When Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast in 2012, it dumped 1,400 insurance cases on the desks of federal judges in the Eastern District of New York.
As of May 23 2016, only 73 of those cases remained unresolved, thanks to the diligence of a panel of federal magistrate judges comprised of Cheryl Pollak, Ramon
Reyes Jr. and Gary Brown. The judges were assigned to handle discovery, settlement, and other matters.
Steve Mostyn of Mostyn Law in Houston, lead plaintiff flood liaison counsel, has been impressed by the way the panel streamlined the complex and large litigation.
The judges in the case said they were eager to move things along to help homeowners who had suffered catastrophic damage as a result of the storm reach a resolution. Pollak noted in a May 27th New York Law Journal article that homeowners “were hurting as a result of the hurricane.”
Several factors contributed to the panel’s efficiency. Rather than engaging in the typical back-and-forth discovery process in which one side asks for information, and then the other side either provides it or argues about it, the judges had both sides make clear at the outset what information they would need to determine whether they could settle individual cases. The decision saved precious time and allowed attorneys on both sides to more easily reach settlements and wipe cases off the docket.
Another pivotal decision came after Brown sanctioned an insurer who covered one of Steve Mostyn’s clients, Deborah Ramey. Ramey’s suit alleged – and Brown confirmed – that an engineer working for the insurer had secretly re-written a damage report on Ramey’s home to favor the insurance company over the homeowner, having never visited Ramey’s home. The report was in direct contrast to the opinion of an engineer who had actually visited the site. Brown’s action led the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) to step in and negotiate cases directly with homeowners, another step that helped reduce the number of cases before the court.
“In the end, we achieved justice in an expedited fashion that would not have occurred if we had followed the normal process,” Pollak recalled in the article.
Both plaintiffs and the defense were pleased with how quickly the process went. “The set-up of the Sandy docket was indispensable” to getting cases resolved in a relatively timely way, Jared Greisman, a defense liaison counsel who represented insurers who did not participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, said in the New York Law Journal article.
Mostyn, who has appeared as plaintiff counsel in many natural disasters, including Hurricanes Ike and Rita, has seen the system go off-track in the past when judges were less involved. Pollak, Reyes and Brown “took a much more hands-on approach to bringing the parties together,” said Mostyn, who recently appeared in the NPR/PBS Frontline collaboration on Sandy fraud, The Business of Disaster.
“They made it a priority, and that made all the difference,” Mostyn said.