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Monday, August 20, 2007

Consumer Advocates Help Defeat Allstate's Efforts to Hide its Post-Katrina Pay-Out Procedures

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Aug. 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Allstate Insurance Company will not be allowed to hide trial exhibits that include the company's pay-out procedures for Hurricane Katrina claims thanks, in part, to efforts by Public Justice, a national public interest law firm headquartered in Washington DC, and the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).

On August 16, United States District Judge Sarah Vance in New Orleans refused to seal the trial exhibits in Weiss v. Allstate, the case of a New Orleans couple who earlier this year won a $2.8 million verdict against Allstate for illegally refusing a hurricane- related claim. In so ruling, the Court noted that "[p]ublic access serves to enhance the transparency and trustworthiness of the judicial process, to curb judicial abuses, and to allow the public to understand the judicial system better."

The documents are available for download at:

"We are thrilled that the Court has rejected Allstate's request to seal these exhibits," said Public Justice Attorney Michael Lucas, lead counsel for FTCR. "This ruling vindicates the public's right to know and it prevents Allstate from hiding its behavior in the wake of Hurricane Katrina."

Several months after the jury verdict in Weiss, the insurance company had asked the court to either return or seal the trial exhibits, which include Allstate's manual for handling claims and an operational guide for subcontractors engaged to work on Katrina-related damage. Representing FTCR, Public Justice opposed Allstate's request on the ground that the trial exhibits provide insight into Allstate's decision-making process and that denying public access to them "would directly impede FCTR's mission of educating the public about insurance practices and abuses." The motion to seal was also opposed by plaintiffs' counsel in the case.

In refusing Allstate's request for secrecy, the Court specifically rejected Allstate's argument that public access to the trial exhibits would cause it prejudice in other litigation involving hurricane-Katrina claims, holding that "[w]hen, as here, the documents are in the possession of the court as trial exhibits, the case is even stronger for permitting other litigants to have access to them." The Court further ruled that Allstate had failed to identify any specific reason why disclosure of the materials "might be harmful to Allstate's competitive position."

"Allstate clearly did not want to disclose the internal proce-dures by which it handled the claims of Katrina survivors, but the public and policymakers have a right to know why and how insurance companies make decisions to pay or not to pay in the wake of disasters," said FTCR' Executive Director Doug Heller. "This ruling will prevent Allstate from using the court system as a cloak of secrecy."

Public Justice Staff Attorney Leslie Brueckner and cooperating counsel Brian D. Katz, Stephen J. Herman, Joseph E. Cain, and Soren E. Gisleson of Herman Herman Katz & Cotlar, LLP in New Orleans are also representing FTCR.

Read the court order and briefs for Weiss v. Allstate at

SOURCE: Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights

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