Jan. 12).

Wouldn't you know it, Dickie Scruggs and Attorney General Jim Hood were looking for the headline and (in Scruggs's case) the payday, and are told that the settlement doesn't justify dissolving the claims and rights of unnamed class members who have not sued. Senter also criticizes the $10 million minimum payday for Scruggs for the class settlement. (WSJ; David Rossmiller has more details and a link to the opinion). State Farm will have no interest in settling the claims of Scruggs's clients if those who haven't sued yet can also sue. The settlement, on cursory glance, appears to favor named plaintiffs over unnamed plaintiffs: it's doubtful that State Farm would agree to that favorable treatment classwide, and it's also doubtful that Scruggs can justify the disparity to a conscientous court. (Moreover, it's far from clear that there is a certifiable class, given the individualized nature of the claims.) Which means that State Farm might get justice after all if it can withstand the publicity long enough for the Fifth Circuit to correct Senter's earlier mistakes—or it might mean that Hood is able to extort State Farm into giving up billions instead of hundreds of millions.

Around the web, January 25 - PointOfLaw Forum

State Farm settles Mississippi Katrina claims - PointOfLaw Forum

See today's New York Times. Mississippi will drop the threat of criminal charges; $80 million to 640 plaintiffs (including 300 whose houses were completely destroyed by storm surge), and the option for 35,000 policyholders to reopen other claims at a cost of $50 to $600 million. (State Farm is a non-profit mutual insurer, so this is money coming out of the pockets of other policyholders.) The long-term costs to all of us are going to be much much higher than this nine-digit settlement, since future attorneys general learn that there are short-term political rewards to be had by demagoguing against settled expectations and insurance companies realize they can't trust courts to enforce those contracts. There are likely other terms to the settlement that are not yet public.

State Farm settles another Katrina case - PointOfLaw Forum

David Rossmiller has a wealth of detail, which more than speaks for itself.

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