Consumer groups have called on a U.S. District Court judge in New Orleans to keep open to the public key Allstate Insurance Co. documents from the first federal insurance trial in Louisiana from Hurricane Katrina.

Public Citizen, joined by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, filed a motion in court opposing Allstate’s request to seal the key documents from the case. In April, jurors awarded a Los Angeles doctor, Dr. Robert Weiss, a $2.8 million judgment against Allstate. Dr. Weiss settled the case on confidential terms after trial.

The documents in question include Allstate’s Katrina claims-handling manual and other instructions to adjusters. The involvement of the Public Citizen and Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights highlight the national interest in the Katrina insurance litigation. The groups say that there is a national public interest in keeping the records open. The groups asking for public disclosure contend:

They provide insight into Allstate’s decision-making process whereby it evaluated claims entered by homeowners in Katrina’s wake. Blocking public access to these documents would directly impede FTCR’s mission of educating the public about Allstate’s practices – in particular, its handling of claims for damage to policyholders’ homes due to natural disasters.

Sealing records in insurance cases creates unnecessary obstacles for anyone trying to bring suit or research insurance industry business practices because it bogs them down with extra legal requests to produce documents that would otherwise be in the public realm. The court is considering the record sealing issues and questions of whether the consumer groups can intervene.

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