Stoel Rives Attorneys Lend Assistance to Hurricane Katrina Victims
Kristen Leis, Business Development Manager, (503) 294-9343
Three attorneys with Stoel Rives LLP spent a week in Mississippi providing free legal advice to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Kathleen Doll, Steve Kenyon and Teresa Hill joined a team of volunteers organized by the Young Lawyers Division of the Mississippi Bar and worked out of FEMA disaster relief centers (often makeshift tent facilities) in the state's hardest-hit areas, including Waveland, Moss Point, Ocean Springs, Gulfport and Biloxi.
According to government estimates, approximately 500,000 people are unemployed because of the hurricane, generating financial and legal problems for hundreds of thousands of residents. In addition, the lack of legal protection against eviction or foreclosure resulting from natural disasters continues to intensify frustrations among Katrina's victims.
"Many Mississippi residents who had limited resources before the storm now find themselves desperately in need of assistance at all levels, including housing, food, clothing and employment, as well as legal advice and support," said Doll, a Stoel Rives environmental attorney based in Portland. "The devastation and the sheer number of legal issues we encountered on our visit were staggering."
Between October 31 and November 5, the three Stoel Rives attorneys met approximately 200 residents, many of whom had multiple problems with insurance claims, landlord/tenant and eviction issues, foreclosures and consumer fraud, as well as property rights, property transaction, federal disaster assistance and employment issues.
"It was critical to inform families about the importance of preserving their right to make an insurance claim," said Hill, an environmental lawyer in the firm's Boise office. "We provided them with detailed instructions on how to document their losses and explained the appeal process if their claim had been denied."
Insurance company representatives have told many insured residents that their property damage was caused mainly by flooding (which is not covered under many standard homeowner's policies) instead of by wind (which is covered). Some Katrina victims also discovered that their insurance companies were offering funds to replace a roof for a house that no longer exists.
"Often those who came for help were not eligible to receive FEMA aid or other services until a decision had been reached on their homeowner's insurance claim," said Kenyon, Stoel Rives' former managing partner and a land-use lawyer in Seattle. "Taking swift action was crucial to ensure these families could benefit from other disaster assistance programs."
In addition to providing pro bono legal support to the survivors of Katrina, Stoel Rives conducted a matching campaign and requested employee donations to assist hurricane victims. Stoel Rives attorneys and employees together raised more than $50,000.
"Rectifying legal issues will continue to be one challenge as Mississippi residents struggle to find resources to rebuild their lives," Doll said. "We were grateful to have the opportunity to be of service, and I hope our work there and the firm's donation will make a positive difference in the lives of those affected by this natural disaster."
About Stoel Rives LLP: Stoel Rives is a business law firm providing a wide range of client-focused counseling and litigation services throughout the western United States. The firm has more than 350 attorneys and eight offices in five western states. Stoel Rives is regarded as a regional leader in energy, natural resources, environment, litigation, corporate and intellectual property law. For more information about Stoel Rives LLP, please visit www.stoel.com.