Free legal clinic helps Mississippians affected by tornadoes

Mississippi Public Broadcasting

Sandra Knispel
Tupelo–Dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster can be overwhelming. But free legal help is available to those Mississippians still recovering from last month’s tornadoes.

“We found that people not knowing what benefits they are entitled to or how to access those benefits, or if there’s a denial of those benefits, how to navigate the process. It’s very crucial,” explains Paheadra Robinson, the director of consumer protection at the non-profit Mississippi Center for Justice. Robinson warns that every time a disaster strikes some unscrupulous contractors are out fishing for easy prey. A first step is to check registration with the Mississippi State Board of Contractors. And if the bid sounds too good to be true, she says, it may very well be just that.

“You want somebody who is reasonable and it should be a market rate quote, meaning that it’s not $10,000 cheaper than somebody else who is willing to do the same job. Sometimes that’s a red flag that something is not quite right,” Robinson says.

Ken Riskedahl, a retired rehabilitation counselor from Tupelo, came to the clinic to find out how to deal with problems with his insurance estimate for tornado damage to his house, porch and garage.

“The initial assessment that they did was extremely low given the replacement value and we were not satisfied with that and we were trying to get a second assessor to meet with the contractor,” Riskedahl says. “But I needed to know if I am not satisfied with this is this something that needed to go to a legal level or do I need to try to work it out between myself and the insurance company?”

The counselors here told him to first try to reach an agreement with the insurer but if that failed to phone the center for legal help.

“It’s a question of the damage to a brick wall that they allege is just normal wear and tear but we firmly believe it’s the stress caused by the two pine trees falling on it and causing it to crack,” Riskedahl maintains. “The crack was not there before the day of the tornado.”

Those who missed the disaster clinic can contact the Mississippi Center for Justice online at for free legal advice.