NEW YORK – Mississippi's attorney general said on Friday he would propose legislation to force State Farm, the largest home insurer in the United States, to continue writing new policies in his state.
State Farm has said it will stop writing new policies for homeowners and small businesses in Mississippi following a legal battle over damage claims in the state from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Attorney General Jim Hood, at a press conference, condemned the company's decision, calling State Farm a "robber baron" and accusing it of "decadent actions" in Mississippi.
The battle between Hood and State Farm has become increasingly bitter since Jan. 26, when a federal court judge rejected a settlement between State Farm and 1,000 Gulf Coast homeowners with claims against the insurer dating from Katrina.
Insurers like State Farm, which insures more than 30 percent of Mississippi homeowners, previously said their policies did not cover damage from flood waters.
Hood insists insurers are liable for hurricane damages regardless of the cause.
Hood said on Friday that he had asked Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Insurance Commissioner George Dale to issue emergency orders requiring insurance companies to continue writing home policies until the state legislature can act. He said he had not had any response from either Barbour or Dale.
State Farm immediately fired back, saying Hood was part of the problem.
"This is a remarkable response to what was just a business decision, but it does underscore the legal and political challenges faced in Mississippi," Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for State Farm, told Reuters. "We want to continue to serve our customers in Mississippi, but it seems some are intent on making that more difficult."
UNPREDICTABLE AND UNTENABLE
Engerman said Hood's actions "show just how unpredictable and untenable the current environment can be."
Hood said he based his proposal on recent legislation passed in Florida, which temporarily prohibited cancellation and non-renewal of homeowner policies until the new Florida insurance statute goes into effect.
Under Hood's proposed legislation, a company selling auto insurance in Mississippi, and both auto and home insurance in other states, would be required to also sell homeowner insurance in Mississippi.
State Farm has said it wants to sell auto insurance, but not new homeowner policies, in Mississippi.
Referring to the lawsuit between State Farm and Gulf Coast homeowners, which is now awaiting another hearing before U.S. District Court Judge L.T. Senter, Hood said one of his reasons for settling with State Farm was to keep the insurer writing homeowner policies in Mississippi.
"Mississippi should not allow State Farm to breach its promise and continue to profit from others in our state," he said.