Hurricane Katrina Claims Arbitration Efforts Begin Friday in Miss.

January 5, 2006

A mediation program aimed at resolving Hurricane Katrina insurance claims kicks off in Mississippi Friday, but according to India Johnson, senior vice president of the American Arbitration Association, homeowners with wind vs. water disputes could be disappointed if they expect these efforts to assist them. The American Arbitration Association is administering mediation programs for Mississippi and Louisiana.

“We don’t want to discourage people, but if it’s a total black-and white dispute about what’s covered under the policy, and (the two sides are) way apart, I don’t know if they’re the ones who should rush into this program,” Johnson told the Biloxi, Miss. Sun-Herald.

In thousands of cases, insurance companies say water, excluded from coverage, damaged homes while homeowners maintain that wind, which is covered, caused the destruction. Some policies even purport to exclude wind damage when water was a contributing cause.
Thousands of homeowners have filed lawsuits to resolve their claims and are ineligible for mediation.

However, Johnson told the Sun-Herald mediation is free to the homeowner and could be worth a try for those who want to avoid a court battle. She said mediation will be most helpful in cases where insurers and the insured disagree over the settlement amount.

Trained mediators, attorneys licensed in Mississippi, work with the homeowner and insurance company to reach a settlement.
Insurance companies pay the Arbitration Association for mediation; the association then pays the mediators.

Homeowners who want to mediate claims should gather all records regarding their insurance claims, including letters and repair estimates. They also can bring along a structural engineer or other expert to shed light on their claim.

Beginning today, insurance companies must notify customers who file claims that mediation is available. For Katrina claims already filed, insurance companies must mail notices about mediation by Jan. 20. The insured can request mediation 10 days after receiving the notice.

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