Judge Sues Nationwide for Denying His Claim After Katrina

April 21, 2006

A federal judge in Gulfport, Miss., who would have presided over homeowners’ lawsuits against insurance companies after Hurricane Katrina is waging his own battle against the insurer of his Gulf Coast home.

U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola on Wednesday sued Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. for refusing to cover damage to his storm-demolished home in Long Beach, Miss.

Guirola’s lawsuit is like many spawned by the debates over whether it was Katrina’s wind or water that caused damage to tens of thousands of homes.

The judge’s attorney, Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, said his client decided several weeks ago to recuse himself from hearing all Katrina-related insurance cases to avoid a conflict of interest.

In his lawsuit, Guirola claims that a Nationwide Mutual adjuster who inspected his property blamed the damage completely on wind.
Nationwide Mutual spokesman Joe Case said he could not discuss specifics of pending litigation.

“We are committed to investigating each claim on its own merits before making any coverage decisions,” Case said.

But Case pointed to a ruling last week by one of Guirola’s colleagues, Judge L.T. Senter, that said provisions in Allstate Corp.’s policies that exclude damage from Katrina’s flood waters were “valid and enforceable.”

Nationwide has similar language in its homeowners’ policies, Case said.

Guirola joins at least two other public officials, U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., in suing their insurance carriers for denying claims after Katrina. Scruggs, who is Lott’s brother-in-law, represents all three.

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