HOUSTON – Despite receiving a slap on the wrist last year, local storm attorney Eric Dick continues to file lawsuits seeking to compel appraisal against insurance companies in Harris County.
Dick, who has brought dozens upon dozens of appraisal suits over the past two years, filed three more complaints on Oct. 4, alleging the defendant insurers refused to participate in the appraisal process, court records show.
The recently filed petitions are all similarly worded, contending the insurance companies hired unqualified adjusters and improperly paid the plaintiffs on their policy claims.
The suits also accuse the insurers of manipulating the claims process and appraisal process for their own benefit.
“For example, Defendant routinely requires that Plaintiff prove that a dispute exists as to the claimed benefits – even though Plaintiff has sent demand letters, invoked appraisal, and filed this lawsuit to force the appraisal process,” the suits state.
However, if one of Dick’s past appraisal suits is any indication, there might be some disparity between what the attorney alleges in his cookie-cutter petitions and what is actually factual.
Last July, a Harris County judge sanctioned Dick for his “offensive conduct” in bringing an appraisal suit against State Farm Lloyds, court records show.
On April 16, 2018, Dick filed a petition on behalf of Jade Etienne, alleging State Farm refused to participate in the appraisal of his client’s insurance claim.
The only problem is that three weeks before the suit was filed, State Farm had indeed agreed to participate in the appraisal of Etienne’s insurance claim, according to the court’s findings of fact.
“The court concludes that Plaintiff’s counsel, Eric Dick, filed a petition against State Farm containing allegations that had no evidentiary support at the time the Petition was filed and were unlikely to have evidentiary support based on the records in Eric Dick’s possession…,” writes Judge Theresa Chang, Court at Law No. 2, in her conclusions of law.
“Specifically, State Farm advised Eric Dick three weeks before Eric Dick filed this lawsuit that State Farm agreed to participate in an appraisal of Plaintiff’s insurance claim.”
Judge Chang concluded the petition was “groundless” and filed in bad faith.
She found that Dick “needlessly” increased the costs of litigation by filing the petition while also forcing State Farm to litigate the same issue in a Harris County Ancillary Court.
Dick had attempted to seek an umpire appointment through the Ancillary Court after filing the petition, court records show.
“The Court concludes that a sanction against Eric Dick is warranted to punish Eric Dick for filing this petition and to deter future abuse of the judicial process,” Judge Chang wrote.
“The Court concludes Eric Dick was the true offender, rather than his client, because he had in his possession records showing that State Farm had agreed to the appraisal process before Eric Dick filed Plaintiff’s petition and Eric Dick knew about this action when he sought an umpire appointment in another Court.”
Dick was ordered to pay $4,000 for the attorney’s fees incurred by State Farm.
Court records show that Etienne appealed and on Sept. 10 the 14th Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s appointment of an umpire but dismissed the sanctions award against Dick.
At least one defendant insurance company has speculated on the reason why Dick continues to file petitions seeking to compel appraisal.
On July 3, Dick lost an appraisal case brought against the Southern Vanguard Insurance Company.
In its pleadings, SVIC had argued Dick was filing such suits to circumvent a Texas law requiring pre-suit notice and make a “legally unsupported” argument for fees to “justify” taking 45 percent of his clients’ insurance payments after appraisal.
The Texas Supreme Court has found that the appraisal process does not require lawyers or lawsuits.
In its 2009 decision in State Farm Lloyds vs. Johnson, the high court stated: “Appraisals require no attorneys, no lawsuits, no pleadings, no subpoenas, and no hearings.”
The court plainly stated “appraisal is intended to take place before suit is filed.”
Whether Dick is taking a 45 percent contingency fee from these homeowners to engage in a process that requires no attorneys or lawsuits is unknown.