Brasher Law Firm Gets $100 Thousand Dollar Judgment for $17 Thousand Dollar Hail Claim

On January 26, 2016 Barazi v. American Risk Insurance Company was called to trial. After pretrial motions, 49 jurors were selected to participate in the voire dire. The case settled shortly before the potential jurors entered the room for $120,805.63.

Introduction

In early 2012, Sam Barazi’s home in Katy was damaged by hail. From January through May, several storms with wind and hail damaged homes in the West Houston neighborhood. Mr. Barazi noticed people in his neighborhood replacing their roofs and discovered he had damage too. A roofer climbed atop the two story home and confirmed the hail damage. Mr. Barazi filed a claim with his insurance company American Risk Insurance Company (“ARI”), a Houston-based insurance company. American Risk Insurance Company is a relatively new insurance company. It started its insurance business in 2005.

After an inspection by an independent adjuster hired by ARI, Mr. Barazi was informed while he had hail damage, it did not meet his $4,300 deductible. He sought a second opinion with a roofing consultant, Mr. Don Foreman, of Property Damage Consulting Advocates. Mr. Foreman conducted a thorough investigation of the roof, photographing the evidence of recent hail damage, and provided a cost-estimate of $17,805.63 to repair and replaced the damaged areas.

Preparing for Trial

Mr. Barazi forwarded the photographs and report to ARI but heard nothing back from them. He called multiple times asking about the status of his claim and whether ARI accepted the Foreman estimate. Finally, almost over 6 weeks after sending the report to ARI, ARI agreed to reinspect the roof and sent the same adjuster it initially assigned to the claim to meet Mr. Foreman at the property. The joint inspection was a waste of time as, at this point, ARI ordered a $30 hail report that stated no 1 inch or larger hail had hit the home at any time during the policy period.

ARI took the conclusion of the weather report and told Mr. Barazi that no hail of any size struck his home. Prior to the trial, the meteorologist, Mr. Robert White, was deposed and testified that his report was limited to hail 1 inch or larger according to ARI instructions. He testified that ARI’s statement that “no hail” struck the home was incorrect and that he never made that conclusion. Barazi’s attorney Clint Brasher: “It was very important to us to determine if the statement in the denial letter to Barazi was true – that a forensic meteorologist concluded that no hail struck his home. The statement attributed to the meteorologist (in the denial letter) did not seem to match the report. Mr. White (meteorologists) was candid in his denouncement of the denial letter.”

The Case Heads to Court

Oddly enough, a close inspection of the meteorologist’s report supported 1 inch to 1.5 inch hail striking the Barazi home during the policy period. When ARI discovered the error in the Summer of 2015, ARI continued its refusal to pay the covered claim. Rather, it sought to appraise the matter without the threat of a jury trial. The trial judge in Fort Bend County denied ARI’s appraisal request after which ARI appealed his decision to the 14th Court of Appeals where it lost there too. The case was going to trial.

The policy (contract) in question, like all policies in Texas, had strict deadlines by which to accept or reject a claim and pay a claim. Barazi’s attorneys argued that ARI failed to meet the contractual deadlines as well as the deadlines in the Prompt Payment Of Claims Act, entitling Barazi to attorney fees in the matter. Barazi’s attorney also argued that the denial letter made incorrect statements of facts regarding the investigation, as proven by the testimony of the meteorologist.

Conclusion

On the Friday before jury selection the following Tuesday, ARI tendered a check for $17,805.63, the amount of the Foreman estimate. No explanation was offered as to why the payment was made at that time. As the selected jurors were about to be seated, ARI agreed to enter a judgment for the entire case, including costs and attorney fees. Barazi’s attorney Clint Brasher: “While we were prepared to have a Fort Bend jury conclude the matter, it was important the people in Houston know that insurance companies must honor their contracts, including the time deadlines to start and conclude an investigation. And, when it is reasonably clear that payment is due, it must be made promptly. That did not happen in this case. Rather, ARI required a lot of legal wrangling to conclude the matter.”

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