by Chasidy Rae Sisk
It’s easy enough for people to claim they’re willing to “put their money where their mouth is” when there isn’t much money involved, but few people are actually willing to invest time, energy and money – and certainly not all three! – to stand by their convictions and do what’s right to protect others. Texas consumer Joe Collins is a rare exception to that rule.
Last summer, a Rusk County District Court jury ruled in Collins’ favor in Joseph Wayne Collins v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. During the trial, 12 Texans found the insurance giant had knowingly or intentionally engaged in unfair and deceptive acts or practices and awarded the plaintiff $248,517.59. (Find the full story at grecopublishing.com/txa0823localfeature.)
Although the jury awarded a significant sum, Collins’ attorney, Rusty Phenix (Phenix & Crump, PLLC) and Burl Richards, owner of Burl’s Collision Center in Henderson (where Collins took his vehicle to be repaired) insisted that the three-year journey they had embarked upon together had nothing to do with the money.
“It’s not about the money; it’s about making change and hoping insurers will start treating people right,” Richards stressed. Phenix agreed, “Joe didn’t do this for the money. He did not want to see this happen to other people, so he did his part to put a stop to it.”
Turns out that was an understatement…Collins has gone above and beyond his duty to do good – he decided to selflessly donate every penny he received from the verdict in support of the fight for mandatory appraisal rights in all Texas insurance policies!
“We all want to leave a positive impact on the world, and that means having the fortitude to do what needs to be done to make a difference when you see something negative happening,” Collins shared, acknowledging that doing the right thing isn’t always easy. The decision to invoke the Appraisal Clause in his policy and pursue the under-indemnification in court was not a simple one.
For starters, like most consumers, Collins did not even realize he had the Right to Appraisal. “When my insurer initially told me what my vehicle was worth, I thought, ‘Okay, that’s what it’s worth,’” he recalled, admitting, “Insurance policy language is boring, so I had no idea about my rights.”
Thankfully, in addition to educating his customer about how State Farm was not living up to its policy obligations, Richards introduced Collins to consumer advocate and Right to Appraisal champion Robert McDorman (Auto Claim Specialists), whose independent appraisal revealed that the vehicle had been undervalued by several thousand dollars.
“Seeing the difference made me wonder how often they’re doing this to other policyholders,” Collins noted. “While I am not a wealthy man, a couple thousand dollars isn’t going to break me; however, for many people in our community, it would be devastating. I thought about my mother-in-law living on a fixed income, whose vehicle was damaged by hail. What if she had been shortchanged like this? What would happen to a single mom working two jobs and living paycheck to paycheck if her insurer cheated her out of thousands and she couldn’t afford to invoke her Right to Appraisal? I had options to handle the situation, but those options might not be available to everyone else.”
Still, the idea of taking up arms and entering the courtroom filled him with trepidation.
“When you’re thinking about a lawsuit, you’re talking about possibly taking money out of your pocket. Although I was losing money due to the under-indemnification, chasing that could have proven much more detrimental in the long run. I’m close to retirement with kids in college, so I was scared to death.”
McDorman recommended Collins talk to Phenix, and that conversation opened up an unforeseen circumstance. “Rusty and I were already good friends since he had been my Sunday school teacher for a while,” Collins explained. “At that point, it became about my relationship with God…I felt convicted to take a chance, and I had to listen to the Lord. He’s never failed me before, and he didn’t fail me this time. I knew I would win, but I also felt convicted that the jury’s award was not meant for me.
“It wasn’t about some big payout. It was about doing the right thing.”
Once the verdict was rendered, Collins wanted to make sure those funds went toward doing the right thing for that hypothetical single mom, so what better way to protect her and other Texas consumers from under-indemnification than contributing to the fight for mandatory appraisal rights? “If that money goes toward making sure all Texas policies include the Right to Appraisal, then I’m helping everybody.”
And he immediately knew who to turn to: McDorman.
“Robert is a wonderful man who wants to do the right thing,” Collins praised. “He’s passionate about what he does and why he does it, and it’s definitely not the money because he told me I wouldn’t owe him anything unless we won. All you have to do is talk to Robert for five minutes, and you can tell what his motive is; he’s on a mission to make sure people aren’t being taken advantage of, and I cannot even guess how many people he has helped.”
It seems like the consumer and the consumer advocate just may be two birds of a feather, so it makes perfect sense that Collins entrusted Auto Claim Specialists as the steward of his settlement funds, allowing McDorman to determine how to best use them to secure mandatory appraisal rights in Texas.
Other heavy-hitters in this ongoing fight agree.
“Joe Collins is a hero in this community,” Phenix expressed. “Where a lot of people will just take it, he didn’t. He stood up for what was right, not for selfish reasons, but to prevent it from happening to anyone else. He never once thought about keeping the money, even when I encouraged him to. Throughout the entire process, his goals have been others-oriented; he recognizes that some people are unable to withstand the financial hardship that would be inflicted by this kind of conduct and wants to do all he can to prevent others from falling victim to it.”
“Mr. Collins felt like this was something he needed to pursue from a moral standpoint. It means a lot to have customers who are so passionate about doing the right thing and standing up against bullies,” Richards said. As president of ABAT, Richards has joined McDorman on numerous occasions to talk to lawmakers about the need for mandatory appraisal rights to protect Texas consumers, and both have been strong proponents of ABAT’s proposed legislation to make the Appraisal Clause mandatory in all insurance policies to ensure consumers have a reasonable way to seek proper indemnification from their carriers.
In the last two legislative sessions, Representative Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) sponsored ABAT’s bills that sought to mandate Right to Appraisal legislatively, and he weighed in on Collins’ selfless donation: “I am thankful for the persistence, tenacity and generosity of Mr. Collins, as well as his willingness to shine a light on this important issue for all Texans. It’s about safety, and it’s about fairness…and it’s about time insurance companies live up to the promises they’ve made to Texans.”
ABAT Lobbyist Jacob Smith (Longleaf Consulting) thinks it’s “amazing that Joe made that donation, but it’s a shame that he had to. The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) is responsible for looking out for consumers and should have mandated Right to Appraisal long ago, but when our government fails, individual citizens have to step up. We’re fortunate in Texas to have so many good people willing to do that.”
McDorman is just that type of person.
“Robert is a wealth of knowledge,” Smith stated. “He knows this issue better than almost anybody I’ve ever met. He has a library of insurance policies and can point to various incidents and data that no one else has bothered to compile. Robert is fully invested in this battle; he has educated lawmakers at the Capitol and worked with TDI to help them understand why mandatory appraisal is so necessary. He has lived and breathed this fight for well over a decade on behalf of consumers in Texas and the other states where he is licensed, and there’s no better expert on the subject.”
“The man is certainly passionate about protecting consumers through Right to Appraisal,” Phenix chimed in. “He is invested in the people who trust him to champion their causes, and he’s willing to take the fight to levels I would have never predicted. Robert is one of a kind; he’s a different breed, just like Joe. He is a true consumer champion.”
But as Smith indicated, the onus to defend Texas policyholders should not fall on the shoulders of one or two good men.
McDorman believes, “If you want to see change, you have to be involved in change. Most policyholders don’t realize they have the Right to Appraisal, but we need mandatory Appraisal Clauses in all Texas insurance policies. I’m so impressed with everything Mr. Collins has done, and I’m honored that he believes in me so much that he has entrusted me with the duty of protecting more people from being under-indemnified.”
So, how does McDorman intend to use the funds to fight for mandatory appraisal? Stay tuned to next month’s Texas Automotive to find out!
Want more? Check out the January 2024 issue of Texas Automotive!