A nearly two year fight with a major insurance company is over for more than 100 coast residents. On Monday, Merlin Law Group announced it had settled with State Farm on 103 claims for an undisclosed amount of money.
Merlin Law Group says this was not a class action settlement and the amount of money awarded in each case was individually decided. Some clients stopped by the Gulfport office on Monday to pick up their checks. They expressed relief that their long fight is over and an eagerness to move on with their lives.
Curtis and Joan Lee say their love gave them strength after losing their Diamondhead home to Katrina, and that love got them through a long battle with State Farm Insurance.
"He'd get upset," said Joan Lee. "I'd try to help him be calm and I'd get upset and the reverse worked, so together we just fought it."
The Lees say State Farm initially denied their homeowner's insurance claim. After two rounds of mediation, and an offer at 31 cents on the dollar, the Lees hired an attorney.
"They called us one day to come down and pick up a check that we were going to be very pleased with the settlement," said Curtis Lee. "We went down and they offered us 15 cents a dollar. Needless to say we turned down 30 cents on the dollar. We weren't going to accept 15 cents."
Frustrated, the Lees found a new lawyer, the Merlin Law Group. Now they are among 103 policyholders now holding settlement checks. The deal comes just one month before eight of Merlin's State Farm cases were set to go to trial in Federal Court.
Chip Merlin of the Merlin Law Group said, "State Farm doesn't want to give up on their position and I think it was only with the threat of the cases coming up to trial and being properly prepared through the hard work that we finally got the resolution that we did. "
Even after all they've been through, Curtis and Joan Lee say they're ready to let go of bitterness and welcome a fresh start.
"Our entire life was turned up side down and this settlement means we'll be able to go on with our lives," said Curtis. "My wife and I are in our 70s and we don't need all this hassle at this age. We just want to enjoy the rest of the time we have. "
The Lees bought another home in Diamondhead, but farther north. They're not sure if they'll rebuild on their waterfront location. The Merlin Group has about 12 other unresolved cases with State Farm.
A spokesperson for State Farm said Monday, "We are pleased that we were able to resolve these outstanding claims and spare our customers and State Farm from expensive and time consuming litigation."
The spokesman said State Farm has extended $59 million in settlement offers after agreeing to revisit claims in the three coastal counties.