$2.8 Million Verdict Against Allstate

The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 17, 2007; 12:51 AM

NEW ORLEANS -- Attorneys say a federal jury that awarded more than $2.8 million to a man who lost his home to Hurricane Katrina sends a strong message to insurers who refused to pay thousands of other homeowners for damage from the storm.

"Insurers should worry about taking any case to a jury," said David Rossmiller, a Portland, Ore.-based attorney who writes a Web journal on Katrina insurance cases and other industry issues.

The U.S. District Court jury decided Monday that Allstate Insurance Co. did not pay Robert Weiss, of Slidell, enough money to cover wind damage to his home. Allstate had claimed that most of the damage was due to storm surge, an event not covered in its policy.

But the jury concluded that the Northbrook, Ill.-based insurer owes Weiss $561,600 for wind damage to his home and its contents, plus another $2.25 million in damages and penalties for not paying the claim quickly enough following the Aug. 29, 2005, storm.

Rossmiller called the award "eyepopping" _ even if a judge later reduces the amount.

Allstate spokeswoman Kate Hollcraft said the company will appeal.

"Allstate is shocked with the jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Allstate believes it acted in good faith throughout the entire claims process with the Weiss family," she said.

The verdict _ the first among hundreds of lawsuits that Louisiana policyholders have filed against their insurers in federal court _ gives a boost to thousands of homeowners challenging insurers for refusing to pay their claims.

Randy Maniloff, a Philadelphia-based lawyer who represents insurers and has written about the Katrina litigation, said the jury's decision means the "price of poker goes up" for insurers who are trying to settle out of court with policyholders and avoid costly trials.

"It changes the whole landscape of the cases," he said.

The trial for Weiss' lawsuit against Allstate was similar to several cases that already have been tried in Mississippi, where insurers blamed storm surge for demolishing tens of thousands of homes.

In January, a jury in Gulfport, Miss., awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages to a Biloxi, Miss., couple who sued State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. for denying their claim after Katrina. A judge later reduced that award to $1 million.

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