By: Brenda Sapino Jeffreys
A Texas insurance company is suing Houston lawyer Eric Dick and his firm, and public adjuster Solomon Eric Bowens and his firm, alleging they conspired in a “fraudulent scheme” to submit storm damage insurance claims with the intent of financially benefiting themselves instead of the homeowners.
Southern Vanguard Insurance Co. of Houston alleges that in June, Dick Law Firm deposited a $39,559.78 insurance company check payable to Ruben Lopez, Ester Lopez and a bank for a storm-related insurance claim. But Lopez didn’t hire the firm or get the money. In fact, Southern Vanguard alleges in the petition that Lopez did not find out about the insurance claim or the payment until August, when he filed a new claim with the insurance company for hail damage to his roof from the 2015 storm.
“All insurance claim proceeds collected under this fraudulent scheme were kept by Bowens and Dick, with none of the proceeds going to the homeowner,” Southern Vanguard alleges in the petition, filed on Oct. 10 in state district court in Houston.
Dick did not immediately respond to a request for comment left at Dick Law Firm, but his attorney, Rogelio Garcia of Houston, said the allegations are “absurd” and Dick categorically denies them.
He said Dick and his firm have ethically represented Lopez, and he alleges “the money has been mailed to him.”
Garcia said Dick will bring counterclaims against Southern Vanguard. He said the insurance company may have sued Dick because his client has represented a number of Hispanic policy-owners who have “made Southern Vanguard pay pretty substantial money.”
Dick advertises his practice online, with video ads in which he says, “I’ll hound ‘em and pound ‘em to get what you deserve. Need a lawyer? Hire a Dick!”
Public adjuster Bowens said he has no idea why he was named in the suit.
“I’m totally innocent and I have nothing to do with this matter,” Bowens said, adding that he simply did his job as a public adjuster.
Southern Vanguard alleges in the petition that Bowens approached Lopez about assisting him with an insurance claim shortly after a May 2015 storm in the Houston area. The plaintiff alleges Bowens looked at the Lopez house and had Lopez sign documents without giving him a copy.
Lopez never heard from Bowens again, according to the petition, but Bowens filed a claim for storm damage. Ultimately, Southern Vanguard determined that the damage to the Lopez house was less than the deductible.
“Southern Vanguard never heard from Bowens again. Southern Vanguard was never notified of any disagreement with its claim measure for the Lopez home,” the plaintiff alleges in the petition.
However, Southern Vanguard alleges that on Sept. 28, 2015, Dick and his firm filed a lawsuit purportedly on Lopez’s behalf alleging breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, breach of contract, fraud, and conspiracy in connection with his claim. After going through an appraisal process, Southern Vanguard issued the $39,559.78 check for Lopez’s claim.
Southern Vanguard alleges the Dick Law Firm remotely deposited the check on June 26, but on Aug. 2, Lopez made a new claim to Southern Vanguard for hail damage to his roof.
“When Southern Vanguard began investigating this new claim, Southern Vanguard learned that Lopez had no awareness whatsoever of the previously filed lawsuit, the invoked appraisal process, or the $39,559.78 payment,” the insurance company alleges, adding that Lopez had not retained Dick Law Firm, and he had not been asked to negotiate the insurance check.
Southern Vanguard brings multiple causes of action against the defendants, including fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, theft, and liability pursuant to the Texas Theft Liability Act. It seeks up to $200,000 in damages, including actual and punitive damages.
Plaintiffs attorney Steven Badger, a partner at Zelle in Dallas, said he represents insurance companies and has been very vocal in addressing fraud and other illegal conduct by lawyers in connection with insurance claims.