A Coast policyholder is appealing to the state Supreme Court for access
to Mississippi Insurance Department records that would show the dollar
amount of Katrina claims denied by insurance companies.
Long Beach policyholder Kevin Buckel filed a written request in January
2009 for records showing the total amount of damages homeowners claimed,
the total amount paid and the total amount denied by private property
insurance companies. MID maintains the agency does not have the records.
United Policyholders of America is helping Buckel fund the appeal.
“There’s a million people around the country who would love to help with
this,” said Amy Bach, who heads the nonprofit group.
Buckel initially filed his lawsuit in Harrison County Chancery Court,
but MID successfully fought to move the case to Hinds County, where it
was heard in August. Judge J. Dewayne Thomas dismissed the lawsuit.
Buckel’s appeal will be heard either by the state Court of Appeals or
the Supreme Court.
“We just think people have the right to know this information,” said Bay
St. Louis attorney Edward Gibson, who has agreed to handle the appeal.
“Mr. Buckel is a concerned citizen who is bearing the responsibility to
try to get this information out there.”
Buckel is trying to find out the amount of Katrina claims denied to
bolster his push for the state Legislature to pass a Policyholders Bill
of Rights. The legislation has died in committee for the past three
years. Bills are expected to be introduced again in 2010.
The most important right, Buckel says, would be full disclosure each
year by property insurance companies of the number of claims filed, paid
and denied. Hundreds of Coast policyholders, including Buckel, filed
lawsuits after Katrina, claiming their insurance companies shortchanged
Then-Insurance Commissioner George Dale frequently published a running
tally of Katrina claims filed and paid. The Sun Herald asked Dale to
also compile numbers on claims denied, but he would not. It turns out
the numbers he did publish came from the National Association of
Insurance Commissioners. MID has no records on the Katrina claims
payments, according to MID attorneys who defended the agency.
Buckel also is seeking a summary from 43,054 State Farm claims files MID
requested during a market conduct exam of the insurance company.
However, MID attorneys say state law specifically exempts the market
conduct records from public disclosure. Also, the attorneys say, the
department did not keep copies of the claims files.
While MID was conducting the exam, Dale reached an agreement with State
Farm that required the insurer to re-evaluate Coast Katrina claims and
make additional payments to policyholders. The company says an
additional $88 million was paid on 5,200 claims. State Farm said it paid
a total of almost $2.2 billion on more than 85,000 claims statewide.
Buckel believes MID must possess a summary of files that would show the
scope of State Farm claims denials leading to the re-evaluation.
Buckel represented himself before Judge Thomas, who asked why Buckel
didn’t get a bill of rights introduced in the Legislature. Buckel told
the judge it died in committee. “Imagine that,” Thomas said. After he
ruled for MID, Thomas told Buckel, “You may have a claim, but I think
you need to sue the damn insurance companies and I will be glad to hear