Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Class Action Redux: Ivan 'Wind versus Water'

The Pensacola News Journal today is carrying Paige St. John's report that a Tallahassee circuit court judge has again certified a class action lawsuit against state-owned windstorm insurer Citizens Property Insurance. The class action status had to be re-decided on order from the First District Court of Appeal.
Following a two-hour hearing Monday, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis declared lawyers met the burden of proving enough unpaid policyholders remain to let the aging case start anew.

Citizens' attorney Alan Howard contended hundreds of private homeowners already have sued the state-run insurer, and that Citizens is either settling those cases, or losing them in court.
According to a Citizens spokesman, "some 400 open cases" remain pending that would be included in the class action. The ruling no doubt will be appealed again, causing further delays in resolving these cases.

In most states, a class action suit would be the most efficient, least expensive, and the fairest way to
resolve common issues of law, such as applicability of the then-existing Florida "valued policy" law, and common issues of fact, such as the early evening strength and lengthy duration of high, destructive winds on Pensacola Beach several hours before flood waters even touched Via DeLuna.

But not in Florida. Legislative and judicial rules have made Florida one of the least friendly states in the U.S. when it comes to consolidating multiple lawsuits which involve substantially similar issues into a single class action case.

Those rules can be traced back
to long-standing efforts by politically conservative business industry lobbyists seeking to discourage enforcement of consumer protection laws. Too bad for the consumer or homeowner who can't afford his or her own attorney. But it's great for companies like Citizens Property Insurance.

Not only will Citizens Property appeal again, most insurers with hurricane Ivan or Dennis claims still open likely plan on stringing things out now until the next storm, or the one after that, when everyone's memory has begun to fade, the expert witnesses are all dead, and the original lawyers on the case have been replaced by their grandchildren.

Welcome to Bleak House:
Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.


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