Thousands of lawsuits wash ashore in wake of Hurricane Ike anniversary

David Yates Sep. 28, 2009, 9:44am

A house in Orange County is among hundreds that were stripped to the frame by the powerful storm surge from Hurricane Ike.

A year after Hurricane Ike devastated Texas coastal cities, thousands of suits against insurance companies have washed ashore and been consolidated into a multi district litigation panel.

But the hundreds of suits filed each week in Beaumont and Houston alone haven't been an issue, thanks to the Ike MDL, says one local judge.

"We think the system is working well," Judge Bob Wortham recently told the Record. "The lawyers and the defendants both think (the MDL) is working well."

In February, the four district judges presiding over Jefferson County's civil litigation formed a Hurricane Ike MDL to help smoothly facilitate the onslaught of incoming suits.

Consolidating the thousands of hurricane suits piling up in Southeast Texas courthouses is saving tax payer money and time for all parties involved, Wortham said.

In the year since Ike struck, more than 1,500 hurricane-related suits have been filed in Jefferson and Orange counties.

The MDL, created to ensure consistent blanket rulings are made while each individual suit passes through discovery, centers on area residents who sued their insurance carrier for allegedly refusing to pay for or underpaying hurricane damage claims.

Wortham said at first the MDL was "stuck in a rut" but now cases are being resolved at a very efficient pace.

However, the suits are pouring in faster than they can settle.

Wortham said some individual lawyers are filing more than 200 suits a week in Texas courts.

The judge did not comment on which lawyers and firms are leading the pack, but a search in Jefferson County District Clerk's data base revealed that lawyers for the Mostyn Law firm have out-filed any competitor by more than 100 suits.

Law firms, such as Steve Mostyn's in Houston, specialize in insurance litigation and have saturated Southeast Texas with advertising encouraging residents to sue their insurance provider.

The firm first gained notoriety after Hurricane Rita, filing thousands of suits on behalf of Golden Triangle residents.

Mostyn's success encouraged many local firms to take a page from the firm's play book and begin trolling for Rita victims.

Two years later, and the advent of Ike, has led renowned attorneys, such as Walter Umphrey, to air TV commercials aimed at Ike victims.

With so much widespread damage inflicted by Ike, Wortham said Beaumont lawyers are searching for clients in Houston and Houston lawyers are calling on experienced Beaumont attorneys for advice.

The civil court judges presiding over the MDL are Judge Bob Wortham, 58th District Court; Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th District Court; Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th District Court; and Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court.

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