Mississippi High Court Won’t Rehear Wind vs. Water Case

March 27, 2012

The Mississippi Supreme Court has denied motions to reconsider its ruling last December that overturned a judgment for an insurance company in a wind vs. water case.

The case involved a Pascagoula home hit by 6.3 feet of storm surge during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Both the homeowners and Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Co. had asked the court to look at the case again. The Supreme Court on Thursday denied both motions.

The case returns to Jackson County Circuit Court where a judge will decide whether wind was a proximate cause of damage before the destruction of the other structures and personal property by storm surge.

The National Flood Insurance Program paid Michael Robichaux and his wife, Mary, who has since died, policy limits for the loss of their home and its contents – $136,500 for the home and $70,400 for contents.

At issue was whether Nationwide owed the Robichauxes any money for wind damage. Robichaux’s attorneys said he was owed at least $60,000. Nationwide said no, but for different reasons than the company used in 2009 in an earlier water vs. wind case.

Though Nationwide paid neighbors on each side for wind losses, it claimed the Robichauxes had none. Alternately, Nationwide argued the NFIP has already fully reimbursed the Robichauxes and they can’t collect twice for the same loss.

The Supreme Court said there were “genuine issues of material fact” over whether structures and personal property covered under the Robichaux’s policy “were damaged by wind prior to the destructive force of the storm surge.”

In an earlier wind vs. water case, the Supreme Court decided Mississippi law requires insurance companies must prove a hurricane’s tidal surge, rather than wind, caused a loss to deny coverage. Wind and water are separate forces, the court reasoned, that cause different types of damage. Wind damage is covered under an all-perils policy.

In the Robichaux case, Nationwide contended storm surge caused all the damage to the home, based on expert reports.

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