Miss. AG Suit, MetLife P&C Settlement Latest Katrina Claims Developments

Plaintiff attorneys at the Scruggs Katrina Group, headed by Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, said they have brokered an out-of-court settlement for 34 Met Life Property & Casualty policyholders in Mississippi over Hurricane Katrina claims.

“The terms of the settlement are confidential and subject to client approval, but we are confident that all of our clients will accept the settlement,” Scruggs said in a press release. “We hope to start dispersing checks early next week.”

In a written statement to The Associated Press, MetLife spokesman David Hammarstrom echoed Scruggs’ comment, regarding client confidentiality and terms acceptance.

According to Scruggs, more than 900 families represented by his litigation group have resolved their disputed claims with the insurance industry and may now begin rebuilding in earnest.

Last week, SKG announced the resolution of 227 claims with Nationwide Insurance and in January of this year resolved over 640 cases with State Farm. Scruggs reported that “hundreds of additional cases are pending with other insurance companies, including State Farm.”

Meanwhile, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has stepped up his efforts against insurers on behalf of property owners with Katrina claims. Hood is now preparing to sue State Farm for what he calls a breach of contract, according to The Associated Press.

Hood told The Associated Press he plans to sue State Farm because he believes the insurer failed to honor the terms of an agreement for a mass settlement of policyholder claims over Hurricane Katrina damage.

Hood, who agreed in January to drop State Farm from a civil suit his office filed less than a month after Katrina, said his office is in the ‘”final stages” of drafting a new complaint that accuses State Farm of breach of contract.

“They can’t just enter into an agreement and back out of it,” Hood told The Associated Press during a telephone interview Tuesday.

Phil Supple, spokesman for State Farm, said his company has not received anything in writing from Hood. He said the only information he has came from The Associated Press article. He maintains that State Farm is holding up its end of the bargain.

Supple cited a press release issued in January by the attorney general’s office in which Hood said, “Although the class settlement is not perfect, State Farm, a leader in the insurance industry, did the right thing in agreeing to settle the litigation. State Farm has set an example for other insurance companies to do their part in rebuilding the lives of our families on our Gulf Coast.”

Supple maintained that his company is proceeding as promised. “We’re mailing letters to about 35,000 people,” Supple said. “We are taking a strong second look at the wind issues relating to Hurricane Katrina. And we’re disappointed he (Hood) has taken this action when we’re in the process phase of disbursing checks.”

The original agreement called for State Farm to pay a minimum of $50 million to 35,000 policyholders, which State Farm says it is in the process of paying – under terms struck through mediation with Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale, instead of the terms outlined by Hood through the courts.

The agreement between State Farm and Dale’s office mirrors the proposed settlement between State Farm and Hood, according to Supple.

“The difference is that it doesn’t address court supervision – but the process does have Insurance Commission supervision,” Supple said.

Hood was unavailable for comment.