Some time ago, I read an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal slamming Trent Lott for using his power as a U.S. Senator to go after State Farm because he was mad over unpaid Katrina damage to one of his three homes. I then looked up the electronic docket for his case because I wanted to see if his case had been settled and dismissed. Remember that Lott is among the 640 Mississippi policyholders included in an $80 million settlement engineered by attorney Dickie Scruggs and State Farm, and I figured Lott was done. Not so. The docket showed that an amended complaint was filed in the case after the date of the announcement. This story confirms that Lott is still trying to decide whether to accept the settlement or go to trial in June. If you’re like me, you’d love to see that trial happen. I also see on the docket that a settlement conference is set for March 27.
And just in case you’ve got a fever and the only prescription is reading some briefs in this case, I have your medicine right here. Here is a pdf of State Farm’s motion to dismiss and here is a pdf of Lott’s opposition brief, both filed last year. Here is Judge Senter’s opinion denying the motion to dismiss. As with most Senter opinions, it is economical with words.
One thing to note in Senter’s opinion, which followed his ruling in the Tuepker case deciding many of the same issues, is what the judge says about the ambiguity of the State Farm anti-concurrent provision. Remember that the flood exclusion falls under the anti-concurrent language, and Senter upheld the exclusion as unambiguous. In contrast, he said the anti-concurrent provision is ambiguous, but only to the extent it would be interpreted to exclude wind damage from coverage. As I’ve explained in other posts, that is no big deal because you can’t have a good faith reading of the language that excludes wind: the anti-concurrent provision says that the policy does not under any circumstances insure "such loss," with those words plainly referring to the exclusions that follow and not to wind. That also raises a substantial question of whether the provision is actually ambiguous, or whether it is as clear as a baby’s conscience.
One interesting footnote in the State Farm brief takes a swing at Lott for alleging his house was entirely destroyed by wind when he made a claim under the National Flood Insurance Program for the flood insurance he had on the home. Check out a pdf of Lott’s amended complaint, paragraphs 14 and 15 — he’s still saying the same thing! The house was destroyed or nearly destroyed by wind, then destroyed again by surging flood waters. That’s bad luck. No matter what you think of Trent Lott, you’ve got to feel sorry for a guy whose house is destroyed twice in the same day.
And yes, for those of you paying close attention, I did purposely write about State Farm, Scruggs and the Wall Street Journal in the same post, as an homage to some in the comments who have variously accused me of shilling for one or all of them.