Beaumont couple sues Travelers for denying hurricane damages claim

David Yates Mar. 27, 2007, 1:00pm

Hurricane Rita lost strength and dissipated more than a year ago, but the lawsuits that followed in her wake haven't.

A Beaumont couple, Chris and Lavonne Dobson, filed a lawsuit on March 21 against Travelers Lloyd of Texas Insurance Co., Maness McDaniel, Robert Barsalou and Walter P. Moore and Associates, Inc. for fraudulently denying full coverage to the plaintiffs' residence, which was damaged during Hurricane Rita.

In September 2005, the Dobsons' claim they suffered substantial damages to their home when Rita made landfall near Sabine Pass. According to the plaintiffs' petition, the estimated costs to repair their two chimneys alone are in excess of $48,000.

After the storm subsided, the Dobsons contacted Travelers and made a claim. Insurance adjuster Maness McDaniel was assigned to handle the Dobsons' claim.

Based on representations of defendant McDaniel, the plaintiffs contend that defendant Robert Barsalou oversaw McDaniel's handling of the claim and participated in the decision to improperly deny substantial portions of their claim, the petition said.

Chris Dobson, who is a career engineer, arranged for Terry Shipman, a local engineer with 24 years of experience, to perform two separate inspections of his home. The petition says Shipman identified numerous areas of damage caused by Rita, including the two chimneys.

However, Travelers and McDaniel retained the services of Walter P. Moore and Associates, Inc. to handle the Dobson's inspection. The petition claims Moore assigned a novice engineer who was licensed in 2002.

The petition states that Moore's engineer determined that the leaning of the chimneys was not caused by wind experienced during Hurricane Rita "because the direction of the tilt was consistent with structural weakness and inconsistent with the wind direction reported by the National Weather Service."

Based on Moore's report, Travelers and its agents, McDaniel and Barsalou, denied the Dobsons full coverage.

The plaintiffs claim the defendants are guilty of the following: breaches of contract, violating the Texas Trade Practices Act, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, violating the Texas Insurance Code, negligence, gross negligence and fraud, the petition said.

The plaintiffs are suing for amounts owed under the policy, including but not limited to repair of the chimneys, payment of depreciation, adjusted living expenses and costs of repairs to the water main.

They are also suing for court expenses.

Attorneys Kip Lamb, Mark Frasher and Leigh Parker of the Lamb Law Firm, located in Beaumont, are representing the plaintiffs.

The case will be tried in the Jefferson County Court at Law No. 1, with Judge Alfred S. Gerson presiding.

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