Computer Forensics Helping Katrina Homeowner Litigation

On Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane Katrina destroyed thousands of homes on the Gulf Coast. When homeowners were finally allowed to return to their homes and saw the damage, they began the process of working with their insurers to file their claim and start over. What they were faced with were claim denials for their homeowner policies.

Zach Scruggs, one of many attorneys involved in litigation against these insurers, said Forensic turned over the e-mails as part of the pretrial discovery litigation. Homeowners who where suing State Farm Insurance for Hurricane Katrina claim coverage had accused the insurer of pressuring their engineers to modify reports regarding the hurricane damaged property so that policyholders’ claims could be denied.

Recently obtained internal e-mails from an engineering firm that helped State Farm adjust claims are helping lawyers litigate their claims because of the evidence they have obtained with E-Discovery and Computer Forensics. Some of these e-mails are conversations between the Forensic president and CEO Robert Kochan and Randy Down, the firm’s vice president of engineering services. In one particular e-mail, it says the firm will continue working with State Farm, but discusses needing to “redo the wording” of a report after a complaint by Alexis King, a State Farm Manager in Mississippi, so “such that the conclusions are better supported.”

Alexis King didn’t want local engineers to inspect properties because they were “too emotionally involved” and were “working very hard to find justifications to call it wind damage when the facts only show water induced damage,” according to an e-mail. Randy Down questioned the State Farm’s motivations and questioned the ethics of the insurer via e-mail with the insurer telling the firm what to put in the reports.

All of this information would have gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for the field of Computer Forensics. Computer forensics has quickly become a vital tool and source of information for criminal investigators, corporate counsel, and prosecutors. Computer forensics investigators use their skills to identify and restore formatted, corrupted, deleted or hidden files from computers or other electronic media while maintaining crucial data trails, time & date stamps and accurate chain of custody & controls. They also obtain access to protected or encrypted data by using specialized software.