Trial began yesterday in federal court in Mississippi for Edward Gemmill v. State Farm. According to this story in the Sun Herald, Gemmill, who is a Biloxi city councilman, was in his home when the water surge hit and flooded it, forcing him to climb to the attic for safety. I note that the Pre-Trial Order in the case says the home was destroyed and reduced to a slab, so at some later time before the home was destroyed obviously Gemmill successfully fled.
UPDATE: I am informed by someone on the scene in Mississippi that Gemmill was not in his house when the storm hit. So the way the Sun Herald story reads is misleading. Here’s an excerpt, you decide.
In other testimony this morning, Gemmill’s neighbor, retired Biloxi building official William Prince, described how he watched the roof of Gemmill’s home fly off around 5:45 a.m. Gemmill said he climbed in his attic several hours later after rising water forced its way through his front door.
Apparently, the story means to say that Prince climbed to the attic of his own house, and the "he" in the second sentence refers to Prince, not Gemmill. This is why newspapers have copy editors, to make sure that pronouns in a sentence clearly refer to the right antecedent noun, although it is possible the sentence seemed to clearly refer to Gemmill’s description of his own actions, and the copy editor didn’t think to question it. Why the story would have Gemmill describe what Prince did, when the preceding sentence had Prince describing what Prince did, is one of those mysteries that, for now, must remain unsolved. Now back to our regularly scheduled post.
Also according to the Pre-Trial Order, which in federal court is an outline of the facts and law to be tried, Gemmill had a flood insurance policy that paid him $128,000, but he had no coverage for the home’s contents in the flood policy. (Flood insurance policies go as high as $250,000 for the structure and $100,000 for contents). His State Farm homeowners policy, which does not cover flooding, had a policy limit of $142,000, with contents coverage of $107,000 and coverage of a dwelling extension of $14,000. The actual value of the home was allegedly about $218,000. Recently, State Farm paid him roughly $5,700, minus a deductible of $2,700, for wind damage to his roof.
Gemmill’s lawsuit was over alleged bad faith by State Farm for failure to pay for covered wind damage. As you can see from paragraph 15 of the Pre-Trial Order, Gemmill claims he is owed $89,000 for covered wind damage, $107,000 for contents coverage and $14,000 for the dwelling extension, whatever a "dwelling extension" is, probably a garage.
Those numbers don’t add up for me: I take it $89,000 represents the difference between what the flood insurance paid and the value of his home, but if the State Farm policy limits were $142,000, I’m not sure on what basis you get to the purported $218,000 full market value. Also, acceptance of $128,000 in flood payments on a $218,000 home tends to bely the statement in paragraph 14 that "the greater damage was caused by the wind." Theoretically, this could be true if you accept that somehow the $218,000 value of the house is relevant, add $107,000 worth of contents and the $14,000 outbuilding and get $339,000. Then, if $169,501 in damage was caused by wind, and $169,499 by flood, this would be a correct statement. However, and you can see where I’m going with this so I’m not going to walk through every step of the math, it really doesn’t look that likely because, you see, when you take away the $128,000 flood payment, that leaves only another $41,000 in flood-caused damages. But that’s why they have juries, to sort this stuff out — or as in the Broussard case, that’s why they have a judge, to give a directed verdict and not let the jury sort it out.
Incidentally, Gemmill is also asking for $5 million in punitive damages for State Farm’s alleged bad faith failure to pay what Gemmill is owed.
Here’s a couple more pdfs for those serious researchers out there who love this stuff:
State Farm’s trial brief (plaintiff didn’t file one).