Isabel Victims Want Full Settlement, Threaten Suit
The Capital (Annapolis, MD)
January 23, 2005
by E.B. FURGURSON III, Staff Writer
Shady Side's Jennifer Dieux was dreading winter.
Cold weather before Christmas froze the water and sewage
pipes in the government trailer she's lived in since Tropical
Storm Isabel struck in 2003. Now she hopes the current cold
snap won't do it again.
She and other victims of the storm are threatening to sue
the companies and government entities that run the federal
Flood Insurance Program, claiming it has shorted them of funds
needed to rebuild their lives.
A demand letter sent Jan. 9 from a Rockville attorney
representing 140 families in seven states warns they will file
a lawsuit against government agencies, insurance companies and
related contractors if a settlement is not secured by
"It's a last resort. We have tried everything else," said
Ms. Deiux, who shares the trailer with her husband, Eric McKay
and three pre-teen sons. "We just want our money."
A class-action lawsuit filed in federal court last May also
included county families, and seeks damages and other results
from seven insurance companies. That case is still in
In an unusual step, state Insurance Commissioner Alfred W.
Redmer Jr. wrote a letter last week telling storm victims how
to get involved in both lawsuits.
While noting the state is not endorsing any law office or
lawsuit, he told victims of the class-action being brought by
a Washington firm and the law firm that sent the demand
letter, including phone number and e-mail contacts.
He even said his office would help people get in touch with
the latter firm, and had received some calls on it by
Mr. Redmer, who earlier determined his agency had no
grounds to take up the fight because the federal insurance
program was beyond its purview, said the decision to write the
letter was indeed unusual.
"But these are very unusual circumstances. These are
families that have not received money they believe they are
entitled to," he said.
Attorney Martin Freeman sent the demand letter to
government agencies, insurance companies, independent
adjusters, even Computer Sciences Corporation, the
conglomerate that oversees the entire National Flood Insurance
Program. In it he set the February deadline and warned the
suit would follow.
"But we hope it does not come to that," Mr. Freeman said.
"At this point all we want is a quick settlement so these
families can put their lives back together."
Computer Sciences Corporation referred any press inquiries
to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
There, spokesman James McIntyre said, "It is FEMA policy
based on instructions from counsel that we cannot comment on
cases in litigation."
Robert Enten, a lawyer and Maryland lobbyist for the
Property and Casualty Insurance Association could not
"I'm not familiar with the letter. I'd like to help you,
but I am just not familiar with it," he said.
If the suit moves forward, and the plaintiffs case holds up
in court, the defendants could have to pay out a lot more.
Indemnity insurance, protecting companies against suits for
mistakes, does not cover fraud.
And Mr. Freeman's letter states a case can be made
indicating a "conspiracy to commit fraud, the carrying out of
that fraud, and the cover-up of that fraud. "
He said there is a virtual library of documents, written
and videotaped, to back the case up.
The letter from Mr. Redmer, sent to 1,300 families that
filed flood insurance complaints with his agency, said the
window for getting in on the class-action suit was soon
Attorney Victoria Nugent, of the Washington law firm that
filed the class action - Cohen, Milstein, Hausfield and Toll -
said there is no firm drop dead date in that suit because the
one-year window to file a suit varies from case to case.
She said the class action lawsuit is limited to policy
holders with the seven insurance carriers named in the filing,
and she did not know the number of litigants in the case.
Pretrial motions by defendants seeking to block parts of
the lawsuit are now before U.S. District Court Judge Benson
Legg in Baltimore, who could hand down a preliminary decision
in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Ms. Dieux and her family wait in their
"We are all inside after dark. The kids get cold because
their bunks are on the outside wall of the trailer."
Though the county has issued her family a building permit,
they haven't gotten enough in flood insurance payments to
begin the work.
"We were only insured for $109,000, and it will cost more
than that to rebuild."
The last settlement offer from their insurance company was
$40,000 short of their full coverage.
While she hopes for a quick settlement in order to begin
tearing down her old home to build anew, she foresees her
fight could help others in the future.
"Maybe if we fight for what we deserve here, maybe (flood
insurance companies) will think before they do it to other
people," Ms. Dieux said.