NBC's Williams Ignores Heavy Cost of $2.5-million 'Big Victory' for Katrina Victims
One manâs punitive damages could mean distress for an industry.
But to one news anchor, it was a âvictoryâ for the little guy.
NBCâs Brian Williams quickly breezed through news of a court ruling in Mississippi pertaining to Hurricane Katrina insurance claims. But unlike coverage of the case in the Associated Press and The New York Times, the âNightly Newsâ anchor cast the ruling only as a victory for storm damage victims, without looking at how it could harm the insurance industry or gum up courts by encouraging lawsuits.
Williams told viewers of the January 11 program about âA big legal victory today for a Biloxi, Miss., couple who sued State Farm Insurance for refusing to payâ their Hurricane Katrina damage claim. The ruling could prove helpful to âhundreds of other victims in that regionâ who could âbenefit as a result,â the anchor insisted. All told, Norman and Genevieve Broussard walked out of court with nearly $3 million, Williams added.
But Williams failed to tell viewers that most of that award was $2.5 million in punitive damages, or that the Broussards âwanted State Farm to pay for the full insured value of their home plus $5 million in punitive damages,â as Garry Mitchell of the Associated Press reported on January 11 (a story which appeared in The Washington Post the following day).
Even pared in half from their initial request, the punitive damages award would be âdistressingâ for insurers, economist Robert Hartwig of the Insurance Information Institute (III) told Mitchell. âIt adds even more cost and more uncertainty to the other problems that already exist in the Mississippi homeowners insurance market,â said Hartwig.
Whatâs more, the âjury decision could also lead policyholders to conclude that instead of settlingâ out of court that âthey should hold out in the hope that a jury would award them millions of dollars in punitive damages,â New York Times reporter Joseph Treaster wrote in the January 12 paper, citing Philadelphia attorney Randy Maniloff.
Also missing from Williamsâ report was the fact that the vast majority of insurance claims from the devastating hurricane have already been settled. Around the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 22, 2006, the Insurance Information Institute reported that ânearly 95 percent of homeowners insurance claimsâ from Katrina had been settled. Of those settled claims, â334,800 or 94.3 percentâ of the Mississippi cases were settled, resulting in $5.2 billion flowing from insurance companies to Magnolia State policy holders.
The Business & Media Institute has previously recorded the mediaâs one-sided and inaccurate presentation of the insurance industry in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, particularly the mediaâs complaint of ârecordâ profits and overlooking consumersâ need for separate flood insurance.