State Farm settles Katrina cases

State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. initiated or reopened settlement talks with policyholders after a federal judge in April disqualified their attorneys from handling up to 200 suits against the Bloomington, Ill.-based company.

At least 13 homeowners were representing themselves, without an attorney, when they agreed to settle their suits for undisclosed terms, Thursday’s court filings show.

“We’ve always been willing to re-engage, one on one, with our customers about their claims,” State Farm spokesman Phil Supple said. “We’re willing to speak with them whether they’re represented by counsel or not.”

State Farm made settlement overtures in letters it sent to policyholders whose lawyers were disqualified last month by U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr. in Gulfport, Miss.

Fabin and Doris Ladnier, who sued State Farm for denying a claim on their Biloxi rental property, negotiated a settlement without an attorney. Doris Ladnier said she and her husband wanted to avoid the hassle of hiring a new lawyer.

“It’s very satisfying,” she said of the settlement. “I think it turned out for the best.”

Judy Guice, a lawyer who has been hired by several former clients of the Scruggs Katrina Group, said she would advise policyholders to consult an attorney before they reach a settlement. But she doesn’t fault anyone for forging ahead without one.

“People have got to be able to put this behind them and move on with their lives,” she said.

Meanwhile, state insurance regulators are wrapping up a long-awaited report on State Farm’s handling of policyholder claims after Katrina. The 18-month study of State Farm should be completed by the end of May, Deputy Insurance Commissioner Lee Harrell said Thursday.

Clarion Ledger