Long Island communities like this, shown in a Coast Guard photograph, were heavily impacted by Hurricane Sandy. More than a year after the disaster, the courts are facing hundreds of lawsuits. (U.S. Coast Guard)
As the Eastern District of New York faces a glut of nearly 900 Hurricane Sandy-related insurance claim denials and alleged underpayments, liason counsel for the insurance defendants has submitted its part of a plan to help expedite the cases through the system.
The defense filed a list of legal issues it expects to encounter, such as the presumption that the insured know and consent to a policy’s contents, and that the insured has the burden of “establishing not only that a covered loss occurred, but also the value of that loss,” according to one liaison counsel, Jared Greisman of White Fleischner & Fino in Manhattan.
The March 7 filing came in response to a Feb. 21 case management order adopted by the Eastern District in In re Hurricane Sandy Cases, 14-mc-41, a case the court opened for pretrial administration in actions regarding Sandy-related insurance disputes.
The 11-page order, released by Magistrate Judges Cheryl Pollak (See Profile), Gary Brown (See Profile) and Ramon Reyes Jr. (See Profile), followed their request for input from attorneys on both sides about how to handle the cases (NYLJ, Feb. 13).
The Eastern District’s Board of Judges reviewed and approved the case management order prior to its release. The order acknowledged “various interests that need to be balanced” and that “there is no universal approach that will facilitate a speedy and fair resolution to these cases.”
Still, the order continued, “The Court has taken certain steps to ease the burden and expense upon the litigants and the Court.”
As a result, the order grouped cases related to the same property with one judge and magistrate judge and tapped liaison counsel.
Apart from Greisman, the other defense liaison counsel is Gerald Nielsen of Nielsen, Carter & Treas in Metairie, La.
Plaintiffs’ liaison counsel are Tracey Rannals Bryan of Gautheir Houghtaling & Williams in Metairie, La. and Javier Delgado of the Merlin Law Group, which is based in Tampa but also has offices in New York and New Jersey.
The case management order mandated automatic disclosures by both sides within 60 days of its issuance on matters such as documentation and assessment of claimed losses. Additionally, it included a provision for alternative dispute resolution through arbitration or mediation.
Along those lines, the order sought a defense-side list of commonly occurring legal issues. Attorneys representing plaintiffs must now file their own submissions, providing “any contrary legal authority” as they respond to the defense-side filing.
“While the ultimate determination of any such legal issue or defense may well be fact driven, and the outcome of any legal defense or issue will be determined by the individual judge assigned to each case, the Committee seeks this information in order to educate and fully prepare our mediators and arbitrators with the hope of expediting the settlement process,” said the order.
The same day as Greisman’s filing, Nielsen, of Nielsen Carter, submitted a proposal to modify the order related to the adjudication of flood insurance disputes.
Like the Eastern District, New Jersey’s federal courts are coping with hundreds of Sandy-related cases that insureds have filed against carriers.
The Superstorm Sandy Litigation Committee for the District of New Jersey held a public hearing last week to receive input from lawyers and other interested parties on optimal ways for proceeding with the litigation.
After the New Jersey meeting, the eight-judge committee began drafting a case management order, on which all the district’s judges will vote before the month’s end, said Chief Judge Jerome Simandle.
The New Jersey case management order likely won’t employ a common docket or liaison counsel, in contrast to a similar order issued in the Eastern District of New York on Feb. 21, Simandle said.