Examiners still working on State Farm market conduct study

The state will finish a study of how State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. handled claims after Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi Deputy Insurance Commissioner Lee Harrell said Wednesday.

The study, anticipated before the end of 2007, began 18 months ago. Former Insurance Commissioner George Dale ordered the study because of consumer complaints about how insurance companies handled Hurricane Katrina claims.

Harrell said examiners for the department have in some instances had to wait behind federal investigators reviewing some of the same information.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office will not discuss its investigation, but has so far declined to prosecute a lawsuit in which two former claims adjusters accuse State Farm of defrauding the federal government by charging the flood program for wind damage the company should have covered.

State Farm has denied any wrongdoing, instead accusing Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood of “conspiring” with policyholders’ attorney Dickie Scruggs to pressure the company into settling Katrina claims.

Over the past few months, State Farm has successfully fended off Hood’s criminal investigation, and won court rulings that disqualify Scruggs and his legal associates from representing policyholders in Katrina cases. U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr. also has barred the two former claims adjusters, Cori and Kerri Rigsby, from testifying for policyholders.

Senter ruled that Scruggs and associates breached legal ethics by paying the Rigsbys consulting salaries after they took thousands of pages of State Farm records in June 2006, informed the company and lost their jobs.

The state’s market conduct study delved into all these areas.

Jimmy Blissett, a certified financial examiner in the Jackson area, is overseeing the examination being paid for by State Farm.

“It is a slow process,” Harrell said. “It takes a lot to go interview people, review hundreds of thousands of documents, to find out hopefully, what happened.

“There’s not going to [be] a report that makes everybody and his brother happy.

“What I’m concerned about is making sure the facts and the truth are out there. And that’s what our report is going to do. Our intent is to put the truth out there.”

Sun Herald
5/7/8