(Bloomberg) -- A Travelers Cos. unit and other flood insurers sued by Hurricane Sandy victims in New York over falsified engineering reports must turn over drafts of those documents to policyholders, a three-judge panel ruled amid accusations the conduct was widespread.
The group of federal magistrate judges in Brooklyn and Central Islip rejected arguments by insurers that disclosure was unfair or burdensome and ordered the materials turned over to plaintiffs by Dec. 12. The panel also set a hearing for Jan. 28 over allegations that insurers doctored reports to avoid paying damage claims.
The companies’ argument that they need more time to comply with the order “rings hollow in light of the fact that these materials should have been produced many months ago,” the panel said in its ruling yesterday.
The “burdens faced by plaintiffs -- storm victims who may have been unjustly denied recovery for damage to or destruction of their homes” outweigh the hassle of producing the documents, the judges said.
Homeowners have sued a unit of Travelers and other insurers including Wright National FloodInsurance Co. and a unit of Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. over claims they illegally conspired with engineering firms and others to deny or underpay claims from Sandy. The October 2012 storm is the largest Atlantic hurricane on record and caused about $60 billion in damage in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
The insurers participated in a program through which they provided flood insurance underwritten by the federal government. Homeowners said the insurers took part in the scheme to avoid federal audits and possible financial penalties for making too generous payouts. The companies also sought to inflate claims- handling expenses that would be borne by the government, according to the complaints.
In a Nov. 7 ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary R. Brown ordered insurers to turn over all drafts of engineering reports to potentially hundreds of policyholders after he discovered evidence of possible manipulation of a report for a home in Long Beach, New York.
In response to pressure from New York and New Jersey lawmakers, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator W. Craig Fugate on Dec. 5 urged private companies participating in the floodinsurance program to turn over draft reports for Sandy claims in litigation in New York and other states.
The agency had earlier asked Brown to reconsider his order, saying it unjustly suggests systemic misconduct by all engineering firms.
Patrick Linehan, a Travelers spokesman, said in an e-mail today that the insurer takes the allegations against its unit “very seriously.” He declined to comment further citing the pending litigation.
Dolores Glass, a spokeswoman for Wright, had no immediate comment.
Thomas Hambrick, a spokesman for Connecticut-based Hartford, declined to comment. He said last week that the company denies the charges and would seek dismissal of the claims.
The case is In Re Hurricane Sandy Cases, 1:14-mc-00041, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
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