Mississippi Sues Insurance Companies for Flood Damage

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We lived down South for a few years in an area periodically hit by hurricanes. We purchased a house there. Like anyone, we were required by the bank to get homeowners insurance to cover the mortgage in case something happened. However, our property was not considered to be in a flood area, so we were not required to purchase flood insurance. We looked into it anyway and found the premiums to be cost prohibitive, so we didn’t get it.

One hurricane that approached was forecasted to be a category four. We were scared s—less. Looking at the storm surge map for a category four hurricane, we saw that our house would be in three to four feet of water —and our crawl space was only three feet at the maximum.

The hurricane that worried us so, came a day later than expected and had weakened to a category one. Aside from losing a few roof shingles and some branches off one of our trees, we came through unscathed.

We were scared because we didn’t have flood insurance. We knew we didn’t have flood insurance. The bank knew we didn’t have flood insurance. The city knew we didn’t need flood insurance. I’m guessing the state even knew we didn’t need flood insurance.

In Mississippi, apparently a lot of people didn’t have flood insurance either; but they got a category four hurricane. The Associated Press reports that the state is trying to do something about it now:

Mississippi on Thursday sued insurers to force them to pay billions of dollars in flood damage from Hurricane Katrina, saying standard insurance polices have led homeowners to believe they are covered for all hurricane damage, whether from high winds or storm surges.

To deny coverage to those whose homes were wiped out by the storm surge, but lacked flood insurance, is “taking advantage of people in the most dire straits,” said Attorney General Jim Hood, who filed the lawsuit.

“We intend to … make sure the insurance companies pay all that they owe these people on the coast,” he said.

I don’t know how it works in Mississippi, but where I was, there were endless forms and disclosures, explaining that our insurer didn’t cover flood damage.

I am not driving toward a ‘personal responsibility’ argument here. This could have easily happened to me. Not everyone can afford to insure against every eventuality. Nor can everybody that lives with higher-than-desirable risk factors just pick up and move away.

So, does what the insurers have done go against my sensibilities? Yes. It doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense for flood insurance to be separate from homeowners insurance.

Is what the insurers have done is perfectly legal? Also yes.

This lawsuit seems like a suicide mission to me. Why go after these companies on such a well-known practice? (Is it as well-known as I think?)

If this lawsuit is successful, won’t insurers raise premiums to mitigate the effects of such lawsuits in the future? Will they be gracious enough to actually provide flood coverage in exchange for higher premiums? (Feh.) Won’t higher premiums become a barrier to folks wanting to rebuild and continue living there?

Would it have been better to address these concerns before catastrophe struck? Maybe they have. They apparently answer the ‘perfectly legal’ question differently than I do.

The suit claims the flood exclusions violate state public policy, contradict common law and are an unfair or deceptive trade practice.

The AP report doesn’t offer any insight into state policy or common law.

Another part of the lawsuit makes perfect sense, though. We’ve got to give ’em hell on crap like this:

The lawsuit also seeks to block the use of a claims adjustment form that requires homeowners to acknowledge their damage was caused by flooding.

The form includes the sentence: “This agreement acknowledges you have sustained a flood loss on the above date at the above address.”

Associated Press: Miss. sues to force insurers to pay all hurricane damage

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