Bayou City

Harvey Victims Sue Progressive Over "Bait and Switch" to Reclaim Flooded Trailer [UPDATED]

The Bakleys say Flo pulled a fast one on them.
The Bakleys say Flo pulled a fast one on them. Screenshot/YouTube
With a $5,000 check from Progressive Insurance deposited in their bank account, Paula and Frederick Bakley were at a Wharton RV dealership, touring a few on the lot with a salesman, when Frederick Bakley's phone rang.

He didn't want to be rude, ignoring the call while the RV salesman went over pricing and deals with the couple. They and their 13-year-old son had just lost their RV — their home — to Hurricane Harvey flooding in Matagorda County, as water came in through the bathroom and made the trailer's flooring so soggy that it felt as if it was going to break through. Their insurance adjuster at Progressive said it was too damaged to be worth repairing.

But, to the Bakleys, the adjuster's proposed solution was a deal: They could turn over the RV and the title to Progressive, which, in return, would cut the couple a check for $5,169 in accrued equity and pay off the remainder of the loan the Bakleys owed. They planned to use the money to put a down payment on the new trailer, so that they'd have a new home ready to go by the time Progressive came and took their damaged home away on October 19 — but that plan would change before they even left the dealership lot.

"We get in the car and listen to the voicemail. It’s a Progressive rep," Paula Bakley said. "They said, 'There was an error made. We put a stop payment on that check.'"

They wouldn't be getting the $5,000 after all, and wouldn't be paying off the trailer either — thanks to the company's own mistake. Progressive's "bait and switch," as the Bakleys' attorney put it, leaves the couple stuck paying off at least $5,000 more in loans on the now-totaled RV and, if they can't manage to purchase another trailer by October 19, homeless. Paula Bakley said Progressive is cutting a check for less than half of what it originally paid, after taking the money out of their bank account on October 5. Still, the problem, she said, is that it's unlikely they'll be able to finance a new RV while they are still in arrears on the old one.

"With Progressive changing their tune, I've been calling them day after day after day and telling them this isn’t fair," Bakley said. "I’ve talked to several managers at the Progressive site in Houston, and they’re saying it’s not our problem. It’s just overwhelming."

To at least block Progressive from taking away their trailer, attorney Eric Dick has filed a petition for a temporary restraining order in state court on Monday. Dick said that a new law that passed September 1, creating additional obstacles for suing insurance companies, prevented the couple from seeking any more relief than that, such as trying to get back the deal Progressive originally promised. That's because House Bill 1774 —passed in order to discourage frivolous lawsuits after natural disasters — now requires people to notify their insurance company at least 60 days in advance if they want to sue the company over a dispute with their insurance claim or for breach of contract. The Bakleys don't have that kind of time.

"HB 1774 has only emboldened insurance companies to do the wrong thing," Dick said.

Correction, October 18: Texans for Lawsuit Reform reached out to note that, in fact, HB 1774 does not apply to RVs, since unless a trailer is permanently affixed to the ground it can't be considered "real property," as required by the law. In addition, HB 1774 creates a penalty for not complying with the already-existing requirement that property owners give insurers 60-day notice, and that penalty is diminished ability to collect on attorney's fees. The Press has notified Eric Dick, who was not immediately available to address the discrepancy but said he would respond later today. We regret the error. Update, October 19: Dick says he believes it is a matter of interpretation, that insurance companies may argue that HB 1774 applies to the case.

A media representative for Progressive took the information about the case but did not get back to us with an explanation by press time; we will update this story if he does.

Update, 10:40 a.m.: Progressive spokesman Jeff Sibel sent the following statement on Tuesday morning:
"While we appreciate the inquiry, the claim is still pending and to protect the privacy of our insured, we don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss specific details publicly. What I can tell you is we have been in contact with the Bakley’s representative and are attempting to work with him to resolve the claim."
Paula Bakley said she and her husband have gone searching for apartments too, but said everything in their area near Bay City is snatched up, largely thanks to Harvey. They live in the trailer, she said, because her husband travels across the state fixing equipment in chemical plants and never stays at one job site for too long, usually for just months at a time. The trailer doubles as a school, too, for their homeschooled 13-year-old son.

At one point, she was afraid to leave the trailer unattended, afraid that while she was at the grocery store, Progressive, which now owns it, would just swing by, hook it up to a truck and take it.

"That's still in the back of my mind," she said.

Update, 4:48 p.m.: A Harris County state district court judge has granted the Bakleys a temporary restraining order, blocking Progressive from taking their trailer away on October 19. A hearing for a preliminary injunction is set for October 24.

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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn