Articles Posted in General FEMA News

The Federal National Flood Insurance Program (“NFIP”) is a federal program that allows homeowners to protect against flooding because most homeowners insurance does not cover flooding (You can check out their website here). It is offered to homeowners, renters and some business owners. The federal government works with private insurance companies to encourage them to offer insurance. The government sets a standard rate and then the insurance is actually through the private insurance company, but involves the federal government to a great degree. The federal government underwrites, or supports the insurance company, but the private insurance company does all of the related administrative tasks.

Because of the federal government’s involvement, when there are issues with the insurance company, you must follow unique litigation paths in order to recover for any damages in many occasions. For example, the federal government will normally cover any litigation costs for the private insurance company. As such, some procedures that would normally be acceptable at the state level may not be allowed in the federal court.

A case in Mississippi that was appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals helps explain these differences. In that case, Grissom, the insured individual, had insurance under the NFIP through Liberty Mutual. He was eligible for a preferred risk insurance policy, but did not know he was eligible. After Hurricane Katrina, he argued that he would have purchased the preferred risk insurance policy if he had known about his eligibility.

Licensed attorneys in New Orleans were asked which attorney they would recommend to residents in the New Orleans area. Attorney Jeffrey Berniard, of the New Orleans-based Berniard Law Firm, LLC, was named one of the best mass litigation and class action attorneys in New Orleans in the November 2012 issue of the magazine. Propelled into success by holding insurance companies accountable in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Berniard has built the Berniard Law Firm into one of the premiere personal injury law practices in not only New Orleans, but the entire state of Louisiana. Since Hurricane Katrina, Berniard Law Firm has focused on insurance disputes and class action litigation.

Jeffrey Berniard has been involved in several high-profile cases, solidifying his expertise in complex high risk litigation. He worked on the highly publicized Deep Water Horizon oil rig case in the Gulf Coast, representing a very large group of individuals affected by the sinking oil rig. In 2008, Berniard Law Firm secured a $35 million dollar settlement for a class of 70,000 members seeking bad faith penalties for tardy payments by a Louisiana insurance company in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. In 2009, the Berniard Law Firm participated in five class actions against insurance companies and corporations. In the process of these major claims, the firm also helped many residents of the Gulf Coast with their personal injury concerns, insurance claims and business disputes.

– What is Mass Tort Litigation? –

A summary judgment is rendered when a trial court decides that there are no genuine issues of material fact that need to be determined. “Manifestly erroneous” is the high standard under which summary judgments are reversed on appeal. Summary judgments are cheaper and less time consuming than full blown trials; they are a means toward the end of judicial expediency, a goal that becomes increasingly important to our judicial system over time. Despite the importance of this procedural device, many cases do not call for summary judgment. Sometimes trial courts grant full or partial summary judgments in error and are reversed. That is what occurred in the case of Jagneux v. Frohn, which you can read here.

The defendants in this case convinced the trial court that no issues of fact existed that required litigating. Their legal journey was not over though due to the plaintiff’s appeal. The court of appeals applied the standard promulgated by the Louisiana Supreme Court. This Louisiana Supreme Court’s standard initially places the burden of proof on the party that is moving for a summary judgment. The moving party must prove that one or more elements of the adverse party’s claim or defense lacks any factual support on the record so far. The opposing party is then granted an opportunity to prove that there have been facts alleged that support that party’s position. At the time of summary judgment the record is sparse so a granting of summary judgment represents a finding by the court that no facts supporting a particular party’s, in this case the plaintiff’s, position.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision in this case because it found that the issue of whether Mrs. Kling, a defendant in this case, was the driver of the white SUV at the time that it, at least partially, caused the accident at issue in this case. Because there was conflicting evidence about where Mrs. Kling was and whether or not she was actually in control of the car at the time of the accident, summary judgment was not the right choice in this case. The trial court is not to weigh the merits of the case when addressing summary judgment. Summary judgment is only appropriate in cases where no potentially meritorious case is presented by one of the parties.

In insurance, an assignment is the transfer of legal rights under an insurance policy to another party. The legality of assignments became a major issue in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. During this period, the federal government, in an effort to aid rebuilding efforts, issued money through the Road Home program to homeowners who held underinsured properties. In exchange, these homeowners were required to assign their rights to insurance claims under their policies to the the state of Louisiana. The purpose of this assignment was to prevent homeowners from fraudulently receiving duplicate payments. However, the program incentivized insurance companies to estimate damages too low, which in turn forced homeowners to take the higher amount offered through the Road Home program.

The shortfall created within the Road Home program forced the state of Louisiana to bring suit against insurance companies through the policy rights assigned to the state by homeowners. In essence, the state sought to recoup actual insurance claim damages that the homeowners were rightfully owed had they not opted into the Road Home program. Though most, if not all, of the homeowner insurance policy contracts contained an anti-assignment clause, the state maintained that it had the right to post-loss assignment. Therefore, it is critical to distinguish between a pre-loss assignment and a post-loss assignment.

A pre-loss assignment occurs when one transfers a legal right under an insurance policy to another before the injury or loss occurs. An example of a type of pre-loss assignment is found in cases when life insurance is assigned to a bank as collateral for a loan. Here, the assignment has occurred before the loss, in this case the death of the original policy holder, and any benefits that accrue at the time of death are used to repay the bank first. These types of assignments typically require consent from the insurer, but are usually barred by anti-assignment clauses.

A post-loss assignment, on the other hand, is the transfer of a legal right under an insurance policy to another party after the injury or loss occurs. Post-loss assignments frequently give the third party transferee the ability to file a claim against the insurance company for any loss accrued by the original policy holder. Many insurance companies try to block such assignments through broad anti-assignment clauses found in policy contracts. Such clauses were found in most Katrina and Rita policies, and insurance companies pointed to these sections in an attempt to avoid paying actual damage costs homeowners thought they rightfully assigned to the state.

While national jurisprudence holds that pre-loss anti-assignment clauses are valid in favor of contract law and public policy, anti-assignment clauses related to post-loss assignments are held to be invalid. The reasoning behind this difference primarily lies with public policy considerations. A pre-loss assignment, for example, may increase the risk beyond the point that the insurance company had originally contracted for and with a party the insurance company had not originally contracted with. A post-loss assignment, on the other hand, simply assigns an accrued right to payment after a loss has already occurred. There is no change in risk as the loss has already occurred, and since payment is to be made it matters none to whom the payment is made.
The Supreme Court of Louisiana holds that such public policy concerns are better suited for the legislature. However, the Court does state that clauses prohibiting post-loss assignment must be written in clear and unambiguous language. If the language in the policy contract is unclear, then, in accordance with laws regarding contracts of adhesion, the language will be construed against the insurance company and in favor of the insured. If you have entered into a contract with an insurance company and are looking to assign your rights under the policy to a third party, turn to the language in the contract itself. Though there is not specific set of words or test used to determine “clear and unambiguous,” your own judgment is a good starting point in determining whether or not you have the right to assignment.

Though your own judgment is an excellent place to start, insurance law is very complicated and is best suited for a practicing attorney.

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For those Louisiana residents, whether you live in Lake Charles, Shreveport, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Kentwood or any other of the great cities across this state, looking for more information on their possible personal injury claim, check out our blog dedicated to these legal matters:

Louisiana Personal Injury Blog

This blog discusses the legal issues relating to Admiralty/Maritime law, Animal/Dog Bites, Car Accidents, Chemical/Industrial Spills, the intricacies of Expert Testimony, Insurance Disputes, employee rights under the Jones Act, Legal Duty, Civil Lawsuits, Criminal prosecution, Medical Malpractice, Mesothelioma/Asbestos, Motorcycle Injury, Negligence, Offshore Accidents, Product Defects, Chinese Drywall, Strict Liability, Workers’ Compensation and Wrongful Death. All of these issues are crucial to citizens rights and residents of Louisiana.

FEMA recently came out to publicly encourage residents of Florida and the Gulf Coast to get flood coverage, regardless of how susceptible to risk they may be. In doing this, the government is bringing more attention to the need for proper insurance policies and to prevent having to help out thousands of people who thought it ‘could never happen to them.’

Matt Gilmour of the Tallahassee Democrat highlights this important step on the part of FEMA

With hurricane season under way, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is reminding Florida residents about the importance of flood insurance, even if they don’t live in high-risk areas.

While catching up on some hurricane news for the Gulf Coast region from June, we came across this story about relief fraud in the wake of Hurricane Katrina

A federal grand jury in Atlanta has accused four people of fraudulently obtaining tens of thousands of dollars in government assistance for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that 37-year-old Kristine Clark and 24-year-old Michael Rouzan, both of Decatur, Ga., were charged in one indictment, and 26-year-old Markisha Burks of Dallas and 43-year-old Lucien Danthon of Atlanta were named in separate indictments accusing them of falsely claiming they resided in New Orleans at the time of the 2005 storm.

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