Engineer testifies at trial for hurricane suit against Allstate

Published 3:48 pm Wednesday, April 11, 2007

An engineer who testified Tuesday at the trial for a Louisiana couple’s lawsuit against Allstate Insurance Co. said he wrote a report on the plaintiffs’ storm-damaged home without inspecting the property after Hurricane Katrina.

Allstate refused to pay for much of the damage to the Slidell home of Robert and Merryl Weiss after the company’s engineering consultant, Craig Rogers, concluded that Katrina’s storm surge was responsible for most of it.

Allstate, based in Northbrook, Ill., and other insurers say their policies cover damage from a hurricane’s wind but not its rising water. The Weisses are among hundreds of homeowners in Louisiana and Mississippi who have sued their insurers for refusing to pay for Katrina damage.

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Before Rogers issued his report in February 2006, two other Allstate consultants inspected the Weisses’ home and told the couple that Katrina’s winds caused the majority of damage, according to the couple’s attorneys.

Rogers, an assistant manager for Rimkus Consulting Group, said he rewrote a report prepared by surveyor Jim Neva to reflect his conclusion that Katrina’s storm surge caused most of the damage to the Weisses’ home.

“It wasn’t deleted. It was simply rewritten,” he said of Neva’s report. “We came to an agreement that all of the conclusions were accurate.”

Rogers said he didn’t have any contact with anyone from the Northbrook, Ill.-based insurer before he rewrote Neva’s report.

Rogers, who testified Tuesday during the second day of the trial in federal court, said he wrote reports on several hundred Gulf Coast properties after the Aug. 29, 2005, storm without conducting site inspections for more than half of them.

Allstate attorney Judy Barrasso asked Rogers if it’s “perfectly proper” to write a report on a home without inspecting the property.

“It’s common,” said Rogers, who acknowledged, “Ideally, you want to be able to go out there.”

Rogers said he visited the Weisses’ property after he issued his report, to take measurements and photographs.

Also on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance issued a subpoena for Mung Hatter, a woman who worked for Allstate, to testify about a report that the company submitted as part of the Weisses’ claim with the National Flood Insurance Program.

The Weisses’ attorneys accuse Allstate of misrepresenting the couple’s flood insurance claim so that the federal government would pay for a greater share of the damage to their waterfront home.

Allstate paid the Weisses $350,000 for coverage under their flood policy, which is funded through the federal flood insurance program, but only $29,483 for structural damage to their home and $14,787 for additional living expenses under their homeowner policy. The couple claims Allstate owes them hundreds of thousands of dollars more under the latter policy.

The Weisses submitted a list of storm-damaged belongings worth about $38,000 that they wanted to be covered by their flood policy. Allstate’s report to the NFIP, signed by Hatter, listed about $139,000 worth of belongings, according to the couple’s attorneys.

Richard Trahant, one of the Weisses’ lawyers, asked Allstate adjuster Michael Wells on Tuesday whether he thinks somebody at Allstate “fabricated” that list of contents, so that the federal government would pay for more damage.

“They had to have a source” for the numbers, Wells said. “That’s not a normal procedure to pull numbers out of the air.”

Meanwhile, Allstate lawyer Judy Barrasso has argued that the Weisses misrepresented their claim. Barrasso says the couple demanded that the company pay them at least $34,000 for a boathouse that Allstate says wasn’t located on the insured property when Katrina hit.