Blog Excerpt: 'Eyewitness Statements Are No Longer to Be Relied Upon'—Shows v. State Farm
Page 2 of 2
Image: The Insurance Transparency Project
Dean Starkman

Soon, however, outside engineers get involved as Forensic ramps up to deal with the crush of work. One is Brian Ford, a 35-year engineer formerly in charge of disaster preparation for Mississippi Power, is hired by Forensic as a "senior principal engineer." Another is Emanuel "Manny" Manon, who normally works in Florida.

Ford and Manon start submitting engineering reports attribute some, most or all damage to wind. The reports filter up to King, who, according to testimony and emails, begins to express "severe criticism."

Oct. 17, Sammis in the RV gets a blistering phone call from King, who is angry at Ford, according to follow-up emails.

King called Sammis at Forensic's RV and informed Sammis that the she "was pulling all engineering work" from Forensic. King was angry that several inspection reports had included wind findings and failed to attribute the losses to excluded water damage. One of the reports prompting King's outrage was the inspection of Thomas and Pamela McIntosh (who later filed a case that's pending) by Brian Ford. In the telephone conversation Lecky King angrily told Sammis she would now have to send another firm to "get it right."

She demands to speak to Ford, who comes on the line. When King asks why he included wind in a certain report, Ford explains that an eyewitness says the house next door had blown apart and the debris took out the insured's windows and doors.

"You weren't there and didn't see it," King tells Ford, according to an email summary by Ford.

For good measure, King calls Williams in Reno, and in a manner Williams later described as "obnoxious" and "offensive," tells her the contract is terminated.

Stuck with the note on the RV, Kochan is in full scramble. He has Ford reconstruct the conversation in writing "as close to a I-said-she-said dialogue as you can recall," then drives to Biloxi for a meeting with King. According to email reconstructions, Kochan asks for "an opportunity to earn their respect back" and later advises his staff "as a company practice, I am suggesting that eyewitness statements are no longer to be relied upon in the development of our opinions." He also tells the staff that King gave them permission to omit any mention of "the specific initial causation of the loss."

This is an engineering firm, remember.

Crisis averted, but Kochan isn't going through that again.

"I managed to get us back on the roles [sic] but we need to have a frank conversation with the boys down south to be sure we don't fall into the same trap."

The "boys down south" are Ford and Manon, who will be fired.

Within Forensic, however, there is dissent.

Engineer Down (who is not a new hire) emails Kochan and Williams on Oct. 18:

a. Down questioned "the ethics of someone who wants to fire us simply because our conclusions don't match hers.

b. Down suggested that Forensic "find a more rational and ethical client to be dealing with."

c. Down cited State Farm's directive to eliminate apportioned wind findings because if included State Farm "would then have to settle for the portion that was reportedly caused by wind.

d. Down questioned Lecky King's demand that Forensic ignore eyewitness accounts stating: "eye witness accounts are standardly [sic] included" and ignoring them would seem to be "ignoring potential facts in the investigation that could hurt our credibility later."

In conclusion Down points to the elephant in the room:

What about the obvious fact that SF would love to see every report come through as water damage so that they can make the minimum settlement. I see why the Attorney General's office is already involved down there. She needs to be careful about what she is doing and saying.

More later.

Thanks to Ida and the Indomitable Anita Lee.

Originally posted on July 1, 2007 on InsuranceTransparencyProject.com Copyright © 2007 by Dean Starkman. Reprinted with permission.