Mike Fernandez sat next to a WLOX News monitor and watched helicopter video of the widespread hurricane devastation across south Mississippi.
"You really feel for individuals that have had to go through this," the State Farm spokesman said.
Thousands of those people had State Farm homeowners insurance. Yet in hundreds of cases, insurance checks to cover their hurricane damage never showed up in mailboxes.
"Where there was evidence, where their policies were the right policies, they got paid," Fernandez said.
Fernandez is the corporate vice president of communications and external relations for State Farm. His office is at the company headquarters in Bloomington, Illinois.
"We continue to pursue settlements with other individuals and with other plaintiffs attorneys in hope that can move beyond all this and rebuild the gulf coast," he said.
Fernandez went around the state Friday, trying to clarify State Farm's position about insurance payments to hurricane victims, and recent settlement talks.
"All we really want to do is find a way that we settle this in a way that's just, it's fair, and still allows for people to operate and rebuild," the State Farm executive said.
The first case heard before settlement talks were announced was the Broussards of Biloxi versus State Farm. The couple won their case against the insurance company, and were awarded more than $1.2 million in actual and punitive damages. Days later, other property owner attorneys, and the Attorney General announced a settlement with State Farm. If a judge approves the agreement, thousands of State Farm hurricane victims should get the insurance checks they've been demanding for almost 18 months.
Fernandez didn't talk about specifics of the settlement. He did claim that State Farm initiated the settlement discussions last summer.
"I don't know of anybody else that's out there aggressively and actively trying to settle multiple cases in the way we have," Fernandez said.
When asked how much longer State Farm would write policies on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the communications executive said, "Right now, the real challenge in Mississippi is the uncertainty being created in all of the judicial matters that currently face us."
The follow up question asked if there was a chance State Farm would leave Mississippi.
"We are committed to the Mississippi marketplace. And what's interesting is even in the noise that we currently face, we've actually grown both auto and home policies over the last year."
Pressed further to find out if State Farm was committed to stay in Mississippi and keep writing homeowners policies, Fernandez said, "We are doing that today."
Fernandez was also asked about the State Farm policyholders who say they're suffering with Katrina losses, while their insurer makes huge profits.
"Sure," the State Farm spokesman admitted. "We've also had years when we've had huge losses. And you need to build up the reserves in order to take care of future catastrophes."
Fernandez said State Farm felt good about the settlement agreement in front of Judge L.T. Senter.
"It's not necessarily a big win for us. And it's not necessarily a big win for all the other parties," Fernandez said. "But it's a huge win for the gulf coast."
by Brad Kessie
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