Residents Bring Insurance Companies to City Court – American Press
The wheels of justice are turning at Lake Charles Municipal Court. Two weeks ago, a homeowner’s case against his insurance company was decided. City Court Judge Ron Richard ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the landlord, finding the insurance company’s behavior to be “arbitrary and capricious” in breach of its duties to the insured, according to that office’s records. So far, about 200 cases have been filed in city court over how insurers treated policyholders after property was damaged by Hurricanes Laura and Delta.
“This is a record judgment for the city and the first judgment by a municipal court to provide a gauge for homeowners, attorneys and insurance companies,” Richard said. “I want the public to know that the wheels of justice don’t have to turn as slowly as they think.”
Municipal courts exercise concurrent jurisdiction with the district court in civil cases where the disputed amount does not exceed $50,000. Lake Charles Municipal Court is for residents of Ward 3 only. In this case, the insurance company could have to pay more than $200,000.
“One of the jurisdictional limits of this court is the amount in dispute,” said Russ Stutes, a Lake Charles attorney. “However, under La. Code Civ. Part. 4841(B), the amount in dispute “does not include interest, court costs, attorney’s fees, or penalties.”
Stutes called the City Court, “a cost-effective and quick option.”
“City court, by its very nature, is expeditious. Therefore, what typically takes longer in state or federal court takes months in municipal court, rather than years,” Richard said.
“Judge Bice and Judge Richard are also very accommodating to plaintiffs and pro se (unrepresented) defendants,” Stutes said.
The stay-at-home order in March caused a backlog of civil litigation in Louisiana with no promise of recovery anytime soon, discouraging homeowners whose insurance claims were delayed, denied or underpaid after Hurricane Laura. Hurricanes Delta, Zeta and now Ida have compounded the problems to get the courts to judge. Lowering the jury trial threshold amount further compounded the problem. However, it is important to note that Louisiana has introduced measures to streamline the process.
Louisiana generally recognizes the right to a jury trial, Stutes explained. However, the exclusions have to do not only with the amount of money involved, but the type of claim.
“I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t add a disclaimer that this is not legal advice,” Stutes said. “I encourage anyone reading this to consult an attorney who can provide more information based on the facts and circumstances of their situation.”
Hurricane Laura was so devastating and the response from insurance companies so weak that it prompted people who probably had never considered seeking the help of a lawyer to do so, Stutes said.
“Even if you’re going to speak with a lawyer, that doesn’t mean you have to act,” he said. “This is an opportunity to find out what rights you can claim. Ultimately, what you do is your decision.