Hurricane Sandy victims claim Voss Law Firm left them high and dry

By David Yates | Mar 1, 2016

HOUSTON - Court filings out of New Jersey are accusing the Texas-based Voss Law Firm of soliciting Superstorm Sandy victims then negligently mishandling their claims, leaving the plaintiffs without a remedy to recover.

In October 2012, Sandy decimated the New Jersey and New York coastlines, killing hundreds and causing more than $68 billion in damages.

In the wake of the storm, several Texas trial lawyers, including firm founder Bill Voss, flooded the east coast in search of clients, advertising heavily and reeling in hundreds of plaintiffs.

Partnered with the New Jersey firm Harbatkin & Levasseur, the Voss Law Firm brought more than 250 actions in Garden State courts against insurers to recover for alleged property damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, court records show.

One of those Voss clients claims her case was dismissed without her knowledge and is seeking to have the suit reinstated.

In the case of Emma Linbald v. Nationwide, court records show Linbald’s counsel (Voss and Harbatkin & Levasseur) executed, following a series of courtroom defeats, a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice, causing her case to be terminated last February.

Five months later, now represented by new counsel, Linbald filed a motion to set aside judgment, arguing that she unaware of and did not approve the dismissal and that judgment should be vacated because the ineffective assistance of her former counsel left her virtually unrepresented.

“According to Plaintiff, the Texas-based Voss Law Firm ‘aggressively marketed’ to Superstorm Sandy victims including Plaintiff,” reads the court’s order on Linbald’s motion, which was denied on Feb. 16.

“As a result, the Voss Law Firm was retained by hundreds of people in New Jersey and associated itself with Harbatkin & Levasseur as local counsel. Plaintiff contends that hundreds of lawsuits filed by the Voss Law Firm … have been dismissed on procedural grounds such as failing to serve complaints, failing to prosecute claims, and failing to answer discovery.

“At least one court in this district imposed sanctions on the Voss Law Firm and (Audwin) Levasseur … for their neglectful representation in a Sandy lawsuit.”

Last January, a New Jersey federal judge sanctioned Voss and Levasseur for their apparent apathy toward a motion to dismiss a suit against an insurer and indifference to the judge’s order to show causation.

Voss and company were representing Lighthouse Point Marina & Yacht Club in a Sandy lawsuit against Atlantic Specialty Insurance. The suit had been dismissed in November 2014 because of the marina’s repeated failure to allow for a re-inspection of the damaged property.

While the court presiding over Linbald’s case denied her motion, the ruling was without prejudice, allowing her to renew her motion with an affidavit to better support her allegations.

And not all of Voss’ former clients had their motions denied.

On Jan. 12 a trial court vacated its previous order and reinstated a Sandy lawsuit against Farm Family Insurance brought by William Gallagher, another former Voss client who asserts his claim was terminated after the Texas attorney and his New Jersey partners failed to comply with multiple orders requesting proof of loss.

While more cases claiming negligent representation by the two firms are on file, perhaps more noteworthy is the New Jersey class action suit brought against Voss, which alleges he and other defendants may have been involved in barratry when signing up Sandy victims.

The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Ocean County – Law Division, accuses Voss and Levasseur of working with adjusting companies to pay referral fees to case runners in order to land Sandy clients.

Case runners solicit business for law firms – a form of barratry, more commonly called ambulance chasing, which is illegal.

According to the lawsuit, the defendants worked together to collect from the persons they represented in Sandy insurance claims improper expert fees, doing so by taking the loss report prepared by the firm that received the “runner” fee and having a second public adjuster copy that report and present it on its letterhead and thereafter charge the clients an “outrageous” expert fee.

Voss has not yet returned a request for comment.

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