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Judge tosses Voss Law hail suit, considers sanctioning firm for keeping clients ‘in the dark’ for own ‘benefit’

Southeast Texas Record, January 25, 2017

By: David Yates

DEL RIO – A federal judge has ordered The Voss Law Firm to show cause on why its attorneys “should not be held in contempt, fined, imprisoned” and “reported to the State Bar of Texas” for seemingly keeping a pair of hailstorm clients “in the dark” for their own “benefit.”

On Jan. 20, U.S. District Judge Alia Moses granted a State Farm Lloyds motion for summary judgment, freeing the insurer from a hail lawsuit after finding it timely paid an appraisal award, court records show.

However, State Farm sought more than summary judgment, also filing an additional motion for sanctions, which contends Voss Law:

- Failed to tell their clients about an indemnity payment made to them;

- Failed to disclose two settlement offers made by State Farm;

- Filed a claim with State Farm on behalf of the plaintiffs without consulting them; and

- Served State Farm with fraudulent interrogatories, which were purportedly signed and verified by the plaintiffs.

According to the plaintiffs’ testimony, they denied ever signing the interrogatories or meeting with a paralegal to get the documents notarized.

“Each of these allegations, if true, is sanctionable conduct,” Judge Moses wrote in the order. “Taken together, it looks to the Court like the Voss Law Firm was keeping its clients in the dark for its own benefit.”

The judge has ordered The Voss Law Firm, represented by attorneys Bill Voss (the firm’s founder), Scott Hunziker (a managing partner) and Chris Schleiffer, to appear before the court on March 8 to “SHOW CAUSE why they and their law firm should not be held in contempt, fined, imprisoned, and/or reported to the State Bar of Texas.”

When called upon for comment, Hunziker provided the following statement to the Record: “The facts will speak for themselves, and we look forward to a positive outcome in March.”

Case History

In April of 2014, a hailstorm moved through Eagle Pass, Texas damaging the home of plaintiffs Gregorio and Maria Hernandez.

On Sept. 8, 2014, State Farm received a claim. Four days later, an adjuster visited their residence and was told by Gregorio that he had not reported a claim, court records show.

Four months later, State Farm received a letter of representation and a demand letter from the Voss Law Firm, both dated Jan. 22, 2015, accusing State Farm of failing to investigate and evaluate the Hernandezes' claim.

State Farm responded Feb. 4, 2015, explaining that it had closed the Hernandezes' claim at Gregorio’s request. State Farm's letter further requested that the Voss Law Firm cooperate in scheduling an inspection of the residence, if the couple wished to pursue a claim, court records states.

State Farm also received an estimate from Insight Appraisals and Estimate Services dated Oct. 10, 2014, which estimated a total loss of $50,977.67.

And although the appraisal was dated Oct. 10, 2014, State Farm states that it did not receive this letter until Feb. 2, 2015, and nor did it receive any communications from the Hernandezes or Voss Law between the visit in September 2014 and the letters in January 2015.

On Feb. 11, 2015, State Farm sent a letter requesting to inspect the property within thirty days. After thirty days had passed with no response from the firm, State Farm sent a follow up letter again requesting to inspect the property, court records state.

On April 23, 2015, State Farm was able to get a hold of the firm by phone, but it was not given an inspection date. The insurer followed up in May 2015 and again on June 2, 2015.

Finally, on June 10, 2015, almost six months since the first inspection request, State Farm scheduled an inspection for July 1, 2015, court records state.

State Farm inspected the property on July 1, 2015 and nine days later issued an indemnity payment in the amount of $2,733.94 to the couple through Voss Law.

“Interestingly, the Voss Law Firm filed suit in state court on June 29, 2015, before State Farm had even inspected the property, and served process on State Farm on August 3, 2015,” the order states.

State Farm then removed the case to federal court and made a settlement offer for $6,500 on Aug. 21, 2015 and another offer of $7,300 on Sept. 22, 2015, to which the plaintiffs did not respond.

On Dec. 10, 2015, the couple, through Voss Law, invoked the contractual appraisal process naming Ray Choate as their appraiser. State Farm named Bryan Scanlan as its appraiser, court records show.

On May 31, 2016, the appraisers jointly set the amount of loss at $10,742.08, on a replacement cost value basis, and $8,940.56, on an actual cash value basis.

State Farm tendered payment of the appraisal award to the Voss Law Firm in the amount of $5,206.62.

The plaintiffs sought up to $200,000 in damages and accused State Farm of breach of contract, violations of the Texas Insurance Code, and common law fraud.

The plaintiffs’ extra contractual claims failed, due to the judge granting State Farm summary judgment and dismissing the breach of contract claim.

The Voss Law Firm is located in the Woodlands.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, case No. 2:15-cv-00092-AM-CW