Hurricane Laura and Delta Insurance Lawsuits Go from Gulf to Shreveport | New
As Hurricane Laura, a massive Category 4 hurricane, struck southwest Louisiana on August 27, 2020, Darryl and Karen Drewett weathered the storm at their home in Lake Charles.
Planks attached to windows to protect the panes tilted, and their chimneys collapsed under the pressure of the wind.
The Brewett’s survived Laura and her fury, but in some ways there was worse to come. Laura came and went in a few days; they’re still in a months-long battle with their insurance company over how much they should pay to make their home habitable again. Like thousands of other homeowners who have sued, they say their insurance company misrepresented the extent of the damage and underestimated the amount needed to repair it.
Karen Drewett – who in May said she was “tired of crying” and “just tired” – says today that the experience has given the legal term “pain and suffering” a whole new meaning.
“I understand what people are going through,” she said, noting that she and her husband have resources and that their situation is better than that of many people in the area. “I’m always tired; we’re still angry. It’s been hellish. The stress has been incredible.
To date, 2,407 home and business owners have sued insurance companies in the Western District of Louisiana in Federal Court in an attempt to make them pay more for damage caused by Laura and Hurricane Delta, which followed six weeks later on a similar path, making it all but impossible to say where the destruction of one hurricane ended and the other began. Other lawsuits were filed in a series of state district courts. Property losses, most of Laura’s, are estimated at $ 15 billion.
So many federal lawsuits have been filed – from the state’s far southwest to Caddo Parish – that a judge has put in place a special process to resolve cases more quickly.
Among the lawsuits, five from Caddo Parish – two in Shreveport and three southwest of town – are asking for larger payments for structural and water damage.
Critics of insurance companies allege they are hampering southwest Louisiana’s recovery with blatantly low settlement offers and repeated late payments. Contractors generally do not begin reconstruction work without a guarantee of payment.
Insurance companies are defending themselves vigorously, citing last year’s strong storm season with five hurricanes hitting Louisiana and massive damage from Category 4 Laura and Category 2 Delta as complicating factors.
They add that the complaints process is sometimes misunderstood by owners. Many residents said they did not know the amount of their hurricane deductibles. Some have deductibles over $ 20,000, an amount that makes their insurance policies unnecessary.
State Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon – who agrees there have been challenges beyond the control of insurance companies such as the pandemic, the brutal 2020 hurricane season and the race to send enough experts in claims – is nevertheless concerned about the volume of complaints it has received related to the change of expert and policyholders having difficulty in communicating.
Donelon hired an outside company to investigate how five insurance companies treated policyholders. These “market driving tests” have not been completed, Donelon’s office said.
The share of claims classified as closed with payment tied to Laura was 68% at the end of June 30, according to Donelon’s office; 62% of Delta’s claims were closed with payment.
U.S. District Judge James D. Cain Jr. has approved a plan for the two sides in the federal lawsuit to talk and exchange information more quickly in an attempt to reach settlements. If the two parties cannot come to an agreement, the cases are referred to mediation.
In the meantime, the Drewett’s have purchased a new house in Lake Charles that is half the size of the old one. They make two banknotes – $ 1,500 per month on the new one and $ 2,800 per month on the old one. He is 68 years old and a semi-retired CPA; she is 66 years old, a breast cancer survivor and still works at the bank as a loan officer.
They took at least 10% of their retirement nest egg to start getting back on their feet.
“Our retirement accounts weren’t supposed to be used for this – two houses, two interviews,” she said. “I don’t see retirement anytime soon. “
The Drewetts’ civil suit is slated for mediation in December. Karen said she would like to be optimistic, but she will wait and see.
(The Baton Rouge Lawyer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)