Fresno attorney contends in lawsuit Nationwide is not on your side

BY PABLO LOPEZ
plopez@fresnobee.com

When Rebecca McKeever got into a traffic collision in April 2015, she was thankful that her insurance policy covered the damage to the other car, a 2011 Mercedes GL 350.

But eight months after the collision, McKeever says she is being bullied by the other driver’s insurer, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. In a lawsuit filed in Fresno County Superior Court, McKeever claims Nationwide hired a collection agency to repeatedly harass and threaten her, causing her emotional distress.

A spokesman for Nationwide, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, declined to comment.

“Nationwide has only recently learned of this suit and the company does not publicly discuss pending litigation,” Eric R. Hardgrove said. Representatives of the collection agency, Van Nuys-based National Commercial Services, could not be reached for comment.

According to its website, Nationwide is No. 69 on the Fortune 500 list and has 33,000 employees. Its “Nationwide is on your side” TV commercial starring former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning is familiar to many.

Fresno attorney Jim Wilkins says the catchy tune is not an accurate reflection of the way Nationwide conducts business.

Wilkins is recognized as a “Super Lawyer” in Northern California because of his extensive trial practice in the prosecution and defense of complex cases involving insurance coverage, insurance bad faith and business litigation.

He represents McKeever, 34, of Madera, who is a married mother of three children with limited financial means. Wilkins says McKeever is a “very private person who isn’t seeking the spotlight, but is interested in doing what’s right and find out whether Nationwide has victimized others.”

The lawsuit tells only McKeever’s side of the dispute. It seeks unspecified damages from Nationwide and National Commercial Services Inc. for fraud, negligent misrepresentation and violation of California’s business and professions code.

According to the lawsuit:

Eight months after the collision, McKeever’s insurer, Progressive Insurance Co., reached a financial settlement with Nationwide, which insured the Mercedes. As part of the December 2015 settlement, Nationwide received more than $39,000, Wilkins says. In return, Nationwide agreed to release McKeever from any and all claims arising from the damage to the Mercedes.

But while the settlement was being negotiated, Nationwide retained National Commercial Services to get money from McKeever. The lawsuit contends that Nationwide hired National Commercial Services because the collection agency uses aggressive tactics and doesn’t get paid unless it collects.

Nationwide and National Commercial Services knew McKeever was particularly “vulnerable and susceptible to threats of financial harm and stress to her family” and their fraudulent tactics subjected her to “cruel and unjust hardship,” the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, the collection agency threatened McKeever repeatedly in November and December, telling her that if she did not agree to pay, she would be sued. Wilkins says the threats caused McKeever to give in: Under duress, she signed a promissory note four days after Nationwide signed an agreement to accept in excess of $39,000 from Progressive to release McKeever from all claims.

Despite the signed agreement between the insurance carriers, the collection agency had McKeever sign a promissory note in which she agreed to make monthly payments of $25 a month for 10 years. “This was done even though both Nationwide and National were aware that this payment was causing a financial hardship on Rebecca McKeever,” the lawsuit says.

To make matters worse, the lawsuit says, the promissory note stated that there was no grace period and that McKeever would be sued and be liable for court costs and attorney fees if she fell behind on her monthly payments.

And before McKeever signed the note, the lawsuit says, the two companies never told McKeever that her insurer already had paid Nationwide and received a signed release of all and any claims, Wilkins says.

Both companies are in trouble, the lawsuit says, because they have been sharing the proceeds from the monthly payments that McKeever has been paying since Dec. 30.

Wilkins says he already has two key pieces of evidence: the signed agreement between Nationwide and Progressive and the promissory note. If he proves Nationwide has “a pattern and practice” of doing this to other customers, Wilkins says he will seek an injunction to stop it and seek a court order that will force Nationwide to return money to its customers.

“Someone needs to slap Nationwide and tell them to stop it,” Wilkins says.

In the meantime, McKeever has no choice but to make the monthly payments, Wilkins says.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/article109828922.html#storylink=cpy

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