Judge: Suits Over Alleged Falsified Katrina Damage Reports to Go to Trial

September 15, 2006

A federal judge in Gulfport, Miss., has refused to dismiss two lawsuits that accuse a Texas engineering firm and two engineers of falsifying Hurricane Katrina damage reports to benefit insurance companies.

U.S. District Court Judge L.T. Senter Jr. said in an order this week that the lawsuits against engineering firm Rimkus Consulting Group of Houston and engineers Thomas E. Heifner and Gary L. Bell will go to trial.

In the two separate cases, homeowners maintain that engineer Ken Overstreet examined their properties and submitted reports saying Katrina’s winds caused 50 percent or more of the damage.

Rimkus, Heifner and Bell altered the reports to blame the damage on storm surge so the insurance companies would not have to pay the claims, the lawsuits allege.

In one case, Overstreet’s name was signed to the original and altered reports. He maintains his signature was forged on the second report.

Senter reviewed the documents and concluded: “In comparing the signature on the first report with the one on the second, it is readily apparent that the same person did not write both.”

Rimkus submitted the challenged reports in both cases to CGI Adjusters Inc., which adjusted Katrina claims for the homeowners’ insurance companies, the lawsuits allege.

Clarendon National Insurance, who insured James O. “Bud” and Louise Ray of Long Beach, is a defendant in their lawsuit. Meritplan Insurance is a defendant in the lawsuit filed by policyholders Hubert W. and Joyce F. Smith of Gulfport.

The lawsuits seek recovery of insurance proceeds and punitive damages.

The defendants deny any wrongdoing. Rimkus and the engineers maintain Overstreet’s first report was actually a “draft.”

“A draft undergoes material changes as additional information is gathered and analyzed,” according to a defense document in the Ray lawsuit. “This is what occurred in this case.”

Topics Lawsuits Legislation

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