On Aug. 29, 2005, at approximately 6 a.m., Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Only two hours later, the levees in New Orleans gave way. As the third-strongest hurricane to make landfall in the United States, Hurricane Katrina was responsible for taking more than 1836 lives and causing more than $81.2 billion in damages — making it the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history. The hurricane displaced 500,000 families and destroyed 275,000 homes. James A. Knox Jr., “Causation, The Flood Exclusion, and Katrina,” 41 Tort Trial & Ins. Prac. L.J. 901, 902 (2006). The insurance industry has paid more than $40 billion in connection with Hurricane Katrina claims. David Dankwa, “New Orleans Port Trumpets Insurance Dispute at RIMS,” A.M. Best: BestWire, May 2, 2007. The Insurance Services Office estimates 1.6 million claims will be made — including residential property, commercial property, vehicle and vessel claims. See Knox, “Causation,” at 905.
Current reports indicate there are well over 1100 Katrina lawsuits filed against insurance companies. “With 1,100 Katrina Lawsuits, Court Schedule Stretches into 2008,” Insurance Journal, Oct. 20, 2006. By the end of 2006, there were approximately 70 Katrina decisions handed down in Louisiana, and 50 such decisions rendered in Mississippi. Rhonda Orin, “First-Party Coverage for Catastrophic Risks,” 758 PLI/Lit 89, 94 (April-May 2007). The early Katrina cases have focused on four interesting coverage issues involving: 1) the enforceability of flood exclusions, 2) the effect of “anti-concurrent causation” provisions, 3) coverage for “slab” situations where policyholders’ homes have been reduced to the foundation, and 4) coverage for losses caused by flooding due to levee breaches in New Orleans that allegedly occurred due to negligent design and maintenance.
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