First Wind Versus Water Case Heads To Court - - The News for South Mississippi

First Wind Versus Water Case Heads To Court

Every year when he renewed his homeowners insurance, Paul Leonard thought the hurricane coverage was all he needed. But just to be sure, he says he repeatedly asked his agent if he should buy a flood policy. 

"I asked about flood insurance. His specific comment was I didn't need that stuff."  

Leonard says relying on his agent's word, he believed his policy would cover storm surge damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Leonard's attorney says the agent didn't want to be bothered with the extra paperwork required for flood insurance. 

"Didn't want to deal with the paperwork. Because the premium and commission the agent received was so little, it wasn't worth the effort to do all the paperwork to get flood insurance. So he discouraged, actively discouraged his clients, Nationwide's clients, from getting flood insurance," says attorney Dickie Scruggs.

Leonard lives two blocks from the beach. Nationwide says his policy clearly spells out what it will not pay in losses, including flood. 

"Flood water damage was not covered. We're sympathetic to the fact that they didn't have that coverage, but we have an obligation to live by the contract we agreed to. And to ask the judge to change the contract after the fact, that's not fair to Nationwide or to the thousands of people along the Gulf Coast that did purchase flood insurance," says Nationwide spokesperson Joe Case.

Case says the lawsuit is about "he said, she said." 

"Mr. Fletcher adamantly says that he told his clients if they lived in a flood zone or their mortgage company required it, they would need flood insurance."

Leonard says he just wants his insurer to live up to the deal he thought they both agreed to. 

"We're not looking for anything other than what we feel like we're owed - put our house back together, replace everything and put it like it was before Katrina."

The Leonards damage totals about $100,000. Paul Leonard testified Monday that so far Nationwide has paid him about $1,600, and that he estimates he has spent $30,000 out of pocket to repair his home so far.

The trial could go into next week.

by Marcia Hill

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