Galveston judges consider plans to streamline potential Hurricane Ike lawsuits

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Dec. 1, 2008, 3:00am

GALVESTON – As Sunday, Nov. 30, marked the end of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season, residents from Belize to Bermuda breathed a sigh of relief.

Galveston County judges, however, are bracing for another storm.

Two months after Hurricane Ike pummeled the upper Texas Gulf Coast, the judges are coming up with plans to streamline potential lawsuits against insurance companies to prevent a repeat of the lengthy court battles in Louisiana, Mississippi and Southeast Texas after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in late 2005.

Ike, a Category 2 storm, came ashore on Galveston Island with 110-mph winds and a 15-foot storm surge the morning of Sept. 13, damaging numerous residences and businesses and rendering thousands of residents homeless.

Galveston County 10th District Court Judge David Garner told The Galveston County Daily News last week the small number of homeowners filing suit against insurance companies will likely change.

The administrative judge for Galveston County's district courts says the first round of Ike-related insurance cases will occur at the beginning of the New Year.

"We are just anticipating there is probably going to be a lot of them, but I do not know for sure," Garner told the newspaper.

The judges will select a judge to act as pretrial judge for all residential insurance lawsuits, a move that could speed up initial court procedures and ensure consistent pretrial rulings.

It is unknown who will assume the role, but the judges say none of them can do so since some may be plaintiffs in the suits against insurers.

Garner hopes the plan is in place by January. He believes it will aid the county's rebuilding process.

More than 1,000 lawsuits were filed in the aftermaths of Katrina and Rita. The focus of these suits was debate over the exact cause of storm damage.

Even after three years, some property owners are still in legal tug-of-wars that kept them from rebuilding.

After Hurricane Ike, extensive damage to Galveston prompted Galveston County leaders to designate nearby Texas City and League City as county seats and sites of the district and county courts.

The county also relocated several functions from Galveston to the mainland while the storm-ravaged city of 60,000 undergoes an immense recovery process.

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