Policyholders are casualties in a battle that has pitted State Farm and one of its vendors, E.A. Renfroe, against the Scruggs Katrina Group of attorneys, U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr. wrote in an eight-page opinion filed this week.
Senter issued the opinion and an accompanying order that denies Renfroe’s motion for sanctions against SKG and policyholders for filing “baseless” lawsuits against the independent firm that supplied Katrina adjusters to State Farm. The company wanted reimbursement for all costs associated with defending itself in 88 of these lawsuits.
Senter said none of those lawsuits has gone to trial and Renfroe has not proven the charges are groundless. To impose sanctions, he said, he would have to find SKG filed the lawsuits knowing they were without merit.
Senter pointed out he has disqualified SKG from handling the cases, along with former Renfroe adjusters Cori and Kerri Rigsby, who worked on State Farm claims after Katrina. Senter recently found SKG breached legal ethics by paying salaries to the women after they lost their jobs for taking thousands of pages of State Farm documents they hoped would prove fraud.
Senter made reference to the Alabama case, then concluded his opinion with a poignant observation:
“In the hundreds of cases brought against State Farm by the SKG, I have watched the property damage insurance claims, the contract claims at the heart (of) these cases, being pushed off their rightful place at center stage by the escalating heat of the battles among State Farm, Renfroe and the SKG.
“This conflagration has not advanced the interests of the policyholders nor the ultimate resolution of these cases. In many instances, the litigants’ interests have been among the battlefield casualties. With the SKG having been disqualified as counsel in all the Court’s remaining State Farm cases, it is my sincere hope that the type of normal, professional, and focused advocacy necessary to resolve the individual merits of the cases still outstanding will presently come to the fore.”