By Russell Hood and Daniel Brunty
The Webster Progress-Times
Webster County leaders remain determined to recover the maximum amount owed in the courthouse insurance settlement claim despite unsuccessful legal dispute negotiations last week.
The Board of Supervisors traveled to Jackson on Aug. 26 for mediation with Atlantic Specialty Insurance over how much the carrier owes the county for the burned courthouse. The mediation was held at One Jackson Place with Tina Nicholson, whose law firm is representing the county in courthouse litigation and the claim of the county in general. The county contracted with Baker Nicholson in March.
The board and the insurance company have sued each other, with two separate cases pending in federal court. The county contends that Atlantic must pay the limits of the policy and says the insurer wrongly wants to pay a depreciated value for the courthouse, saying that the policy provides for replacement cost.
Webster County said the insurer wrongly declined to settle differences in appraisal, an insurance procedure where each side appoints a representative to survey damages and jointly agree on how much the insurer should pay. The county wants a judge to force Atlantic to go to appraisal.
OneBeacon Insurance Group, of which Atlantic Specialty is a unit, paid the county about $2.2 million from February-July 2013 for damage to the structure and contents, which burned in January 2013.
Since the board’s hiring of independent public adjuster Scott M. Favre PA LLC in August 2013 to present the county’s claim, One Beacon has made two more payments: one of nearly $130,000 last October and another of nearly $455,000 in mid-August (less attorney’s percentage fee and expenses and Favre’s percentage fee from the latter.)
The Board of Supervisors met with Nicholson and Favre during its Aug. 25 meeting at the Doss Building to prepare for the next day’s mediation. With the issue involving litigation, supervisors voted to enter into executive session to discuss the matter with them.
Favre, during a recessed board meeting Friday, gave the Progress-Times an update by speakerphone on the attempt to mediate the fire loss on Aug. 26. He said the parties could not get close enough to resolve the insurance claim.
“Those attempts were not good,” he said. “We had hoped to resolve the claim in mediation (but) we continue to make progress. Some payments have been made and we expect that to continue.”
Favre said the county is entitled to an appraisal of loss according to its insurance policy and that Atlantic had still not done an appraisal as of then. A dispute over loss will continue until that happens, he said.
“We think that is just to delay what they owe,” Favre said. “We feel the insurance carrier has failed to act in good faith in adjusting and paying the loss.”
Favre said he believes the county should not stop until it makes a full recovery. He asserted that what Atlantic Specialty has done is wrong (refusing to go through the appraisal process) and that he fully expects the county will recover 100 percent of what it is seeking.
“This board is committed to getting what’s owed to them and the citizens of Webster County,” he said. “The people have paid the premiums for this for many years and we feel they deserve a full recovery.”
Because the courthouse claim was not resolved in mediation, Favre said, “We’re going to have to force the carrier (in court) to do what they should’ve done already.” Rulings are pending on various motions in the lawsuits.
Favre continued: “In order to make a full recovery, we believe it’s a loss in excess of $7 million. (There is) nothing from the carrier to dispute that they owe it.”
County supervisors were to meet Tuesday morning for their first regular monthly meeting and again last night with the Walthall Board of Aldermen. The Walthall board voted Aug. 4 to sell 6 acres of land to the county on the west side of the Highway 9/50 intersection to build a new courthouse, with various contingencies.
In other business Aug. 25, the county board accepted a bid for the lease purchase of a John Deere CX-15 cutter for District 5 from Bank of Kilmichael at an interest rate of 1.97 percent.
Following a presentation by Mayor Dan Burchfield and Deputy Clerk Jenny Hatcher on Friday, the board voted to allow the city of Eupora to use 3-5 percent of the memory of the county’s mainframe computer to access the county’s Data Systems software for the purpose of tax collections and tax sale.
This is contingent upon the proper security being maintained and with the understanding that the city will pay any costs incurred for its needed support. The agreement is for one year and either party may terminate the agreement with 60 days’ notice.
Agent Eddie Mauk of Hopkins Insurance Agency of Columbus appeared before the board, which voted to renew the county’s insurance policy with Hopkins.
The board also voted to advertise notice of a public hearing on the new budget and millage rate, which will be at 9 a.m. Sept. 19. Supervisors also granted AT&T Communications a permit to bury a fiberoptic line under Cadaretta Road.