Katrina roundup May 22

I’m in one of those stretches of work that don’t leave me a great deal of time for luxuries like blogging, sleep and seeing my family, so bear with me the rest of this week.  How do I gauge when it’s one of those stretches? When I see more of the night janitors at work than I do my family.  Here’s some Katrina-related news:

— I saw this post on the Scruggs Katrina Group blog this morning about honoring whistleblowers, specifically the Rigsby sisters who left State Farm contractor E.A. Renfroe alleging irregularities in Katrina claims adjusting practices and carrying an arm load of documents, and wound up with $150,000 consulting contracts from SKG. Zach Scruggs says in the post that the sisters were only being paid what they made with Renfroe, no more.  Lucrative business apparently, this claims adjusting, no matter which side of the equation you fall on. Zach provides a valuable service by putting up this pdf of the March 19-20 contempt hearing in the Renfroe case against the Rigsby sisters in U.S. District for the Northern District of Alabama. Renfroe is suing them for alleged breach of their confidentiality agreement by copying off claims documents while they were still employed by Renfroe and giving them to Dickie Scruggs for use in Katrina lawsuits against State Farm, which Renfroe worked for. Now, I don’t have time to read the entire transcript just at this time, but one of the things I found interesting was that the Risgbies had been copying documents for some time and slipping them to Dickie Scruggs.  There was talk of a "mole" in the office, and they apparently knew their days of employment with Renfroe were numbered, so they hurried up and copied more documents (pages 106-108). I also did not know until I saw this transcript that the Rigsbies had filed their own lawsuit against Renfroe in the Southern District of Mississippi in January for alleged abuse of process, wrongful discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The case docket says they voluntarily dismissed the suit without prejudice — meaning they could refile it — a few days later. 

— More action in the Renfroe lawsuit against the Rigsbies and the contempt proceedings stemming from Dickie Scruggs’ and Kerri Rigsby’s alleged failure to abide by an injunction regarding the return of the Renfroe documents.  Here is a pdf of Kerri Rigsby’s brief filed May 18 in response to Renfroe’s motion for her to show cause why she should not be held in criminal contempt. In essence, the brief says her recent media statements about State Farm getting caught making changes to Katrina engineering reports did not rely on documents she took from Renfroe, but were instead informed by publicly available documents and media reports.  Here is a pdf of Scruggs’ reply brief, also filed May 18, to Renfroe’s motion for contempt sanctions.  In it, he basically says he complied with the injunction by returning the documents taken by the Rigsbies — except for sending a set to the Mississippi Attorney General, and these were soon returned to Renfroe, so Renfroe suffered no harm.

Here is a story from Rebecca Mowbray of the Times-Picayune about apparent different charges for materials by Allstate for houses in Louisiana that had suffered both flood and wind damage. According to the story, there is evidence Allstate charged more for replacing flood damage that would be paid out of the National Flood Insurance Program, but unrealistically low prices for wind damage that it was responsible for, thereby shifting its responsibilities to the NFIP.  A couple things I note about this story.  It looks like a primary source for it is Brian Martin, policy director for Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi and a frequent commenter on this blog.  I also note that the story says the evidence indicates Allstate was the only insurer doing this, while Taylor and others have frequently said all insurers ripped off the NFIP.  In fairness, overcharging for flood damaged materials is a different sort of alleged abuse than initially misclassifying wind damage as flood damage, but why would only one insurer do this if it is part of a collusive pickpocketing of the Treasury? And why in Louisiana, when we have not heard similar charges from Mississippi? Thirdly, I note that Brian is quoted as saying he and Taylor "suspect" it was the insurance companies who were behind FEMA’s expedited Katrina flood adjustment program that waived proofs of loss by policyholders.  In comments on this blog, Brian has previously flat-out said that the insurers were behind the FEMA directive, and in fact requested it. 

Here’s a story that says Allstate has received a second subpoena, this one from a federal grand jury investigating Katrina claims handling.  It got one earlier from the Department of Homeland Security, which is investigating the same thing at the directive of Congress (the Homeland Security report was due April 1, but is obviously way overdue like everything to do with the government, except apparently flood payments, which were paid too quickly).  Here’s another story that says Nationwide got a subpoena too.

Here is a further story on the Weiss v. Allstate case in Louisiana about the inflated contents payout to the Weisses.  The story says the person who compiled the list — which included stuff the Weisses didn’t own and which they said they never submitted as losses — couldn’t be found for trial. It might be something shady or maybe someone just got mixed up and stuck the wrong list of stuff in the Weisses’ claim.  Apparently Mrs. Weiss reviewed the list prior to it being submitted for payment, but didn’t notice anything wrong at the time due to haste or distractions.  Apparently the Weisses also didn’t question why they got a $100,000 contents payout under their flood insurance policy when they submitted a claim for $38,000, and were just glad to get some money for their loss. It is interesting, but possibly not connected at all, that the number of stories about Allstate has increased notably since the Scruggs Group filed 280 lawsuits against Allstate. Probably just a coincidence.

— Finally, here is a story by Brian Faler of Bloomberg News about Trent Lott’s continuing insurance war. Here’s the money quote:

“I’m like a woman scorned,” Lott says. “I’m prepared to continue to kick their fanny until the last day I’m alive on this Earth because they have mistreated too many people.”

How does that saying go? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?  In the context of the saying, "scorned" meaning, of course, rejected in love.   And we all know that being scorned calls for one thing and one thing only: a good old-fashioned campaign of perpetual, incessant fanny kicking that lasts until the day the Reaper comes knocking. One note of equivocation in the Trent Lott anti-scorn crusade: he does allow that he is "prepared" to fanny kick till he breathes no more, but does not guarantee that he will actually do so, giving perhaps just a little wiggle room for him to rest his tired and sore kicking foot after some time has elapsed.

2 Comments

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2 Responses to Katrina roundup May 22

  1. Layne

    RE: Lucrative Business in claims adjusting.
    To be fair, the adjusters on the catastrophe teams for these insurers, and the independent contractors who also work with them work unmerciless hours during a catastrophe like this.
    Most are working 7 days a week from 8:00am to 8:00pm with little or no breaks, and dealing with difficult claims that require a lot of sympathy for the victims, while still making tough coverage decisions.
    However, that being said, I would be surprised to find that the Rigsby’s actually earned $150,000 per year. I’m guessing that Scruggs took a snap-shot of what they were making during the Katrina surge in claims and extrapolated that out to an annual figure. Obviously, while these folks are working these hours they get a ton of overtime, and are well-compensated. However, there are large periods where they aren’t needed (especially the independents) and are on some type of base salary that wouldn’t project out to such a large number.
    In other words, if the Rigsby’s are only “working” normal business hours “consulting” for Scruggs (I assume they are just full-time “consultants” for Scruggs), then $150,000 is quite a raise for them.
    So, in essence I agree with you regarding the Rigsby’s but it would be unfair to paint all claims adjusters with this brush. They work very hard, and ungodly hours (which you are acquainted with), and most earn every penny they deserve in my book.

  2. Layne, that all makes sense, thanks for the information. Good analysis.