Hix Insurance High Point North Carolina – Angel Blake, who posed in her car in front of her home, is just one of several people who have been paid millions of dollars by insurance company HIX on Friday, July 15, 2005. The company allegedly included motorcycle club memberships in its policies. Blake, a longtime HIX customer, recently learned of her special membership to the motorcycle club after reading a story in the newspaper. (Staff photo/Kelly Pace)
— National Mutual Insurance Company. has been added as a defendant in a growing lawsuit that accuses Hix Insurance Agency of defrauding thousands of customers who unknowingly bought auto club memberships with insurance policies.
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Lawyer Michael Williams said Nationwide was added because it guarantees the accidental death and dismemberment coverage included in the auto club membership.
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Meanwhile, several Hix customers who didn’t know they had purchased memberships contacted Williams and signed affidavits after reading a News & Record story about the lawsuit months ago.
That’s when they learned that Hix agents were accused of falsifying their names on auto club membership documents and taping forms to the back of their insurance policies to make them less likely to read newspapers.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare it a class action representing thousands of Hix customers in North Carolina “affected by (Hix’s) deceptive and unfair business practices.”
If the court accepts the request, it would mean that tens of thousands of Hix customers and former customers could be represented in the lawsuit and would be entitled to damages if the judgment is decided in their favor. Class action status allows for a case to be heard once instead of thousands of times.
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Michael Williams, along with attorneys Joseph A. Williams and Paul Coates, filed the lawsuit late last year on behalf of three Guilford County residents. He accused Hix — a South Carolina company with offices in High Point, Burlington, Charlotte, Raleigh and Durham — and Hix executives of routinely defrauding customers over the years by selling them car club memberships without their knowledge.
Nationwide spokesman Joe Case said Nationwide was “very disappointed to learn of these allegations. We would never tolerate such a practice. We had no idea this could happen.”
Statements by Hix employees show that the practice of tricking customers into buying auto club memberships has been going on for nearly 10 years and that the money was used to fund bonuses for Hix directors and executives.
If true, the total could be in the tens of millions of dollars, Michael Williams said. Hix’s High Point Road office alone had more than 8,000 policyholders just three years before the lawsuit was filed, he said.
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Mark Stafford of Winston-Salem, Hix’s lead attorney, said the company and its officers and directors named in the lawsuit “deny the material allegations based on the evidence presented to date.” He refused to comment further.
The North Carolina Department of Insurance is conducting a criminal investigation into Hix, located in Greer, S.C., as Poinsett Insurance Agency. Chrissy Pearson, a spokeswoman for the department, declined to comment other than to say the investigation is ongoing.
Since an account of the lawsuit appeared in the News & Record last December, at least 30 people have signed affidavits saying Hicks duped them into unknowingly purchasing car club memberships.
Angel Blake was one. She, like other Hix customers, said she would never knowingly purchase a motorcycle club membership from Hix.
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Blake said Pauline McCoy, Hix County Manager and High Point Road office manager, sold her the liability insurance policy but never mentioned she was a member of the auto club.
She said McCoy led her to believe that the accidental death and dismemberment coverage included in the motorcycle club membership was “part of my regular auto insurance policy.”
McCoy declined to be interviewed for this story. However, in her response to the lawsuit, she denies any wrongdoing. He said the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit — Janies Perry, Maritza Hernandez and Saul Garcia Marquez — “knew of the auto club memberships and voluntarily chose to obtain such memberships.”
Former Hix employees signed affidavits alleging that McCoy and other executives directed them to sell car club memberships without customers’ knowledge.
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Daniel D. Wade worked for Hix in offices on High Point Road and Bessemer Avenue, as well as in Charlotte, Raleigh and Burlington. He said McCoy, his area manager, told employees “we should never discuss the motorcycle club with any customer, and we had to sell the motorcycle club to everyone.”
Wade and other former employees said Hix agents falsified customers’ names on auto club membership applications or renewals “in which the auto club billed the customer again.”
Wade said Hicks’ goal was to sell auto club memberships to anyone who wasn’t going to pay for a one-time insurance policy. He said that allowed Hicks to collect most of the down payment as car club fees and finance the cost of the insurance policy through Hicks’ finance company, Budget Premium Service Co.
Aaron McCoy, who managed the Hix High Point offices on North Main Street and South Main Street for about two years, said Hix agents attached a receipt showing the motorcycle club fee to the back of the policy documents, “folded and then placed in an envelope … so the buyer is less likely to take out the papers and look at them.”
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McCoin said the Hix office on North Main Street in High Point eventually closed. He said Hix’s supervisor told him that people in the area have a higher income “and are probably too smart to like a motorcycle club.”
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