The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana: Disaster Protocols Case Management Order
In late 2020, Hurricane Laura—the fifth strongest storm to ever impact the United States—came ashore in western Louisiana and Texas. Hurricane Laura caused the deaths of at least 42 people, damaged over 400,000 structures, and inflicted over $14 billion in damage in the states. Weeks later, Hurricane Delta struck the same areas, causing additional damage of at least $4 billion.
After an influx of first-party insurance property damage claims arising from Hurricanes Laura and Delta, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana issued administrative orders in its Lake Charles and Lafayette Divisions for all civil matters filed in those divisions with claims and damages arising out of Hurricanes Laura and Delta (referred to as “hurricane cases”).
On November 6, 2020, the Western District of Louisiana issued an administrative order that hurricane cases would be assigned to a single judge’s docket. Then, on November 12, the Western District of Louisiana approved Case Management Order (CMO) No. 1 to bring swift resolution as expediently and justly as possible. The CMO governs procedures to “expedite discovery” using IAALS’ Initial Discovery Protocols for First-Party Insurance Property Damage Cases Arising from Disasters (Disaster Protocols)—except as modified by the court—and then to “facilitate efficient resolution” through a streamlined conference and mediation protocol using a streamlined settlement process (SSP).
Discovery in Hurricane Cases
As part of the CMO, the Disaster Protocols require a prompt exchange of information from both insured and insurer, due 45 days from the date that the defendant files a responsive pleading—referred to as the disclosure deadline. The prompt exchange of information promotes uniformity and helps facilitate earlier case evaluation and communications of the issues in litigation. Accompanying the CMO and Disaster Protocols is an interim protective order regarding confidential information. Either party may petition the district judge to opt out of the streamlined settlement process for good cause. If the district judge allows parties to opt out, then the court schedules a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16 conference and issues a specific case management order. If the parties do not seek to opt out, then they elect to participate in this two-staged SSP.
Streamlined Settlement Process (SSP)
The CMO also sets a two-stage settlement process with a named special master and deputy special master ordered to administer, coordinate, and preside over the settlement process. The special master has the authority and power to order parties and/or party representatives—with the full power of settlement—to submit briefing, engage in limited discovery if necessary, and attend settlement conferences and/or meetings. The CMO also lists neutrals pre-approved to conduct mediations. Cases that do not resolve during the stage one initial settlement conference must move to the second stage—formal mediation. The special master may assign a neutral within 60 days of the disclosure deadline if neither party submits written notice requesting mediation after a completed initial settlement conference. The goal is for parties to set mediation within 90 days of the neutral’s appointment to mediate.
During the entirety of the SSP, all pretrial matters, discovery, and related activities are stayed except for Disaster Protocols disclosures. No other formal discovery is allowed pending certification from the special master that the parties have complied with the requirements of the SSP.