The American Insurance Association has responded to stunningly careless and inappropriate public comments made last week by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, in which he compared insurance companies dealing with Hurricane Katrina claims to “Nazis locking arms, coming at those people down there on the coast.”
Hood has filed litigation seeking to force private sector insurers to pay for billions of dollars of property losses caused by flooding and storm surge, neither of which typically are covered by homeowners insurance contracts. The flood coverage exclusion language, which is part of a policy form approved by the state of Mississippi, was upheld last week by the U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Mississippi. AIA participated in an amicus brief in that case (Buente v Allstate).
AIA’s response to Hood’s comments came in the form of a letter to the Attorney General from AIA President (and former Montana Attorney General and Governor) Marc Racicot. In the letter, Governor Racicot expressed surprise and sadness at Hood’s inaccurate, inflammatory rhetoric.
While recognizing that “Hurricane Katrina did unleash a terrible tragedy upon the people of Mississippi,” Racicot emphasized that “comparing the insurance response to this unprecedented natural disaster to the Holocaust is appalling. Also appalling is your comparison of tens of thousands of insurance company representatives who have been working tirelessly to help settle Hurricane Katrina claims to Nazis.”
Setting the record straight in the face of Hood’s criticism of insurers’ response to Hurricane Katrina, Racicot reminded the attorney general that, “dozens of insurance companies have worked around the clock since Hurricane Katrina came ashore, handling more than 500,000 claims in Mississippi alone, and paying billions of dollars to Mississippi homeowners and businesses as compensation for their losses. These insurers will continue working diligently and professionally until all Hurricane Katrina claims are successfully settled, so that Mississippians can reconstruct their homes and businesses, and resume their lives.”
As a former state attorney general and governor, Racicot added that he believes public officials rightly are held to a high standard of public discourse. “Words have power,” Racicot pointed out, and expressed his hope that Hood would refrain from such incendiary comments in the future and “instead focus on working through the many challenges facing those who are deeply committed to rebuilding the Gulf Coast.”
Beyond the letter, Racicot noted that “for the sake of the people and economy of Mississippi, we all should hope that Attorney General Hood does not prevail in his litigation to undo valid insurance contracts. This would be a tremendous detriment to the redevelopment and repopulation of the Gulf Coast in his state, as insurers and other businesses of all kinds would essentially be told that their contracts are meaningless.”