Lott Sues Over Katrina Damage

ByABC News
December 16, 2005, 1:44 PM

Dec. 16, 2005 — -- He was once one of the most powerful Republicans on Capitol Hill. He was also an icon of GOP policies such as the drive to limit lawsuits in what many Republicans dub an overly litigious society. Now Sen. Trent Lott is himself a plaintiff in an effort to recoup losses caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Lott, R-Miss., is suing his insurance company to collect for damage to his beachfront home in Pascagoula, which was leveled by Hurricane Katrina.

"I have joined in a lawsuit against my longtime insurance company because it will not honor my policy, nor those of thousands of other Mississippians," said Lott.

The federal case is part of an ongoing fight between insurance companies and storm victims. At issue is whether a wind-driven storm surge is the same as flooding. Insurance companies say they shouldn't have to pay for water damage for those who did not have flood policies.

"There is no credible argument that there was no wind damage to my home in Pascagoula," says Lott.

Lott's insurance company, State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. says the damage caused by Katrina in Mississippi and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast was plain to see. Officials, however, did not have much to say about Lott's suit specifically.

"We can't comment on this litigation," said Phil Supple, spokesman for State Farm. "We handle each claim on its own merits and we pay what we owe based on our contract with the policy holder."

Lott is being represented by the law office run by his powerful attorney brother-in-law Richard "Dickie" Scruggs. Scruggs, who also lost his beachfront home, led the charge in the landmark tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s. He has promised to use his clout to get insurance companies to pay up.

"My hope is that this litigation will set a precedent for the thousands of other Mississippi homeowners holding policies for coverage against hurricane wind damage that are not being honored by their insurance companies for Katrina," says Scruggs.

While Lott and his brother-in-law are in agreement, state leaders in Mississippi are not. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour says he prefers to negotiate with insurance companies, saying lawsuits could force the companies out of Mississippi.

However, Attorney General Jim Hood, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mississippians with standard homeowner's policies, says the companies should cover hurricane damage no matter if the loss is from wind damage or a storm surge.

Damage to Mississippi homes alone is estimated in the billions.