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SPECIAL REPORT: New Accusations Arise in Refiling of Florida Lawsuit

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ST. PAUL, Feb. 13, 2015—Attorneys representing some 500 collision repair shops in the much-publicized class-action lawsuit being tried in Florida U.S. District Court refiled their amended complaint this week, chock-full of new details of accusations against some of the country’s largest insurance carriers.

Allison Fry of Eaves Law Firm, the liaison council for the plaintiffs, told FenderBender that the amended complaint was filed Monday. The Florida case had been dismissed without prejudice by the judge in order for the complaint to include further detail.

Some of the details, Fry said, are fairly shocking, including one insurance representative accused of lying to a customer about Florida laws regarding replacement parts.

“The insurance companies repeatedly have said they are only writing for salvage and aftermarket parts, and one gentleman actually told a customer that Florida law only requires me to put salvage parts on your car—and that’s all I’m going to do.”

“There’s just a number of astonishing examples,” Fry said.

The suit accuses insurers of price-fixing, steering and forcing shops to perform unsafe repairs. As attorney John A. Eaves Jr. has told FenderBender in the past, the goal is to make direct repair programs unlawful.

The suit started in Mississippi more than a year ago, and more states followed suit in their own respective courts. A motion was filed in 2014 to consolidate the separate cases to one district for purposes of streamlining the fact-finding portion of the suit.

That phase still hasn’t occurred yet.

Fry says insurers are intentionally dragging their collective feet.

Insurers repeatedly have filed motions to dismiss the case, and three times, the judge has granted it in Florida (each without prejudice, allowing for it to be refiled).

“What I expect is the same thing is going to happen in every state where we filed,” Fry said. “They’ll say, ‘OK, you have the complaint filed, but we want more details.’ I’m fully expecting that in each, and every case that we have submitted to the court will be amended to include the extremely large number of details we have in the pleading.”

Fry also expects the defendants to file protective orders when the discovery phase of the trial does begin, which, if approved, would bar the information from becoming public.

“In every other lawsuit, you file something and it is all public record,” she said. “But [the defendants] have been very, very good in other lawsuits at getting these protective orders entered saying that it’s proprietary information and trade secrets and various other excuses. What it ends up doing is keeping the public from knowing what they’ve done.”

Fry said her firm has anticipated all of this from the beginning. “The court system is the court system” she said, and nothing is “ever as quick as you want it to be.”

“We in Mississippi filed the complaint well over a year ago, and as of right now, not a single defendant has had to even file an answer,” she said. “That’s the ordinary first thing a defendant does in a lawsuit, but they’ve been able to drag it out in one way or another for over a year.”

Fry said there will be little substantive action in the next three months, as the complaints are reviewed and they await the judge’s next actions.

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