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The attorneys in A&E have given notice they plan to appeal Judge Gregory Presnell’s initial dismissals of other collision repairers’ cases to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Lawsuits in about 20 states, many of which use Jackson, Miss.-based Eaves Law Firm, have been consolidated in Presnell’s Middle District of Florida to avoid needless court system duplication.
The initial version of nearly every lawsuit in the “multi-district litigation” was virtually identical to a June 2014 draft of the Florida case. That complaint was dismissed in January, amended, and then dismissed for good.
Attorney John Eaves Jr. told Autobody News he planned to appeal the Florida ruling and in particular planned to focus on the tortious interference (basically, “steering”) allegation.
“There is a lot of activity still going on and our commitment is still solid when it comes to customers getting a quality repair,” Eaves told the site. “This is not the end of our efforts. We’re interpreting this as a delay in the process.”
He urged other body shops to send in evidence to support the case during the interview.
However, it’s unclear why the Sept. 19 appeals in those states would succeed if the dismissed lawsuits themselves weren’t bolstered with greater detail. Those cases are Campbell v. State Farm (Kentucky), Lee Pappas v. State Farm (Virginia), Quality Auto Painting v. State Farm and Ultimate v. State Farm (New Jersey) and Concord v. State Farm (Missouri).
It’s unclear if new versions could even have been filed. The attorneys seem to have missed Sept. 8 deadlines to revise their lawsuits — a point made by GEICO, which is seeking attorney’s fees from many of the two dozen cases’ plaintiffs — but the cases appear to be active.
In other states, the Eaves attorneys have revised collision repairers’ cases following initial Presnell dismissals; those have not seen appeals as of Monday.
Those include Alpine v. State Farm (Utah), Brewer v. State Farm (Tennessee), AASP v. State Farm and AASP v. Erie (Pennsylvania), Legends v. State Farm (Arizona), Kallemeyn v. 21st Century (Illinois), Only One v. State Farm (Alabama), Capitol v. State Farm (Mississippi), Indiana Autobody Association v. State Farm (Indiana) and Parker Auto Body v. State Farm and Southern Collision v. State Farm (Louisiana).
The amended complaints in those instances (see examples here) certainly provide greater detail regarding their steering and antitrust allegations. Both Presnell and Magistrate Judge Thomas Smith, who reviews filings and makes recommendations to him, had complained the initial lawsuits were too vague.
However, the amended complaint in A&E failed to satisfy Presnell — with disastrous results — and while the other amended litigation contains state-specific allegations, its entire template is identical to the unsuccessful Florida action.
Leif’s v. State Farm (Oregon), hasn’t been amended — or appealed — but it has dropped some of the smaller insurance companies from the defendant lists in a series of settlements filed by the Leif’s attorneys (which are not affiliated with Eaves Law Firm). The settlements seem to entail more or less a clean break: Both sides pay their own attorneys fees, and the defendant goes home.
That case, initially dismissed Aug. 17, also missed a Sept. 8 deadline to amend the complaint, but sole plaintiff Leif’s Auto Collision had unsuccessfully asked Presnell to reconsider one part of his ruling during that time.
If an amended complaint is possible, the shops might benefit from the removal of certain defendants for which it doesn’t yet have specific steering examples. Presnell blasted the A&E lawsuit for including every defendant into every allegation without arguments supporting each inclusion. So paring this and other cases to the defendants for which the shop has an alleged steering anecdote might keep the judge happy.
Crawford’s v. State Farm (filed in Illinois by Pennsylvania and North Carolina auto body shops), a slightly different case, hasn’t yet been dismissed once.
The executive director of the Indiana Autobody Association expressed confidence last week when asked about the Florida ruling. But even if the litigation effort ultimately fails, he wrote in an email, consumers now know what could be going on behind the scenes at their body shop and insurer.
“It really was not a surprise, and it was a possible scenario in the litigation process … it however is not over by a long stretch … unfortunately the media looks to find headlines that imply defeat and most in the Industry don’t read anything but a headline and then make assumptions …,” IABA Executive Director Tony Passwater wrote.
“The litigation will continue, but the most important part of THE MOVEMENT is still in full swing, and this is where the main stream and industry specific media could be of help… we need to continue to educate the consumer of how insurers are promoting lower quality repairs that actually does place them at risk … we have hundreds of documented claims, videos, and audio conversations showing this … consumers need to be educated, but they first need to understand why they should care …”
The litigation has prompted a great deal of coverage from state and national media (see examples here) — not just the trade press. Several metro areas television stations and newspapers have examined the allegations , and “Anderson Cooper 360” scrutinized insurers’ actions in a February broadcast.
Matt Parker, owner of Monroe, La.-based Parker Auto Body and a Republican candidate for insurance commissioner, expressed some pessimism about when asked about the Florida ruling.
“I’m not very encouraged with it,” Parker said earlier this month. “… It looks like the deck’s kind of stacked against it”
He said litigation could still be necessary to alleviate repairers’ situation, and suggested small-claims court might be one avenue — “they need to take their businesses back.”
“We’re tired of not getting paid,” Parker said.
He questioned insurers’ refusal to accept repairers which charge different amounts than a single designated market rate, pointing out that consumers are amenable to different prices at different quality levels of restaurant.
“Why are we all lumped into one basket?” Parker said.