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Second class-action suit alleges conspiracy to deny Sandy claims

A federal judge has found that it appears

A federal judge has found that it appears engineers falsified reports to avoid paying homeowners for superstorm Sandy flood damage. On Oct. 30, 2012, as Sandy swirled onto Long Island, Air National Guard units drove along Wellwood Avenue in Lindenhurst helping evacuees. Credit: James Carbone

A Brooklyn couple has filed a class-action lawsuit accusing a Uniondale engineering firm of falsifying flood-insurance documents, marking the second case alleging a broad conspiracy to deny superstorm Sandy claims.

The suit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Brooklyn, accuses HiRise Engineering of colluding with adjustors and lawyers to blame damage to the couple's house on pre-existing defects, rather than flooding. Consequently, the suit alleges, Hartford Insurance Co. denied much of the couple's flood insurance claim after the October 2012 storm.

The complaint comes less than a week after homeowners in Long Beach filed a class-action suit levying similar accusations against a different group of engineers and insurers.

The two cases, filed by the same Houston lawyer, follow a federal judge's ruling concluding engineers and insurers who processed claims for the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program may have engaged in a "widespread effort" to underpay settlements.

A Hartford spokesman denied the allegations. A HiRise spokesman was not available.

Flood insurance settlements are paid by the federal government, not by the private companies that process the claims. Yet lawyers for homeowners contend those insurers, adjustors and engineers still benefited from the underpayments.

By keeping settlements low, insurers who administer flood policies avoid a federal audit -- and protect themselves from having to reimburse Washington for overpayments.

Engineers and adjustors, meanwhile, knew that if they wanted to keep working for Hartford, their reports had to be written to avoid covering as much damage as possible, lawyers for homeowners allege.

The Brooklyn suit, filed by Stephen and Sarise Dweck, alleges HiRise sent an engineer to their home who drafted a report saying floodwaters damaged the foundation. Yet the suit alleges that a HiRise staffer -- who is not a licensed engineer and never visited the site -- rewrote the report to blame the damage on pre-existing defects.

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