In his decision to again disallow a class action suit against State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. regarding “slab” claims from damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, U.S. District Court Judge L.T. Senter Jr. said he believes there are too many differenecs among the claims to permit them to be addressed as a group.
Plaintiff Judy Guice – a Mississippi State Farm policyholder whose home was totally destroyed by Katrina — was making her third attempt to establish a “non-opt-out” class action suit. Her original claim with State Farm had been denied “on the grounds that the destruction of the insured property was caused solely by water in the form of storm surge flooding, a peril excluded under the terms of the policy at issue.”
In Senter’s written ruling he pointed out that “the forces exerted by Hurricane Katrina varied substantially from one location along the Mississippi Gulf Coast to another.”
He added that the forces exerted against a particular building varied substantially depending on the building’s proximity to the shore line and that the damage any given building may have sustained varied substantially depending on its age, quality of construction, and even its design.
“These lessons confirm the reasoning of my decisions on the plaintiff’s previous motions for class certification and inevitably lead me to the conclusion that there are as many differences between the ‘slab cases’ as there are similarities in terms of the evidence available to ascertain the cause of the destruction and damage to these properties,” Senter said. “For this reason, I do not believe there is any procedural advantage in creating a class of State Farm ‘slab cases’ that would not be offset by the factors that will ultimately require the individual treatment of these claims.”
State Farm welcomed the ruling. Company spokesman Phil Supple said, “We’re pleased that Judge Senter listened to and understands that each claim should be decided on its own merit – that with each slab claim there are differing levels of storm surge and wind that caused the damage.”
Supple noted this is the third time that Guice’s lawyers requested a class action suit against State Farm. “We will continue to move forward in the process,” he said.
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