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Local claims adjuster who admittedly was friends with owners of 6 hurricane damaged hotels, testifies his mouth exceeded his authority; Ruffin /  Thompson got $16.2M more than insurance company said was due 

Columbus, OH -- A claims adjuster admitted in U.S. District Friday his inability to keep his mouth shut ended up costing Nationwide Insurance $16.2 million to repair six hurricane-damaged hotels in Virginia Beach, an attorney for the company told jurors.

The trial resumes today in Columbus, OH.

And after 4 1/2 hours of intense cross-examination by attorney Phillip Yeager, independent adjuster Larry Wood acknowledged he talked too much.

"In hindsight, I should have said nothing,'' Wood testified in U.S. District Court in Columbus.

Verbal commitments that Wood gave to owners of the Virginia Beach hotels are at the crux of a civil trial pitting Nationwide against Wood and two claims-adjusting companies -- National Catastrophe Adjusters of Indianapolis and McLarens Toplis of Chicago.

The hotels are owned and/or operated by ex-convict Edmund C. Ruffin and Bruce Thompson's Professional Hospitality Resources.  Ruffin and Thompson are not parties in this suit.

The Columbus-based Nationwide hired National Catastrophe and McLarens to provide independent adjusters to appraise damage inflicted by Hurricane Bonnie on Aug. 28, 1998, to properties owned by PHR. The two claims-adjusting companies then hired Wood, who lives about an hour's drive from Virginia Beach.

Yeager and witnesses for Nationwide  have repeatedly told jurors that Wood was not authorized to approve repairs to the oceanfront hotels owned by PRH. The defendants contend Nationwide signed off on the repairs.

Wood was supposed to estimate damages and report back to Nationwide officials, Yeager said.

Instead,  Wood approved $21.5 million in repairs and compensation for lost business to PHR, Yeager and other Nationwide witnesses have said.

Professional Hospitality completely refurbished each hotel, replacing carpeting, beds, TVs, wall coverings, dressers and other furnishings in each of the six hotels' 577 rooms, Yeager said.

Hurricane damage, however, was confined to only 8-10 % of the rooms, according to Gus DeAngelo, a former regional director for PHR, who testified earlier.

During the first portion of his testimony Friday, Wood repeatedly said PHR executives misunderstood his conversations with them. Wood testified that he agreed carpeting, beds, dressers, TVs, wall coverings and other furnishings needed replacing, but he said he didn't necessarily mean that Nationwide would pay for the items.

Wood's comments confounded Yeager. The attorney noted that on Sept. 11, 1998, Wood followed up his verbal commitments with a letter to PHR approving a "total refurbishment'' of each hotel.

Minutes before Judge Algenon L. Marbley dismissed the jury for the weekend, Wood conceded he probably should have kept quiet.

Nationwide officials testified earlier in the weeklong trial that they felt obligated to pay for the repairs because Wood, even though he had overstepped his authority, was representing the insurer.

Nationwide acknowledges it was obligated to pay $5.3 million in damages, but is seeking recovery of the rest of the money -- $16.2 million -- from Wood and the two claims-adjusting companies.

 The trial is expected to last at least two more weeks.

See also: Adjuster more like Santa Claus than scrooge