OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. — On the Mississippi coast, Paul and Julie Leonard are the first homeowners to battle their insurance company in court. Last month they were hopeful it would help open doors for homeowners like them in the storm zone.
“We're asking the court to make us whole again.” Paul told NBC News on July 10.
But a federal court judge didn't last week.
Instead of the $130,000 they sought, the Leonards got just under $3,000.
“We got more than what we had,” says Paul. “But did we get what we asked for? Did we get the golden egg? No, sir. We didn't.”
The judge said insurance companies did not have to pay for flood damage, which accounts for most of the Leonards’ losses.
They're still hopeful for others, though, because the ruling wasn't a total victory for insurers. It found them still responsible for wind damages, even if they occurred at the same time as flooding.
“This decision is going to be very good news, particularly for people that had extensive wind damage, and a little bit of water damage,” says attorney Dick Scruggs, who is representing the Leonards.
The combination of wind and water is a gray area that perhaps will decide thousands of cases to come. And for those homeowners who face rebuilding from the ground up, that gray area is potentially even bigger, because who can say with certainty just how the house was destroyed? Was it first swept away by water or blown over by the wind?
Attorney Judy Guice got the maximum $250,000 from her flood coverage, but wants her insurance company to pay for wind damages, too.
“My loss was caused by Hurricane Katrina,” she says. “It was an accidental, direct physical loss covered by my insurance policy. And State Farm needs to pay it."
State Farm told NBC News: “If we have credible evidence wind damage is separate and apart from flood we will pay.”
Meanwhile, the Leonards are moving forward, footing most of the repair bills themselves because one question wasn't answered completely in their favor: Wind or water?
The cause may be debatable, but the effects are undeniable.
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