WASHINGTON, D.C. - A week ago, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood warned the five insurance companies he is suing over an alleged lack of coverage in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that if they didn't reach a settlement, Congress would get involved.
On Thursday, Mississippi Democratic Sen. Trent Lott did just that, announcing that he will join with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, in introducing a bill that would repeal the federal antitrust exemption for the property/casualty insurance industry.
As predicted a week ago by Hood, Mississippi Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson and Gene Taylor also got involved by asking the Financial Services Committee look into an alleged "failure in the insurance system," according to a report in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
Last Thursday, U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter took a couple's case against State Farm out of the jurors' hands by ruling himself that State Farm is liable for $223,292 in damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to the Biloxi home of Norman and Genevieve Broussard.
Friday, the jury got involved by awarding the Broussards the maximum amount of punitive damages: $2.5 million.
Obviously thrilled with the verdict considering he has his own lawsuit against State Farm and four other companies (Allstate, Nationwide, Farm Bureau and USAA), Hood said afterward that he hopes that his opponents "will come to their senses and reach a settlement agreement."
"However," he added, "if they continue with their 'robber baron' mentality, I think that Congressmen Taylor and Thompson and Sen. Lott will see to it that we have national insurance reform."
"Robber baron" is defined as "a ruthlessly powerful U.S. capitalist or industrialist of the late 19th century considered to have become wealthy by exploiting natural resources, corrupting legislators or other unethical means."
It isn't the first time Hood has used an unorthodox method to settle the class-action suit. In late December, he urged citizens to call their insurance companies and push for a settlement.
The suit was filed only a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the area. Some criticized Hood for a "sue-first, ask-questions-later" mentality.
And Lott, who has his own personal lawsuit against State Farm for wind damage done to his beachfront home and is represented by nationally known plaintiffs attorney Richard Scruggs (also his brother-in-law), was recently called by "perhaps the biggest hypocrite of tort reform" by tortdeform.com.