Judge: Jury May Consider Whether Katrina Insurance Claim Misrepresented

Friday, April 13th 2007, 2:41 pm
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Jurors may consider whether a Slidell couple misrepresented part of their claim, possibly voiding the whole homeowner policy, when they decide Louisiana's second Hurricane Katrina insurance trial against Allstate Insurance Co., a federal judge ruled Friday.

After testimony ended Friday, lawyers for Robert and Merryl Weiss asked U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance to exclude Allstate's misrepresentation allegation when jurors begin their deliberations. Jurors will get the case after closing arguments, which are scheduled Monday.

Allstate says the Weisses asked Allstate to pay for a boathouse that was not covered by the homeowners policy when their house was destroyed during the storm. The company said the boathouse was on another property they owned, adjacent to the property they had insured.

Allstate has argued in court papers that misrepresenting even a small part of a claim can void all coverage under a policy.

Vance said Allstate had presented enough evidence for the jury to weigh the misrepresentation claim, which Weisses' attorney Richard Trahant called highly prejudicial, as part of the case.

``If there was no evidence of this I would be thrilled to throw this out of here. Unfortunately, there is enough evidence _ enough to get to the jury on this,'' Vance said.

The lawsuit is one of hundreds that homeowners in Louisiana and Mississippi filed against insurers after the Aug. 29, 2005, storm. Insurers say their homeowner policies cover damage from a hurricane's wind but not from the floods _ including the storm surge pushed up by the wind.

Allstate paid the Weisses $350,000 under their federal flood insurance policy and $29,483 for structural damage and $14,787 for additional living expenses under their homeowner policy. The couple claims Allstate owes them hundreds of thousands of dollars more under the latter policy.

Misrepresentation also was an issue in the first trial against Allstate in New Orleans. Lawrence and Elizabeth Tomlinson dropped their lawsuit mid-trial, without saying why, after Allstate alleged it had paid them more than $30,000 for living expenses after they moved into property they owned.