Jury Awards $2.5 Million in Punitive Damages in Case Against State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

11/17/2008 | Unfair Insurance Practices/Bad Faith

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

The policyholder won the first verdict Thursday in a Hurricane Katrina insurance case involving a home that was destroyed in the surge area. A jury awarded Biloxians Norman and Genevieve Broussard $2.5 million in punitive damages in their case against State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. Reactions to the decision: "Obviously, our hearts go out to the Broussards and everyone on the Coast who suffered a loss. But we were obviously surprised and disappointed by this ruling." - State Farm spokesman Fraser Engerman, who flew in from Bloomington, Ill., headquarters for the trial that began Monday. "We are very pleased with the verdict. Obviously, we have other trials coming up and we don't want to do anything to jeopardize those cases." - Broussard co-counsel Jack Denton, explaining why he would not elaborate. "It's a great day for South Mississippi." - policyholder Norman Broussard "What I hope we can finally do is get this thing in a position where they just agree to pay the money and pay it now. They're of course going to say, well if it's going to take people two to 10 years to get their money, we'll pay a lesser percentage now. They're going to use people's money and time against them. Hopefully we can reach something." - Attorney General Jim Hood, who is trying to negotiate a settlement with State Farm for Coast policyholders. "State Farm I suspect just assumed - and that's the operative word - that it was the hurricane surge, known as the 'efficient proximate cause' and therefore that would override the windstorm and would knock out 60 percent of the damages to the home. I am pleasantly surprised that the homeowners prevailed. I have not seen the decision but have read enough in trade journals and newspapers that I saw this coming. "The insurance companies owe a duty to the policy owner to be proactive and look for coverage, a way to pay the claim. In the real world, they kind of zero in on the exclusions and they adjust losses by way of exclusions rather than the insurance agreement, which says what they cover." - Clinton Miller of San Jose, Calif., author of "How Insurance Companies Settle Cases" and consultant to both insurers and policyholders on issues of bad faith. "Our hope is that State Farm will have a change of heart and go back to square one like they should and start readjusting the claims following the rule of law that Judge Senter has made." - Chip Merlin, lawyer for homeowners suing State Farm "I am pleased to see another policyholder find a resolution to their disputed claim, and am hopeful that this decision may help speed other resolutions to take place without the necessity of lengthy litigation and courtroom visits." - Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale,who ordered insurance companies to adjust claims according to very similar standards the judge outlined in Wednesday's ruling "This is a loss for property owners along the coast of Mississippi ultimately. If it stands, this decision could well have negative repercussions obviously for the cost of insurance, but also the availability." - Robert Hartwig of the industry-sponsored Insurance Information Institute "That ripple effect is going to turn into a tsunami down here. I've very interested in repairs and that everybody gets back on their feet." - Contractor Phil Coburn, who, after hearing a State Farm expert testify that the wind wasn't strong enough to take down the Broussards' brick veneer, said the same thing happened to his neighbor behind Edgewater Mall, where there was no tidal surge. "I'm absolutely delighted. I think it will also cause a rapid settlement on a lot of the outstanding policy disputes. I think it is nothing but good news for the entire Gulf Coast." - Dr. Wesley McFarland of Bay St. Louis, who lives in a FEMA trailer while awaiting his day in court with State Farm The Broussards won the first verdict Thursday in a Katrina insurance case involving a home that was destroyed in the surge area. Reactions to the decision: "What I hope we can finally do is get this thing in a position where they just agree to pay the money and pay it now. They're of course going to say, well if it's going to take people two to 10 years to get their money, we'll pay a lesser percentage now. They're going to use people's money and time against them. Hopefully we can reach something." - Attorney General Jim Hood, who is trying to negotiate a settlement with State Farm for Coast policyholders. "I am pleased to see another policyholder find a resolution to their disputed claim, and am hopeful that this decision may help speed other resolutions to take place without the necessity of lengthy litigation and courtroom visits." - Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale,who ordered insurance companies to adjust claims according to very similar standards the judge outlined in his ruling. "This is a loss for property owners along the coast of Mississippi ultimately. If it stands, this decision could well have negative repercussions obviously for the cost of insurance, but also the availability." - Robert Hartwig of the industry-sponsored Insurance Information Institute