Trial Ends In First Katrina Insurance Lawsuit - - The News for South Mississippi

Trial Ends In First Katrina Insurance Lawsuit

The first Hurricane Katrina insurance lawsuit has ended.

Paul and Julie Leonard of Pascagoula sued Nationwide Insurance over a claim from their storm damaged home on Washington Avenue.

Nationwide says the flood exclusion in the Leonard's policy prohibits the company from paying damages caused by storm surge, which falls under the flood exclusion.

"Nationwide is keeping its promise under the terms of the policies that it sold its customers in Mississippi," said company spokesman Joe Case.

The Leonard's home sustained more than $100,000 in hurricane wind and water damage.

Nationwide's attorney said the bottom line is, "Mr. Leonard understood he did not have flood coverage. He knew about the risk of flooding and made the decision not to buy flood insurance."

"The evidence that was presented in court this morning clearly shows that the damage was caused by flood waters. Flood waters are not covered under your standard home owner insurnance policy, which is what the Leonards' had in force at the time," said Case.

Paul Leonard says he was assured by his Nationwide agent that he was covered for any and all hurricane damage.

"Storm surge is part and parcel of a hurricane. And if you have coverage for a hurricane, it goes without saying that you should have coverage for storm surge as well," said Leonard's attorney, Dickie Scruggs.

Nationwide agent Jay Fletcher testified he never told Paul Leonard he didn't need flood insurance. But plaintiff attorney Don Barrett accused Fletcher of changing stories. He told the court: "If Jay Fletcher had been hooked up to a lie detector, you could have heard him ringing all the way to Memphis."

"The flood exclusion that was in the policy was ambiguous. It does not apply. Everybody down here knows what storm surge is. And storm surge is not in there. They elected not to put it in there," says Barrett.

Paul Leonard says the case boils down to those assurances from his Nationwide agent.

"Did I feel we have coverage? Did I feel my insurance agent told me we had coverage? And did I base my opinions on that information I gained from him? That's the way I feel and think about it," Leonard explained, "The answer would be yes. Very much so."

Paul and Julie Leonard are seeking $130,000 for damage to their home, plus attorney fees.

Judge L.T. Senter promised to issue an opinion "as rapidly as possible." Although the judge gave no firm date, attorneys speculate it could be in a couple of weeks.

By Steve Phillips

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