ONGOING DISPUTE DETAILS NATURE AND TERMS OF PUBLIC ADJUSTER / ATTORNEY AGREEMENT – SUMMARY JUDGMENT REVERSED
The Houston Court of Appeals recently reversed summary judgment in favor of the Dick Law Firm in a fee dispute between the law firm and a public adjuster and his company and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. In Eric Ramirez and LA Public Insurance Adjusters v. Dick Law Firm, 2022 WL 3970341 (Tex.App. – Houston (1st Dist.) September 1, 2022), Ramirez and LA Public Adjusters (Ramirez) entered a continuing business relationship with the Dick Law Firm in May 2012 to provide estimates, appraisal and expert witness services in relation to homeowners insurance claims and lawsuits pursued by the Dick Law Firm. The fee arrangements with Ramirez varied, sometimes on a flat fee and others on a square footage of the property. And Ramirez was to be paid “hourly fees to prepare for and provide testimony at depositions or trials.” Ramirez alleged they assisted Eric Dick and his firm with “hundreds of insurance appraisals” used to “successfully recover hundreds of thousands of dollars” for clients. Ramirez filed suit to recover $115,258.02 in unpaid fees and in response, the Dick Law Firm asserted that $1,287.50 check with a memo stating “full and final payment of any and all claims” cashed by Ramirez constituted an accord and satisfaction. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of Dick and this appeal followed.
The Houston Court of Appeals provides an excellent and detailed discussion of the elements and proof required to establish the affirmative defense of “accord and satisfaction”, examined the competing affidavits of Ramirez and the Dick Law Firm detailing the nature of the fee agreements, e-mails and discussions of surrounding the fee dispute including reference to “outstanding balances” owed on “more than sixty different appraisals” and Ramirez indicating in part that “any payment for less than the total amount owed…would be considered only partial payment” created an issue of material fact. Accordingly, the court reversed summary judgment in the Dick Law Firm’s favor and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.