5th Circuit upholds judge in Katrina damage case

Published 12:32 am Thursday, May 28, 2009

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a judge’s ruling that dismissed an engineering firm from a lawsuit involving a Hurricane Katrina damage case.

David and Marilyn Aikens, of Pass Christian, Miss., appealed U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr.’s ruling to dismiss Rimkus Consulting Group Inc. as a defendant in the Aikens’ lawsuit over their damage claim filed following the 2005 storm.

Senter ruled the Aikens failed to show that Houston, Texas-based Rimkus acted with gross negligence or malice.

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In Tuesday’s ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Senter’s decision.

In their lawsuit, the Aikens said a Rimkus engineer initially concluded Katrina’s winds were strong enough to destroy their home — a “very favorable” finding for the homeowners. The couple claims a Rimkus team leader later revised the engineer’s report to “mollify the language,” so their claim could be denied by USAA Casualty Insurance Co.

A federal jury in Gulfport in January 2008 ordered USAA to pay an additional $64,000 to the Aikens for wind damage to their home and its contents during the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane.

The amount was only a fraction of the maximum $427,087 that jurors could have awarded to the Aikens for wind coverage under their homeowner policy.

USAA already has paid the couple $178,204 for wind damage under their homeowner policy, which had total coverage limits of $582,750 for the dwelling and its contents. The couple also had a separate, federally subsidized flood policy that paid them $278,000.

The Aikens are not appealing that verdict.