Federal judge dismisses Katrina fraud claim

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A federal judge on Monday dismissed claims of fraud against State Farm Insurance by a Mississippi couple who claimed that the company denied their insurance claim for damage from Hurricane Katrina based on bad faith and fraud. US District Judge L.T. Senter, Jr. rejected the claim, writing:

Plaintiffs allege that State Farm committed actionable fraud in the handling of the plaintiffs' claim. Plaintiffs primarily rely on their contention that State Farm ordered two engineering reports from Forensic in an effort to dishonestly minimize its liability to the plaintiffs rather than for any legitimate reason. ...

Plaintiffs contend that State Farm, acting through Renfroe and Forensic, deliberately underestimated the amount of wind damage the insured property sustained in order to minimize its liability under the plaintiffs' homeowners policy. While this allegation, if sustained, would support a finding of bad faith, it is not sufficient to support an allegation of fraud. Fraud requires reasonable reliance on a misrepresentation, and the plaintiffs have not relied upon State Farm's evaluation of their claim. Indeed plaintiffs have brought this lawsuit in an effort to establish that State Farm has underestimated the wind damage to the insured property. Although plaintiffs may prevail on the merits of their claims for additional policy benefits and other extracontractual damages, including punitive damages if they establish bad faith on the part of State Farm or its agents, in the absence of any evidence that the plaintiffs relied upon State Farm's damage assessment I can see no basis for a claim of fraud.

Thomas and Pamela McIntosh filed the lawsuit against State Farm after the company refused to pay for most of the damage to their home, which State Farm concluded was caused mostly by flood damage from the storm surge.

State Farm used E.A. Renfroe & Co. to inspect the McIntosh's home, and the couple also alleged that Renfroe aided and abetted State Farm's fraudulent misconduct and that the company breached its duty of loyalty to the plaintiffs. Senter dismissed the aiding and abetting claim as he concluded there was no underlying fraud, and also dismissed the breach of duty claim.

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