Dec. 19--TAMPA -- Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White has filed a lawsuit seeking punitive damages from insurance companies for county employees, saying they ducked their responsibility in a sex harassment action against White and the county.
White, who is serving three years in an Atlanta prison for taking bribes in an unrelated case, will be seeking millions of dollars in damages in the case, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Tampa.
White's attorney, Michael Laurato, said the case is about teaching the insurance companies a lesson that they can't shortchange on coverage.
"When you put profit over coverage you're not just going to pay what's owed, you're going to pay more," Laurato said.
"The damages are meant as a punishment to deter the insurance company from doing this again."
State National Insurance Company and Star Insurance Company represented county employees, including county commissioners, when White's former legislative aide, Alyssa Ogden, sued for sexual harassment in 2009. Ogden won a $75,000 judgment.
In April 2010, the insurers sought a judicial declaration that they didn't have to reimburse White for legal fees in the harassment case. They cited a clause in the county's insurance policy that denies claims "caused by a willful violation of any statute."
White filed a counterclaim and won this year.
A judge ordered the companies to pay $157,730 to attorney Steve Wenzel, who defended White in the Ogden case. A judge also ordered the companies to pay $193,867 to Laurato and Howard Levine, attorneys who represented White in the counterclaim seeking reimbursement.
"You don't take advantage of someone or your policy holder if you're in a bad situation," Laurato said. "We expect our insurance companies to protect us in these situations. They are there to protect us when something like Kevin White happens, not take advantage of it."
Representatives for State National Insurance and Star Insurance couldn't be reached for comment.
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