Judge L.T. Senter Looks For Answers In The State Farm Class-Action Settlement Hearing

"Living lives in quiet desperation." That's how attorney Dickie Scruggs of the Scruggs Katrina Group described the estimated 35,000 State Farm policy holders who have not filed suit or received payment post-Katrina.

Last month, Norman and Genevieve Broussard's win in court opened the door for a possible class-action settlement. But Judge Senter refused to sign off on State Farm's offer to settle saying he didn't have enough information to make a decision.

The judge heard from attorneys and policy holders during a hearing Wednesday afternoon to get answers to some of his questions, but he has not yet reached a decision. Woullard vs. State Farm is the case representing the class action settlement.

If those who choose to be a part of the class action suit are not satisfied with State Farm's offers, they can enter an arbitration process. State Farm will pay the legal fees and has also agreed to a minimum payment of $50 million in the class action settlement. But former Attorney General Mike Moore, who's serving as co-counsel for the policyholders, says he thinks the settlement figure could be much higher.

"State Farm says we'll give a minimum of $50 million. My estimate is that it'll be closer to $300 million to $400 million when it's all said and done," says Moore.

Attorneys on both sides say the option of opting out should be as clear and simple as possible for those who choose not to be part of the class action suit.

"They can hire their own lawyer, if they want to do that. They can appear for themselves, if they want to do that. We've tried to make this a settlement for the willing," says Scruggs.

After Wednesday's court hearing, some policy holders said they weren't sure what to make out of the hearing.

"We've already been through adjusters, and we've already been through mediation and that hasn't solved the problem. It just sounds like they want us to do the same thing over again," says Diane Bennett of Diamondhead.

But, reaching a resolution in the settlement as quickly as possible is one point everyone seems to agree on.

"Every indication I've heard or seen is that it could be wrapped up by the end of the year," says Jeff McCollom with State Farm.

Both sides agreed Judge Senter would likely appoint a special master or magistrate judge to oversee the arbitration process and approve the arbitrators State Farm and the Scruggs Group select.

Right now, about 800 suits have been filed against State Farm. The Scruggs Group has already resolved close to 640 of those suits, collecting about $80 million for those policy holders.

Judge Senter heard two hearings Wednesday.  He heard testimony for the first hearing Wednesday morning.

That suit dealt with the case of Judy Guice, a homeowner from Ocean Springs, who wants her certify her case as a class action lawsuit.

Guice's attorney's told the judge all slab cases State Farm denied because of a water exclusion should become one class action in order to speed up the process. The judge issued no ruling after the two hour hearing and did not indicate when he might.

The judge originally turned down Judy Guice's request back in December. But after Senter's ruling in favor of Norman and Genevieve Broussard, Guice's attorneys asked the judge to reconsider.