Judge L.T. Senter Jr. denied State Farm’s motion in Broussard v. State Farm for partial summary judgment and for a new trial. Here’s a pdf of his order: you’ll want to read it, it’s short and parts are pretty brutal, such as this one:
Advocacy has a proper and necessary role in our system of justice. Yet there may come a point at which advocacy runs the risk of being frivolous, unreasonable, or not consistent with the record. In my opinion, the contention that the insured property was not destroyed by Hurricane Katrina comes perilously close to those points.
And such as this one:
Regardless of how Katrina is characterized, the evidence was clear and convincing that Defendant did not conduct a reasonably prompt investigation of all relevant facts before denying the Plaintiffs’ claim and, after conducting such an investigation, did not make a realistic evaluation of the claim. Although this duty is a continuing one, Defendant, both before and after the lawsuit was filed, looked for a defense to deny paying any portion of the Plaintiffs’ claim. Whether in the form of a wind/water protocol adopted in the wake of Katrina (and despite an initial assessment that Plaintiffs’ home was more damaged by flood than wind, i.e., flood was not the exclusive causative agent), or the retention of experts whom it ignored even when the expert testimony confirmed and established the contribution of wind to the loss, Defendant did not have a legitimate or arguable reason for its conduct and for failing to pay any portion of Plaintiffs’ claims. Contrary to basic insurance contract law, Defendant resolved every ambiguity in its own favor, and attempted to saddle Plaintiffs with a burden of proof that I have previously ruled is upon the insurer. The Defendant chose to proceed on an all-or-nothing basis, and placed Plaintiffs in a most difficult position during a time of extreme economic hardship. Indeed, Defendant appears to continue to urge an interpretation of its anti-concurrent cause clause that would entitle it to collect premiums from policyholders for what amounts to no coverage if even a small part of a loss was due to water. In sum, a punitive damages instruction was warranted, and the amount (as reduced by the Order docketed at [docket entry 108] and which is incorporated herein by reference) is appropriate in light of the substantial harm of Defendant’s conduct.
My thoughts? First, Judge Senter sure calls ’em like he sees ’em. Second, the ruling is not a surprise: post-judgment motions, such as a motion for a new trial, are seldom granted in any event, and given Senter’s directed verdict in this case, the chances were slim to none — but the motion did create another ground for appeal. Third, well, I’ve written many, many posts on this case and don’t really have anything new to add. If you’re curious for more, just do the search box to your right, type in "Broussard" and have at it. Here’s a news story I found on developments.
And here is some bonus news: State Farm to reopen 350 slab cases in Louisiana. And here is a story from Rebecca Mowbray of the Times-Picayune about a speech by Dickie Scruggs giving more of the same old same old about how insurers are ripping everyone off.