DALLAS – In May, the Record reported on a barratry class action alleging Texas hail lawyers, public adjusters and roofers are currently involved in an “elaborate web of fraud” to “line their pockets” by taking advantage of storm victims.
Plaintiff Juan Guerra, who originally filed his petition of intervention in an already ongoing RICO lawsuit, specifically named the Texas law firm Speights & Worrich, which claims to specialize in insurance disputes.
As previously reported, on July 4 Guerra non-suited the defendants. However, Guerra re-filed the claim in a separate action that same day, court records show.
“Contrary to previous reports, our class action lawsuit against Speights & Worrich and other parties is moving forward,” said Van Shaw, a Dallas attorney representing Guerra.
“An earlier claim against the contractor that committed the improper solicitation was dismissed, but we have re-filed the earlier intervening claim as a separate action. We remain confident that the merits of this case are sound, and that this claim exposes an ongoing pattern of deception and fraud against consumers and insurers alike.”
Guerra’s suit accuses the defendant roofers, adjusters and lawyers of seeking to perpetrate an image of helping homeowners with property damage claims when in fact they have set up a scam using policyholders as “pawns to make themselves rich at the expense of Texas homeowners.”
“This lawsuit involves an elaborate web of fraud, barratry, breaches of fiduciary duty, conversion, systemic dishonesty, and conspiracy perpetrated by the Defendants not only on Guerra but undoubtedly on thousands of others,” the petition states.
“The Defendants, day roofers, public adjusters, and Texas lawyers, under the guise of assisting homeowners with property damage claims - particularly roof claims, have devised and operated a scheme - conspiracy - to line their pockets at the expense of their own customers and clients - Texas citizens like Guerra.”
Dallas attorney Steve Badger, who is not involved in the Speights litigation but follows the development of such issues on behalf of the insurance industry, believes there is ongoing “feeding frenzy” to sign up hail victims and that some lawyers are turning a blind eye to the matter.
“There is an ongoing feeding frenzy across Texas to sign up homeowners for hail lawsuits,” said Badger, a Zelle LLP attorney.
“Non-lawyer case-runners and solicitors are canvassing all across San Antonio and North Texas. These non-lawyers are passing out attorney retention agreements and signing up homeowners for lawsuits. The lawyers allowing this to happen are turning a blind eye to the law."
Badger says it’s just a matter of time before additional civil barratry lawsuits are filed.
“Perhaps there will also be criminal prosecutions under the Texas criminal barratry statutes,” he added.
In addition to Speights & Worrich, Guerra’s petition also names the following defendants: Jorge Garcia, Vivian Armas, Sara Rogers, Steven Rogers, House of Tomorrow, Lambcorp Em, National Claims Negotiators, Sandra Harrison, Lee Calhoun, Cody Robinson and Jason Speights.
Apparently, the process starts with solicitations by canvassers working for Lambcorp who claim to "assist" the homeowners with an insurance property claim - typically a roof claim on a residence.
“The scheme begins with the door to door solicitations by the Lambcorp Defendants telling a homeowner his roof is damaged and they can get the homeowner's insurer to buy the homeowner a new roof,” the petition states.
“Following these door to door salesmen attempting to collect payment from the homeowner's insurer, the next play is to bring in a ‘public adjuster’ or persons alleged to be public adjusters as the second level of the claim. The public adjuster will then charge the homeowner a 10 percent fee ‘to represent’ the homeowner.
“The public adjuster will also charge the homeowner additional fees to inspect the home and for reports to allegedly advance the homeowner's claims. When the public adjuster fails to recover any payment, or more likely does nothing substantive to settle the homeowner's claims, the lawyer is brought in.”
Allegedly, Lambcorp provides the homeowner with agreements to sign for the public adjuster and the lawyer. The homeowner is then told to sign as part of the claims process, but no disclosure is made that there is no obligation to hire a public adjuster and a lawyer - much less the ones the Lambcorp Defendants want the homeowner to hire, the petition states.
On top of the 10 percent fee, the lawyer then heaps a 30 percent, or more, contingency fee on the Texas homeowner.
“The Lambcorp Defendants act as the lawyer's ‘runner’, appearing at the homeowner's residence with fee agreements in hand,” the petition states.
“The homeowner has no personal contact with the lawyer before the lawyer is hired and there is no substantive discussions regarding the fee agreement offered by the door to door solicitors or public adjusters before the homeowner is told to sign here.”
The petition continues by alleging that lawsuits are often filed in the name of the homeowner without the homeowner's knowledge or consent. The lawyers then settle the homeowner's claim without consent.
Following a settlement, the lawyers then send the homeowner a gutted check.
“Of course, the lawyer makes sure the runner is compensated under the guise of an estimate or other expense for work, neither performed, earned nor intended to be performed,” the petition states.
“The lawyer protects his runner by having the client agree in advance to pay these runners through provisions in the lawyer's contract. This ‘arrangement’ resembles a multi-level marketing chain where those in the chain are paid - each keeping a piece of the pie and leaving the lowest and newest member of the chain with the leftovers.
“Guerra's experience is tragically no different than those before him. Guerra did not get the new roof he was promised and entitled to because of the Defendants' greed and dishonesty.”
The petition argues the “scheme” has not only cheated Guerra, but also deprived other homeowners of entitled recovery.
“This scheme puts a black mark on and betrays the names of legitimate, hard working, and honest lawyers, public adjusters, and contractors in this great state,” the petition states.
“Not only should Guerra recover but class relief should be granted to put a stop to the Defendants' conspiracy, illegality and dishonest conduct.”
In his suit, Guerra claims the Speight firm, without his knowledge, filed a lawsuit on his behalf.
“A check was sent to Guerra, and he was told to sign the settlement agreement,” the petition states. “When Guerra protested about expenses to the Speights Firm including payments to (National Claims Negotiators and Lambcorp) he was told by the Lawyer Defendants to take it up with (them).”
Guerra is seeking actual, additional and exemplary damages, plus attorney’s fees.
He is also represented by the Law Office of Mark A. Ticer in Dallas and Irving attorney Naval Patel.
Dallas County District Court case No. DC-16-07967