North State Custom, a Westchester-based auto body shop owned by Greg Coccaro, has emerged victorious in the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, against Progressive and several of its affiliates paving the way for deceptive acts and practices claims against auto insurance companies that divert policyholders away from repair shops outside their favored networks.
North State sued Progressive under New York’s deceptive acts and practices statute, General Business Law section 349, for misleading consumers into taking their damaged vehicles away from North State to competing body shops within Progressive’s “network.” North State’s suit alleges that the insurance company coaxed customers away by maligning the shop’s work and pricing.
In North State Autobahn v. Progressive Insurance, the Second Department’s ruling, denying Progressive’s motion for summary judgment and allowing North State’s suit to go forward, confirmed a business’ standing to recover for direct harm caused to it by another business’ deceptive acts and practices even if that business is a competitor. Justice Robert Miller, writing for a unanimous panel, held that North State’s allegations concerning Progressive’s acts depriving consumers of their choice of body shop satisfied the statute’s requirement that the deceptive acts at issue have an impact on consumers at large. The court further held that the law does not require that North State identify specific consumers who were harmed.
The court also rejected Progressive’s argument that North State’s injury was merely derivative of that of the injured consumers, finding that North State adequately alleged direct harm the instant customers were misled into taking their vehicles to a network shop, regardless of whether such customers ultimately suffered pecuniary injury. The fact that North State was a business competitor and not the consumer in the transaction was held to be irrelevant for purposes of standing under the statute, under which punitive damages and attorneys’ fees are recoverable.
"This is a significant decision that enables businesses to pursue ‘deceptive acts and practices’ claims in business-to-business disputes even between competitors that have an impact on consumers at large," said Dennis Artese, a shareholder at Anderson Kill & Olick, the law firm that represented North State. “That’s critically important because it allows well-funded businesses to police deceptive practices where the state attorney general does not, and where individual consumers cannot, because they just do not have the financial means to fight an insurance goliath like Progressive in the legal system.”
Along with Artese, North State was represented by Finley Harckham of Anderson Kill and solo practitioners Anthony Mamo and Richard P. Stone.