Insurance agent claims Nationwide failed to meet promises

By Chris Dickerson | Jan 3, 2006

CHARLESTON – A Charleston insurance agent has filed a civil lawsuit against Nationwide, claiming the insurance company and its representatives didn't fulfill promises made to him when he joined the company.

Vic Herbert filed the suit last month against Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, Partners Insurance and Financial Services Inc., C. Wayne Manning, Douglas W. Marquette and Richard Johnson.

In the suit, Herbert claims he was told he would be awarded various books of retiring Charleston agents if he was successful in growing the company's financial lines – life insurance, annuities, pension plans and mutual funds.

Herbert says he lived up to his end of the bargain, but Nationwide didn't.

Herbert, a former West Virginia University and Logan High School basketball player, became a Nationwide agent in 1994 after a successful coaching career at Logan High.

In the suit, filed by attorney Mark R. Staun of The Segal Law Firm, Herbert says his standard five-year probationary period was shortened to two years because of exceptional performance. From 1996 to 2002, Herbert says he produced more than $10 million in financial premium production.

In 1995 and 1996, he claims he was given an oral agreement that he'd be awarded mergers when agents Al Atkinson and Bob Dingess retired.

But in a Dec. 18, 2001, e-mail sent by agent Stephen T. Holbrook, Douglas W. Marquette of Bridgeport confirmed that Nationwide had changed its thinking on mergers.

"Receiving the rights to the renewals of a vacated agency was primarily tied to success in financial lines production," the e-mail said. "Merger opportunities were used as a reward. The thinking on this has changed significantly, to the better. Nationwide sees mergers as an opportunity to invest in growth in an agency already investing and growing P&C [property and casualty]."

This, Herbert claims, "effectively shut him out of any merger opportunities whatsoever" because he had been told not to be concerned with property and casualty growth and to focus on the financial lines.

Subsequently, Marquette said The Shannon Agency book would be available when agent Paul Shannon retired Dec. 31, 2001. The book was awarded to Huntington agent C. Wayne Manning. The same happened in 2003 and 2004 when the Atkinson Agency and Dingess Agency books, respectively, became available.

In the suit, Herbert claims Nationwide, Marquette and Johnson – both of whom have been in supervisory roles in the state – are guilty of breach of contract and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. He says all the defendants are guilty of fraud, intentional misrepresentation and civil conspiracy. He says Manning, Johnson, Marquette and Partners Insurance are guilty of tortious interference and that Nationwide and Marquette are guilty of negligent misrepresentation. Also, he says Nationwide is guilty of gross negligence and unjust enrichment.

He seeks a judgment against the defendants jointly and severally for all compensatory and punitive damages including but not limited to the loss of past, present and future revenues, insurance commissions, business opportunities, wages and investment income and benefits. He also requests reasonable attorney fees, pre- and post-judgment interests and other relief deemed just by the court. He requests a jury trial.

Herbert's suit is similar to one recently filed by Holbrook. who operates the Holbrook Insurance Agency on Charleston's West Side. In that suit (05-C-2588), he claims Nationwide and individuals associated with the company failed to give him business that had been promised to him as other area Nationwide agents retired.

The Herbert case has been assigned to Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 05-C-2723

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