Attorney for Insurer Says Law Firm Working with Contractors to Find New Hurricane Claimants
An insurance defense attorney accuses the McClenny Moseley & Associates law firm of teaming up with restoration contractors to illegally acquire clients, which sometimes resulted in duplicate lawsuits being filed against insurers for claimants who were already represented by other attorneys.
In a pleading filed in the US District Court in New Orleans on Monday, attorney Matthew Monson provides a detailed account of how MMA allegedly drums up new business by working with contractors. Monson asks US District Court Judge Lance M. Africk to refer MMA and its attorneys for disciplinary proceedings.
“We also know that this firm has signed up at least 15,000 claimants in Louisiana alone and that MMA intends to file thousands of lawsuits in the Eastern District of Louisiana,” Monson says in the filing. “Accordingly, we have the opportunity and responsibility to prevent any more Louisianans from being harmed by the actions of MMA.”
Monson represents Allied Trust Insurance Co. in a lawsuit filed by Tricia Rigsby Franatovich of Hammond, Louisiana that alleged the insurer had underpaid on a Hurricane Ida damage claim. The Broussard and Williamson law firm represented Franatovich when the lawsuit was filed on Aug. 8, 2022.
Monson said MMA’s managing partner for Louisiana, William R. Huye III, filed a separate lawsuit on Franatovich’s behalf on Dec. 7, 2022 for the same hurricane damage. The second lawsuit misspelled Franatovich’s first name as “Trichia.”
MMA had demanded an appraisal before the lawsuit was filed. The appraisal panel reported that the damages amounted to $82,294.03, far less than the $170,693.60 that Franatovich was demanding in her first lawsuit.
The Broussard law firm filed a motion to nullify the appraisal. Franatovich’s other lawyers said their client had never hired MMA to represent her. They provided the court a Jan. 12 letter from Franatovich saying that she had signed paperwork given to her by Apex Roofing & Restoration, but never intended to hire another law firm.
Monson said contractors were involved in at least two other cases filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana that also resulted in duplicate filings. He said a representative for Apex coerced homeowners Michael and Holly Caffarel to sign an assignment of benefits form after telling them that their roof had been damaged by an October 2021 hailstorm.
The Caffarel’s insurance policy with Maison Insurance Co. does not allow assignment of benefit agreements without the insurer’s consent, but Apex got around that problem by calling in the claim as a representative for the homeowners, the pleading states. MMA’s Huye then told the insurer he represented the Caffarels and demanded that Maison send any claim payments to his office.
The insurer complied, but the Caffarels’ mortgage holder, Chase Bank, foiled the scheme when it sent two of the insurer’s payout checks, together totaling approximately $24,000, to the Caffarels for their endorsement, Monson alleges.
“Up to that point, the Caffarels did not know that Mr. Huye or MMA existed,” the pleading states.
The Caffarels hired Monson to represent them after discovering that the checks had been made out to the MMA law firm without their consent. Monson said Huye admitted to him during a recorded telephone call on July 28 that he represents Apex Roofing, not the Caffarels. Even so, Huye mailed a letter to the Cafferels dating Sept. 22 providing notice that he is withdrawing his representation.
“This statement is certainly confusing and begs the question: If MMA was not representing the Caffarels, then why withdraw from their representation?” the pleading states. “Mr. Huye and MMA’s inconsistent statements in this regard cannot be reconciled.”
Monson’s pleading says that Steven Ripoll, a homeowner in Covington, Louisiana, has also accused MMA of filing a claim on his behalf without authorization. Ripoll testified that after Hurricane Ida tore through his neighborhood in August 2021 he spoke to someone who was walking through his neighborhood attempting to sign people up to make hurricane claims.
Later, Ripoll learned that MMA had sent a letter with a damage estimate prepared by Disaster Solutions, a restoration contractor, demanding $119,777.84 from his insurer, Allied Trust. Ripoll told US District Judge Susie Morgan in New Orleans on Dec. 1 that he was never a client of the MMA law firm and had never authorized the law firm to make a demand on his behalf. He said he learned about the claim only after Allied Trust filed a lawsuit requesting a declaratory judgment that no coverage was owed.
The pleading notes that MMA last month was twice called before judges for the Western District of Louisianato explain why it had filed dozens of lawsuits that duplicated claims already made or named the wrong insurer. As reported previously by the Claims Journal, one attorney accused the law firm of committing “criminal forgery” by endorsing a check and depositing funds that should have been shared with a mortgage holder.
Monson said MMA’s tactics are part of a pattern and practice of improper behavior. He said many of the duplicate filings can be traced to the company’s use of a text messaging campaign managed by a company called Velawcity. He says his own wife received dozens of texts from phone numbers that can be traced to Velawcity. Many of them asked his ex-wife to sign an attorney retention agreement.
“Multiple insurers have many instances in which their insureds have indicated that they did not know they were being represented by MMA,” he said. “If the Eastern District seeks input from the other members of the bar and insurance companies, it would be surprised by the number of responses it receives.”
Huye could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. In previous interviews with the Claims Journal, he has acknowledged that his law firm has made some mistakes due to the large number of cases it handles, but denied any intention to deceive.
Top photo: Traffic diverts around downed power lines Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, in Metairie, La. A fearsome Hurricane Ida has left scores of coastal Louisiana residents trapped by floodwaters and pleading to be rescued, while making a shambles of the electrical grid across a wide swath of the state in the sweltering, late-summer heat. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
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