In response to Gunder’s Auto Center’s request for appeal of a Florida court’s recent summary judgment, the Federal Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Ga., ordered State Farm to undergo mediation with Gunder’s to bring a satisfactory resolution to the shop’s tortious interference and slander claims against the insurer.
“If you’ve read recent articles by some industry writers, they’ve made it sound as if we lost our case against State Farm and the matter was over and done with,” says Ray Gunder, founder of the 42-year-old family owned and operated shop in Lakeland, Fla. “It would appear that some writers’ intent was to vindicate State Farm’s actions and to discourage other repairers from stepping up and defending their good names and their businesses. Our case is far from over. We got knocked back a bit, but not down or out.”
The initial decision handed down March 26 stated that although State Farm may have made defamatory statements about Gunder’s, the shop failed to prove that the insurer’s primary motive in making such statements was to harm the shop rather than further its own cause.
Gunder’s had alleged that State Farm “intentionally and unjustifiably interfered with [Gunder’s] relationships with its customers” by falsely stating to insureds that the shop overcharged for repairs and completed repairs in an untimely, inefficient and substandard manner. The judge, however, ruled that the evidence provided by Gunder’s was insufficient and failed to show “express malice” on the part of State Farm. But Gunder now says he has uncovered evidence to the contrary.
“The slander allowed us a great deal of discovery and, through many hours of depositions and review of acquired documentation, we uncovered extensive evidence to support our claims,” Gunder says. “This is far from over; we just need our day in court to allow a jury of our peers to decide who did what to whom and why.
“I believe this recent ruling by the Appellate Court is telling State Farm that our case indeed has merit and ‘You’d better make this go away or else.’ [The court] could have merely declined to address it, but they didn’t. This issue is far from over, as some would like others to believe. We have a great deal of time and resources invested, and I’m not giving up until we have exhausted every avenue of the legal system to reconcile the damages and harm State Farm has caused our family, my business, my employees and our customers.”
The mediation is currently scheduled for June 10 in Florida.