HOUSTON – An insurance lawyer has been sued by an appraiser who claims to have worked with him closely on hundreds of lawsuits – a relationship that raises questions of bias in mass litigation against insurers, according to one industry expert.
Alleging theft of services and fraud, Eric Ramirez and his company, L.A. Public Insurance Adjusters, filed a breach of contract suit against Eric Dick and his firm on April 30 in Harris County District Court.
For the past decade, Texas lawyers have filed thousands of lawsuits against insurance companies following hurricanes and hailstorms.
In his suit, Ramirez says he’s worked with Dick since May 2012, providing the attorney with inspection, estimation, appraisal and expert witness services in hundreds of cases.
“In exchange, Dick agreed to pay (Ramirez) for any services performed, sometimes by flat fees, and other times based on the square footage of the property, as well as hourly fees to prepare for and provide testimony at depositions or trials,” the suit states. “The fee to be obtained by (Ramirez) was not based on, tied to, or contingent on Dick’s attorney’s fees.”
“In fact, (Ramirez) specifically rejected a suggestion by Dick that any fees paid be capped at 10% of his attorney’s fees.”
Despite the rejection, Ramirez continued to perform services for Dick with the understanding that he’d be compensated.
Ramirez says his appraisals were used by Dick to successfully recover hundreds of thousands of dollars from insurers.
“Unfortunately, however, beginning in December 2015 and continuing into the coming years, Dick breached his agreements with (Ramirez) and declined to pay (him) more than approximately $115,000 in invoices for services preformed,” the suit states.
Dick, who sells “Better get Dick!” shirts on his website, told The Record that Ramirez’s suit has no merit.
“This won’t be the first or the last frivolous lawsuit against me,” Dick said. “All the people who have sued me before haven’t gotten a penny. This isn’t going to be any different.”
Not everyone sees the suit the same way as the “Hire a Dick!” lawyer, however.
Steven Badger, an attorney with Zelle LLP, represents the insurance industry in disputed Texas hail and Hurricane Harvey claims and has handled numerous lawsuits adverse to Dick, including many in which Ramirez acted as an appraiser.
Badger, who previously sued Dick on behalf of one of his insurance company clients, says the suit “brings forward” some of the issues his clients are dealing with in mass-volume lawsuits.
“How can any appraiser be ‘disinterested’ or ‘impartial’, as required by all insurance policies, when the appraiser has hundreds of appraisals for a single lawyer, in addition to also working for that lawyer as an expert witness and estimate writer?” said Badger.
Badger says any appraiser in that situation is “necessarily biased” in favor of that lawyer and his clients.
“I’d be really curious to see if there were any matters where Ramirez told Dick that the insurance company got it right and there was no unpaid damage,” Badger said. “It is also refreshing to see the statement by Ramirez that he refused a suggestion that his fees somehow be connected to Dick’s attorney contingency fees. That would be clearly improper under Texas law.
“Appraisers cannot work on a contingency fee. Lawyers cannot hire expert witnesses on a contingency fee.”
As discovery in the case progresses, Badger believes the most interesting issue might perhaps be for Ramirez to learn if appraiser fees were charged to homeowners as reimbursable expenses out of their appraisal awards that had not been previously paid to him.
“If that happened, it raises a number of issues,” Badger said. “A lot of people will be watching to see what information is disclosed as this lawsuit progresses.”
Ramirez is suing for actual and exemplary damages.
Houston attorney Lance Christopher Kassab represents him.
Case No. 2019-30183