Coordination between litigants following catastrophic losses is becoming increasingly frequent. This is good if the result speeds the resolution of claims and reduces the expenditures to policyholders and insurance companies. However, the Devil is in The Details, as with most things in life.
It is not uncommon for insurance companies to try to get an advantage through case management and discovery orders applicable to all cases. I imagine insurance defense lawyers are thinking the same skeptical thoughts about policyholders’ attorneys.
Tuesday morning, I was at the Galveston County Courthouse with approximately twenty-five attorneys, trying to resolve differences of opinion regarding a proposed Omnibus Case Management Order. Judge Susan Criss will be presiding over the Hurricane Ike insurance claims. Most attorneys that I have spoken to see her as a jurist who will move her docket quickly so that the parties to these lawsuits will not wait years for justice. Being proactive and getting this Case Management Order is a good first step. Having a Judge like Criss, who is engaged from the beginning and takes the time to set a plan for handling the cases, is good for all parties—although some carriers probably have some incentive for delay.
Before the hearing, all the attorneys met in a private room to discuss differences and altering the terms of a draft Order. It was amusing to have so many policyholder and insurance company defense lawyers in the same room. It was fairly civil, and we discussed additional inspections and timing of mediations.
I said little at that meeting. I find it best to keep quiet for awhile when I am the “new kid” in town. Maybe that perception came from being brought up in a Coast Guard family where we moved every year or two.
The meeting then split up. The defense attorneys were in one room, and the policyholder attorneys another. I know the insurance company attorneys reading this blog can hardly wait to read what was said in private, but I was not born yesterday.
I said quite a bit more in this private meeting about the lessons the Policyholders’ Bar learned from Katrina litigation in Mississippi. One thing is certain– the Texas attorneys representing policyholders in Hurricane Ike litigation seem very cooperative and enthusiastic regarding the sharing of information. It has been my experience that when discovery is transparent and broadly shared at the beginning, cases get resolved much quicker. Part of the ongoing problem in Mississippi has been the inability of policyholder counsel to share information learned in discovery because State Farm attorneys were successful in arguing for protective orders which prevented this transparency. It has made the Mississippi Katrina litigation more costly and time consuming.
Early mediation is part of the proposed procedure in Galveston. Based on experience, this will resolve many cases. It allow policyholders to get benefits far sooner than settlement on the courtroom doorsteps. In the Mississippi Katrina litigation, Judge Senter ordered mediation, and it was surprisingly successful after some discovery.
I expect a final Case Management Order will be proposed no later than March 13th. Judge Criss seems to be the type of Judge who is going to move these cases along pretty quickly, which will help restore the damaged and devastated communities. I expect some trials will be set relatively soon for those who do not settle.