Judges in New Orleans Trying to Fast Track Hurricane Lawsuits

March 17, 2006

Civil courts in New Orleans, La., have begun trying to speed up storm-related lawsuits – many of them against insurance companies – that deal with who should pay for property damages caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Normally, plaintiffs wait 18 months or longer for civil disputes to go to trial. But the Hurricane Litigation Pilot Program will govern the handling of hurricane-related property-damage disputes in Civil District Court and 1st and 2nd City Courts.

“We hope to expedite the cases and have them brought to trial within six to eight months of the petition being filed,” Civil District Court Judge Nadine Ramsey said.

Under the program, judges hold case management conferences within 45 days so the two sides can begin taking testimony and other evidence to prepare for trial.

Three months after cases are filed, judges are expected to hold conferences to set trial dates within another one to three months.

Judges presiding over hurricane-related cases will have the choice of fast-tracking cases or not.

Local judges initiated the program in response to complaints from the public, said Kenneth Burrell, the Civil District Court’s judicial administrator.

“We know there have been a lot of damages, and we have heard about frustration about the interpretation of (insurance) policies,” he said. “Judges are elected to resolve disputes, and judges are here to do that in a timely manner.”

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