Federal Judge Sues Nationwide For Denying His Katrina Claim

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press Writer
Associated Press
April 20, 2006
Posted April 22, 2006

GULFPORT Miss. - A federal judge who would have presided over some lawsuits that policyholders filed against insurance companies after Hurricane Katrina is instead waging his own personal legal battle against the insurer of his Gulf Coast home.

U.S. District Court Judge Louis Guirola and his wife sued Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. on Wednesday for denying his claim and refusing to cover damage to his storm-demolished home in Long Beach.

Guirola's lawsuit is like many spawned by the debate over whether Katrina's wind or water was responsible for damage to tens of thousands of homes.

The judge's attorney, Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, said his client decided several weeks ago to recuse himself from hearing all Katrina-related insurance cases to avoid a possible conflict of interest.

"He was very reluctant to file litigation," Scruggs said during an interview in Jackson. "It's not typical that a judge would be forced to file a lawsuit. ... Most judges are very reluctant litigators and only (sue) as a last resort."

Guirola referred questions about his lawsuit to Scruggs, a high-profile lawyer who also has cases against four other insurance companies for denying policyholders' claims after the Aug. 29 storm.

Nationwide spokesman Joe Case said he could not discuss specifics of pending litigation.

"We are committed to investigating each claim on its own merits before making any coverage decisions," Case said.

However, Case pointed to a decision last week by one of Guirola's colleagues, U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter, who ruled that provisions in Allstate Corp.'s policies that exclude damage from Katrina's flood waters are "valid and enforceable."

Case said the ruling also should benefit Nationwide because the insurer has similar exclusion language in its homeowners policies.

Guirola joins two other public officials U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss. who already have filed lawsuits against their insurance carriers for denying their claims after Katrina. Scruggs, who is Lott's brother in law, represents all three men.

With Guirola stepping aside, Senter is now the only federal judge in Mississippi who is hearing these post-Katrina insurance cases, according to Scruggs, who expressed frustration with the pace of the legal process.
Copyright © 2006 Associated Press

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