Mississippi Sues Insurers Over Flooding Exclusions

George and Georgina Lawrence stand at what used to be the entrance to their home in Biloxi, Miss. They say they have been told that they did not have the proper insurance to collect for the loss caused by Hurricane Katrina.
George and Georgina Lawrence stand at what used to be the entrance to their home in Biloxi, Miss. They say they have been told that they did not have the proper insurance to collect for the loss caused by Hurricane Katrina. (By Spencer Platt -- Getty Images)
By Albert B. Crenshaw
Washington Post Staff Write
Friday, September 16, 2005

The attorney general of Mississippi filed suit yesterday against insurers in the state, seeking to invalidate provisions of homeowner policies that exclude coverage for water damage.

Most homeowners' policies in Mississippi and elsewhere contain such provisions, but Attorney General Jim Hood called them "contrary to public policy" and "unconscionable."

The suit also accused adjusters for the companies of trying to get property owners to sign documents agreeing that damage to their homes was caused by flooding and not by wind. Such a document might be used by a company to argue against paying a claim because its policy covered only wind damage.

Insurance against flooding is sold by the federal government and must be purchased separately -- something only about 10 percent of Mississippi homeowners have done.

Adjusters have told victims that the forms are necessary to receive a check for living expenses right away, the suit claimed.

Hood said companies named in the suit included Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. and Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Co.

According to the Associated Press, Hood said many insurers were "trying to do the right thing down there. They are trying to pay off what they owe. Some are not. Some are trying to use the fine print to get away [from paying claims]."

Most of the companies named had not seen the suit, but Michael Trevino of Allstate said his company's policies "have been approved by the state of Mississippi for use in the state . . . including the flood exclusion that currently is in the contract."

"We have not collected premiums that contemplated flood as a covered peril under the homeowners policy, and to have a contract voided after both parties have agreed to [it] raises serious concerns about the insuring process in Mississippi," Trevino said.

Nationwide said in a statement that it "wants to set the record straight. The allegations made by the Mississippi attorney general are unfounded. Our company is absolutely not asking policyholders to acknowledge damage is flood related in order to receive a check for living expenses. No such form or activity is sanctioned by Nationwide."

Nationwide also called the flood exclusions "well-established" and said, "If these long recognized and relied upon exclusions were to be deemed null and void, it would have a significant negative impact on insurance policyholders across the country."

State Farm spokesman Dick Luedke said his company has "no such forms" as those Hood said had been used by adjusters to get homeowners to agree to flood as the cause of damage. "That's not part of our process," he said.

Last week, Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale ordered insurers to make a physical inspection of any damage before deciding whether or not it is covered, and, if a claim is to be denied, the carrier must be able to prove that it was caused by water and not by wind.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company