Bobby Warner

MOUNDSVILLE – In September 2000, things weren't going so well for Kanawha City residents Ernestine and Thurman Townsend.

An elderly couple, they both had medical issues. She recently had had a heart attack and an aneurism and required Hospice care. He was facing the amputation of his leg because of an old war injury.

Then things went from bad to worse.

One night, the water supply line to a commode burst, and water flowed into their home or several hours. Thurman Townsend had to move his wife out to the care and spent hours cleaning the mess.

The next day, he contacted Allstate, his insurer. Charleston attorney Bobby Warner said Townsend contacted the company several times over the next week, but that the first adjuster didn't visit the home for two months.

Then, Warner said, the adjuster spent just 20 minutes looking over the damage.

"It was a rough eyeball inspection," Warner said. "They didn't offer a penny then, and an offer of only $2,000 came about a year later."

On top of that, Warner said Allstate closed the Townsend case without permission.

Townsend finally was rewarded for the headache of that night May 2 when a Marshall County jury awarded him about $1.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

"What's interesting about this case, I think, is that Allstate and all of these other insurance companies make these shoddy inspections all the time, every day," Warner said Wednesday. "And the insured, they usually just give up on the process.

"Thurman Townsend was a war hero. He was injured three times. He was up for a Congressional Medal of Honor. He ended up having to have his leg amputated twice.

"He never gave up. A lot of other people who do pursue a claim, I think Allstate buys their silence with a small settlement. And they have to sign a confidentiality clause. In those settlement agreements, even when they pay, they always deny any wrongdoing."

Warner said he hopes this case changes that.

"It's not on the Marshall County public record," he said. "This jury found that the five individual defendants violated the West Virginia Unfair Trade Practices Act 21 times. It's there in the verdict form. All five violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing."

Warner said in testimony that each adjuster "said they learned that these lawsuits are a good thing for West Virginia."

"They said they learned about their mistakes," he said. "They admitted that lawsuits regular their industry when no one else does."

Warner said Janice Whitman of Charleston's Whitman Insurance Agency (the insurance agent), Gene McClure (the adjuster) and Kenneth Whitt (the claim supervisor) each testified this case was the worst or one of the worse they had ever heard of in the insurance industry.

Warner said the award included about $300,000 in compensatory damages. The rest was punitive damages.

He said the case was filed in Marshall County in the Northern Panhandle because Bob Fitzsimmons, the lead attorney in the case, is based in Wheeling in Ohio County.

"The attorney that I work with is from there," Warner said. "We filed it there out of a convenience to counsel."

Ernestine Townsend died in 2004 at the age of 88 after a long illness.

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