David Yates Mar. 16, 2016, 4:42pm


HOUSTON – A year before a federal judge in Chicago dismissed a windstorm suit for a lack of evidence, the Voss Law Firm attorney representing the plaintiff was sanctioned for discovery abuse.

Alleging it was denied compensation following a windstorm, Olivet Baptist Church, located in Chicago, filed suit against Church Mutual Insurance on March 1, 2013, in the U.S. District Court for Illinois, Eastern Division.

Court records show that Olivet purchased from Church Mutual an insurance policy that went into effect on Feb. 28, 2011. Olivet asserts one day later a windstorm damaged the church, which had previously been uninsured for some time prior to the weather event, on March 1, 2011.

Olivet maintains the building continued to suffer damage from weather events while Church Mutual declined to provide benefits under the policy as it performed slow-going inspections.

Nearly a year later, Church Mutual officially denied coverage for loss, contending the damage was incurred before the policy went into effect, court records show.

A little more than two years into the litigation, Church Mutual moved for summary judgment, arguing Olivet lacked sufficient evidence to sustain its allegations.

“While the policy does cover direct physical loss resulting from windstorm … plaintiff has produced no evidence that a windstorm occurred on March 1, 2011,” the motion reads.

“Second, plaintiff can offer no evidence that a windstorm damaged the exterior walls or roof of the property … (or) that water entered and damaged the interior. All are necessary elements of a covered windstorm loss under the terms of the policy.”

Church Mutual also contended that Olivet could not rebut the opinion of its expert meteorologist, who attested the recorded wind speeds in the vicinity of the church (31 miles per hour) were common and inconsequential, occurring 21 percent of the time (78 days per year).

“It is incumbent upon plaintiff to come forth with evidence that winds so pedestrian could have caused a covered loss…,” the motion states.

Court records show the motion was granted on Feb. 29, with the trial court finding that Olivet had not properly adduced evidence of a casual relationship between any windstorm on March 1, 2011 and the property damage.

A year prior, Olivet’s attorney, Scott Hunziker of the Texas-based Voss Law Firm, was ordered to pay Church Mutual more than $5,000 for its expenses for having to file multiple motions to compel discovery, court records show.

On Feb. 23, 2015, the trial court had granted in part and denied the insurer’s motion for sanctions concerning discovery abuse.

The court had concluded that the discovery issues between the parties “were caused by plaintiff’s counsel, rather than by plaintiff, so it is plaintiff’s counsel, Scott Hunziker, who should bear the burden of the expenses,” the order states.

Court records show the primary focus of Church Mutual’s second motion to compel was Olivet’s failure to produce documents that its deacons had mentioned during their depositions.

During their depositions, the deacons testified that they had possessed records of repair to the church before the windstorm, prior pictures and engineering reports from an entity called Perry & Associates.

“The deacons also testified that they had given those documents to plaintiff’s counsel,” the order states. “Because plaintiff’s counsel had not produced the documents in discovery, defendant filed a motion to compel.”

The discovery process continued to be strained between the parties as the litigation advanced. Numerous more motions to compel followed Church Mutual’s second, court records show.

Over the past for years, the Voss Law Firm has come under heavy fire by a slew of former clients claiming inadequate and negligent representation in the handling of their insurance lawsuits.

Church Mutual was represented by Scott Hoyne and Eric Moch of Johnson & Bell.

Case No. 1:13-cv-01625

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