A structural engineer admitted he changed a report that detailed Hurricane Katrina damage to a homeowner’s property, but told a jury he did so for accuracy and clarity rather than to downplay wind damage so USAA Casualty Insurance Co. would owe less money.
Structural engineer James W. Jordan reviewed several changes he made to the report completed by engineer Roverta Chapa, who actually inspected the property at Henderson Point on the Bay of St. Louis in Harrison County. Chapa and Jordan did not communicate before Jordan made the changes, which was against policy established by Jordan’s employer, Rimkus Consulting Group Inc.
Policyholders David W. and Marilyn M. Aiken claim Rimkus and USAA conspired to defraud them. They want their insurance claim paid in full, plus extra damages to punish the companies. Their lawsuit will resume this morning with testimony from Chapa.
Rimkus and USAA claim the Aikens are seeking more money than they deserve because federal flood insurance paid them policy limits for tidal surge damage, while USAA offered a check to cover what the wind could have destroyed. USAA and other insurance companies exclude such flood damage from coverage, which has led to hundreds of disputes between policyholders and insurers. However, this is the first case with claims of fraudulent engineering reports to reach trial in federal court.
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The Aikens maintain a tornado destroyed their vacation home before 25 feet of water inundated the property.
USAA attorney Greg Copeland told the jury during opening arguments that the Aikens simply wanted to maximize their payments for Katrina damage. Their flood coverage totalled $278,000. USAA paid $178,205 in structural and contents damage on a policy that provided more than $680,000 in coverage.
But the Aikens’ attorney, George W. Healy IV, told the jury that evidence would show the companies “intentionally and with forethought came up with a plan to deny legitimate claims.”
Rimkus attorney David Ward said testimony will show the Aikens hired their own engineer because David Aiken accompanied the Rimkus engineer on his inspection and knew the engineer thought water had caused most of the damage. Ward told the jury they would hear firsthand about communications between Rimkus and USAA, so they should not believe Healy. “You can be the judge of the facts,” he said, “not the allegations.”