Florida Body Shop Loses Slander Suit Against State Farm - BodyShop Business

Florida Body Shop Loses Slander Suit Against State Farm

Shop claimed it lost customers due to false statements by insurer, but judge says slander not proven.

A Florida judge ruled recently that although State Farm may have made defamatory statements about Gunder’s Auto Center of Lakeland, Fla., 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.

In a decision filed in U.S. District Court on March 26, Judge Steven Merryday dismissed Gunder’s Auto Center’s lawsuit against State Farm. In the suit, Gunder’s 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 noted that Gunder’s Auto Center and State Farm have a contentious history – the shop was terminated from State Farm’s DRP program in 2004, and case records also showed that Gunder’s objected to State Farm’s method of compensating repair shops for paint and materials.

In the case, State Farm argued that its communications with insureds about Gunder’s were privileged because the insurer was communicating with its claimants “about an issue in which they have a common interest – the prompt and full repayment of repairs,” the court decision states.

Although Merryday agreed that the communications between State Farm and claimants were privileged, he noted that they could still be considered slanderous if Gunder’s could prove State Farm acted with “express malice,” meaning, “ill will, hostility or evil intention to defame and injure.”

The shop submitted affidavits from several claimants who said they would have used Gunder’s for repairs had it not been for statements about the shop made by State Farm. Regarding State Farm’s claims that Gunder’s overcharges for repairs, the shop submitted proof that State Farm routinely paid for repairs at other shops that charged rates similar to or higher than Gunder’s.

In the end, Merryday ruled that the evidence provided by Gunder’s was insufficient and failed to show “express malice” on the part of State Farm: “The plaintiff fails to present evidence showing that State Farm’s ‘primary motive’ was to harm the plaintiff rather than to further State Farm and the insured’s mutual interest in securing timely, quality repairs to the insured’s automobile,” the decision stated.

More information:

• Download a copy of the court decision

You May Also Like

Body Bangin’ Southeast Collision Conference: Create a Bulletproof Repair Plan with Danny & Kyle

Live from the Southeast Collision Conference, Micki Woods interviews Kyle Motzkus and Danny Gredinberg on building a repair plan supported by facts.

Micki Woods, master marketer for collision repair shops and owner of Micki Woods Marketing, is kicking off a series of daily podcasts from the Carolinas Collision Association's 2024 Southeast Collision Conference. This series is sponsored by Lombard Equipment, which offers a premier line of automotive collision repair equipment for all your OEM certification needs.

Body Bangin’ Southeast Collision Conference: To Calibrate or Not to Calibrate with Greg Peeters

Live from the Southeast Collision Conference, Micki Woods interviews Greg Peeters of Car ADAS on what it takes to do an accurate calibration.

Body Bangin’ Southeast Collision Conference: Building Value in Your Business with Matt DiFrancesco

Live from the Southeast Collision Conference, Micki Woods interviews Matt DiFrancesco on how to make your business as valuable as possible.

Body Bangin’ Southeast Collision Conference: Future-proof Your Shop with Mike Anderson

Live from the Southeast Collision Conference, Micki Woods interviews Mike Anderson on finding the formula for future success.

Body Bangin’: Taking the Gloves Off with Clay Hoberecht

Micki Woods interviews Best Body Shop Owner and Vehicle Care RockStar Clay Hoberecht on how he stands out in a crowded industry.

Other Posts
Body Bangin’: Are You Ready for the Southeast Collision Conference?

Micki Woods interviews Jordan Hendler and Josh Kent about the upcoming Southeast Collision Conference May 16-18, 2024 in Greensboro, N.C.

Body Bangin’: Hidden Gems to Grow Your Business with Rick Selover

Micki Woods interviews collision consultant Rick Selover on things you can do to immediately impact your person, body and business.

Body Bangin’: NORTHEAST Show Highlights with Ken Miller

Micki Woods interviews AASP/NJ President Ken Miller on highlights from the NORTHEAST Show.

Body Bangin’: Overcoming Common Shop Challenges with Kyle Motzkus

Micki Woods interviews Kyle Motzkus of Hunter Auto Body on common challenges collision shops face.