Florida couple accept settlement in lawsuit against State Farm

Published 5:12 pm Friday, October 5, 2007

A lawsuit in a Mississippi court over Hurricane Katrina damage ended Thursday with a settlement between the insurance company and the Florida couple.

It was the first Katrina-related insurance case to be brought in a state court. Others have been filed in federal court.

Florida residents Ray and Marie Van Meerten were seeking $144,000 in coverage, plus loss of rent and punitive damages, for a Bay St. Louis rental home that they claimed Katrina rendered uninhabitable.

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Harrison County Circuit Judge Steve Simpson had not yet ruled on whether punitive damages, designed to punish bad corporate behavior, would have applied in the case.

Terms of the settlement between State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. and the Van Meertens were not disclosed.

In a statement released Thursday, State Farm said: “Although we were confident in the direction this case was proceeding, we’re happy to have resolved this case today. It’s unfortunate it took three days of testimony before the plaintiffs gave serious consideration to our settlement offer. Nonetheless, we are pleased to have come to an amicable settlement.”

One of the Van Meertens’ attorneys, George Healy IV, said: “We worked very hard. I think that Judge Simpson was instrumental in helping both sides reach common ground.”

Testimony indicated the Van Meertens’ property was subjected to a storm surge of about 21 feet. The State Farm adjuster who inspected the property concluded water, excluded from coverage, reached the ceiling in one unit and stopped near the top of a cathedral ceiling in the other unit, according to testimony. The home was on pilings.

State Farm found covered wind damage to the roof and areas just beneath it, but the amount was well below the Van Meertens’ 2 percent “hurricane deductible” of $2,400.

Ray Van Meerten testified that he had requested complete coverage on the property and thought his policy covered all hurricane damage. However, State Farm contended that Van Meerten, as a longtime real estate investor, knew he needed a flood policy to cover the water damage.