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New Jersey Still Flooded|With Sandy Cases

(CN) - The U.S. District Court for New Jersey announced a plan to tackle a projected 2,000 flood insurance cases almost a year and half after Super Storm Sandy devastated parts of the Eastern Seaboard.

New Jersey Chief Judge Jerome Simandle had led an effort to manage the hundreds of Sandy cases on the court's docket.

Responding to homeowners left homeless after the hurricane, the court's Board of Judges created a plan to decide cases, from filing to disposition, within six months.

"These cases are hitting our docket very hard," Simandle told the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts publication, The Third Branch News.

"We have over 600 Hurricane Sandy cases now and we expect the final number could be as many as 2,000."

Simandle invited homeowners, attorneys, and interest groups to a public meeting on March 6 to discuss how to speed up the process for managing Sandy litigation.

After a similar initiative by the Eastern District of New York, in Brooklyn, a board of two district judges and six magistrate judges created a case management plan.

The March 25 Standing Order and a 15-page Hurricane Sandy Case Management Order No. 1 are posted at the New Jersey district court website.

"Basically, this reflects a collaborative effort between bench and bar to put sensible and clear requirements into place, tailored to the needs of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) cases," Simandle said. "The uniform approach has been agreed to by all district and magistrate judges, and shortly will be filed in each of the affected cases."

If a case remains unresolved after disclosure and discovery, magistrate judges may order more discovery, a settlement conference, arbitration, or a nonjury trial.

Sandy flood insurance claims are more complex than other insurance cases because while an insurer adjudicates and pays out claims, insurance adjustment is subject to federal regulations under the National Flood Insurance Program, Simandle told The Third Branch News.

Sometimes an insurer is reluctant to pay a claim until it is certain it is legitimate.

"But a lot of the cases are in between," Simandle said, "where there's an honest disagreement about the amount of damage that the flood has caused. We think that by the exchange of discovery and by the intervention of the magistrate judge, we can determine how the case ought to go, whether to our arbitration or mediation programs, or just get listed for trial."

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