Bob Wortham

Consolidating the hundreds to possibly thousands of hurricane suits piling up in Jefferson County District Court into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) will save money and time for all parties involved, says one county judge.

In February, the four district judges presiding over the county's civil litigation formed a Hurricane Rita MDL in an effort to ensure consistent-blanketing rulings are made while each individual suit passes through discovery.

The civil court judges 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.

The MDL centers on county residents who sued their insurance carrier for allegedly refusing to pay at least a portion of their hurricane damage claim.

Uniform rulings on all Rita suits, however, are not the only benefit. Judge Wortham said "one system across the board makes it easier for the lawyers and saves costs on both sides, including the county."

"The four civil judges work well together … and share similar ideologies," Wortham told the Record during a March 3 interview. "We stand together. We seldom do anything different from one another … when it comes to (crafting case rulings)."

After a hurricane suit completes discovery, the case will be plucked from the MDL and placed back on the trial docket in the court to which it was originally filed, according to the MDL order, which was filed Feb. 6.

An MDL for Hurricane Ike suits was created on Jan. 28, a week before the Rita MDL was instituted.

In the two months since New Year's Day, 456 new suits have been filed in Jefferson County District Court – equating to roughly 11.4 suits filed for each business day.

Of those 456 new suits, around 97 are hurricane suits – most of which are Ike related.

In the lead for filing hurricane suits in 2009 is the Houston-based Mostyn Law Firm, submitting around 25 lawsuits.

The Moystn Firm has been saturating the area with Ike radio ads and billboards since Ike trounced Southeast Texas.

Attorney Gregory Cox, of the Provost Umphrey law firm, is second, filing approximately 24 new suits so far.

Walter Umphrey is currently running an area TV commercial encouraging Ike victims to contact the Provost Umphrey law firm.

In third is the Snider Byrd law firm with roughly 23 new suits filed.

Around 25 hurricane suits were filed by miscellaneous firms.

According to Judge Wortham and the MDL order, one court's ruling will apply to all cases.

Cases removed for either MDL will be consolidated for discovery purposes in the following manner:

  • All Texas Windstorm Insurance Association cases are assigned to Judge Milton Shuffield's 136th District Court;
  • All State Farm, Allstate, Farmers and Foremost cases are assigned to Judge Donald Floyd's 172nd District Court; and
  • All Capitol County and any and all other insurance carrier cases are assigned to the 58th District Court.

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