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Hurricane Katrina Lawsuit Textbook Example Of When Not To Use Class Action Device: Class Action Defense Issues

Class Action Defense Attorneys Agree With Plaintiffs’ Lawyer’s Assessment of Case

A lawsuit by Paul and Julie Leonard against Nationwide is the first lawsuit against a liability insurer for home damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to go to trial, according to today’s New York Times. The article by Joseph Treaster details the difference between insurance claims arising out of Katrina for wind damage (generally covered) and flood damage (generally excluded from coverage). Treaster also reports that many homeowners claim their insurance agent told them not to buy flood insurance because “it wasn’t necessary.” But while Hurricane Katrina affected tens of thousands of people, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, an experienced class action attorney, elected to bring the Leonards’ claim on their behalf only “because it could take years to receive court certification for a class action.” But plaintiffs’ lawyer is quoted as saying, “Time is of the essence. These people need the insurance money to rebuild.” Class action defense attorneys agree that the case would not have made it to trial this quickly if plaintiffs’ lawyer had pursued a class action. As one class action defense attorney opined, “The case most likely still would be winding its way through precertification discovery if it had been brought as a class action. Both the plaintiffs’ lawyer and the defense attorneys would be required in a class action to conduct broader discovery, looking into issues of numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy of the plaintiffs to serve as class representatives.”

By focusing on the issues surrounding the claims of the plaintiffs only, plaintiffs’ lawyer eliminated the risk of his case getting bogged down in precertification discovery, and the class certification hearing that would follow. Based on his experience with class actions, plaintiffs’ lawyer undoubtedly knew also that he avoided possible writ proceedings that would have further delayed the trial date. In short, plaintiffs’ counsel demonstrated that an experienced class action attorney knows when to avoid filing class actions.

Treaster’s article, entitled “Katrina Victims Say Agents Advised Against Flood Coverage,” may be found in Section C of the July 14, 2006 edition of the New York Times.