Local

Columbus lawyer settled car wreck cases and kept the money, clients claim

How do you know if you are a victim of identity theft?

It isn't always easy to tell if your personal information has been stolen for fraudulent purposes or your accounts have been compromised. Here are some common signs that you might be a victim of identity theft.
Up Next
It isn't always easy to tell if your personal information has been stolen for fraudulent purposes or your accounts have been compromised. Here are some common signs that you might be a victim of identity theft.

A Columbus attorney who is accused of settling personal injury cases without his clients’ knowledge and keeping the insurance money has been suspended by the Georgia Supreme Court, public records show.

George W. “Bill” Snipes, who has practiced locally since 1979, was suspended indefinitely and the State Bar of Georgia has requested that he be disbarred. Five former clients filed complaints with the state bar, which licenses and regulates attorneys in Georgia.

The argument for the immediate suspension from the state bar was that if Snipes was allowed to continue his law practice it would “pose a substantial danger to clients as well as to other members of the public.”

In each of the complaints, the former clients claim that Snipes settled cases involving automobile accidents without informing them, forged their signatures on settlement documents, and when the insurance company sent the settlement checks to Snipes, he kept the money and did not inform his clients.

The state bar has requested to the Supreme Court that Snipes be stripped of his law license. Pending that decision, the court issued the emergency suspension at the request of the state bar.

One of the reasons for the suspension was that Snipes had failed to respond to the complaints filed with the state bar.

Snipes was notified by mail on Oct. 27, 2017 of the complaints against him. A month later, he acknowledged he had received the notice of investigation. He failed to file a response with the Office of the General Counsel or the Investigative Panel of the State Disciplinary Board, according to the motion for suspension.

Bar Rule 4-204.3 (d) provides that in cases where the maximum sanction is disbarment or suspension, failure to respond may authorize the investigative panel to suspend the respondent until a response is filed, according to the motion for suspension.

Snipes has been a solo practitioner since January 2012, with an office at 1300 Wynnton Road, Suite 101. Previously, he practiced with his two brothers, David and Robert, until the partnership was dissolved in early 2012.

When contacted, a spokesperson for Snipes and Snipes LLP said Bill Snipes was not a member of its firm or associated with it any manner during the time frames of those allegations that led to the suspension.

The state bar’s petition for the emergency suspension outlined the following complaints, to which Snipes did not offer any defense:

Complaint No. 1

One man who was in an accident in 2015 and not at fault hired Snipes on a contingency fee basis, meaning Snipes would be paid a percentage of any money collected. He filed a complaint with the state bar in August 2017. Here are the details of that complaint:

In March 2015, Snipes settled the case with State Farm for $300,000 without his client’s knowledge. State Farm sent two checks covering the settlement to the man and not his attorney.

The man contacted Snipes and was told he needed to pay his attorney fees and medical bills out of the settlement. The client endorsed the checks over to Snipes, who wrote him a $170,000 check out of the law firm’s trust account. Snipes promised in a letter to the man he would pay the outstanding medical bills.

“Instead of paying the medical bills or at least holding the $130,000 in trust for (the client), Respondent misappropriated the funds or converted them for his own personal use or at least not for (the client’s) benefit,” the bar complaint contends.

Complaint No. 2

On July 15, 2013, a man was involved in an automobile accident where he was not at fault. He hired Snipes on a contingency fee basis. The driver who was at fault was insured by The Hartford. The man filed a complaint with the state bar against Snipes in November 2017. Here are the details of that complaint:

In late 2013, Snipes sent a settlement letter to Hartford demanding the policy limits of $100,000 without the client’s knowledge or authorization. Hartford settled the case for the requested amount and sent a check to Snipes on Jan. 9, 2014.

Snipes forged his client’s name and cashed the check.

The client found out about the settlement when he got a letter from Hartford confirming the settlement. After concluding the settlement money had been misappropriated, the man hired another attorney and sued Snipes for malpractice. That case settled for $98,000.

The man also filed a bar complaint against Snipes two months ago and the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office was unable to find the attorney to serve the letter.

Complaint No. 3

An Alabama couple was involved in a wreck in August 2016 and hired Snipes on a contingency fee basis. The couple suffered injuries in the wreck and the driver that was at fault was insured by USAA. In January of this year, the couple filed complaints with the state bar. Here are the details of that complaint:

In September 2017, Snipes accepted the insurance company’s settlement offer of $28,000 for the wife and $20,000 for the husband. Neither of them authorized the settlements.

The checks were sent to Snipes, who forged the names of the husband and wife and cashed the checks without their knowledge.

Snipes did not respond to repeated questions from the couple about the status of their claims. They hired another attorney who learned that Snipes had settled the cases with USAA.

Complaint No. 4

In May 2016, a woman was injured in a car crash that was not her fault. She hired Snipes on a contingency fee basis. The driver who was at fault was insured by USAA. The woman sought other legal advice and filed a bar complaint two months ago. Here are the details of that complaint:

In a conversation sometime in November 2017, Snipes assured the woman her case would settle soon and gave her a $2,000 check drawn on his own account, telling her the case would likely settle by January 2018 and that any settlement would be substantial and include funds to pay her medical bills.

What he did not tell her was he had settled the case without her knowledge in September 2017 for the policy limits of $25,000. He had also forged her name and cashed the check, which USAA sent to him.

Unable to get an appointment to see Snipes in his office, the woman went to the office on Jan. 3, and spoke with a clerical worker, who told her she did not know if Snipes would ever return to his office.

Complaint No. 5

In November 2016 a woman was injured in an automobile accident that was not her fault. The other driver was uninsured. Two months after the accident, the woman hired Snipes on a contingency fee basis. Here are the details of her complaint:

The woman had about $100,000 in medical bills and Snipes told her that her insurance company, USAA, had agreed to settle the case for the policy limits of $325,000.

After that, the woman heard nothing from Snipes.

In January, the woman contacted USAA, which told her the company sent checks totaling $325,000 to Snipes in December 2017. Snipes did not tell his client, but instead forged her name on a $300,000 check and also forged her signature on a settlement release for the insurance company.

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams

  Comments