The Honorable Judge Gregory A. Presnell, senior U.S. district judge for the U.S. Court for the Middle District, has filed an order in an effort to attain more specific information relative to the lawsuit initially filed by 20-plus Florida auto body repair shops against dozens of insurers.
In an effort to gain a more thorough understanding of the issues leading to the lawsuit, Presnell dismissed the case without prejudice allowing the plaintiff attorneys to modify, amend and re-plead the complaints to meet the court’s request. The judge has asked that the plaintiffs provide a more detailed complaint listing specific actions or inactions by each of the defendant insurers, along with the specific damages relative to each, on or before June 27, 2014.
In another ruling, Presnell dismissed the defendant insurers’ request for the court to dismiss the repairers’ lawsuits which, by way of the judge’s ruling, were “moot” and summarily denied through the judge’s dismissal.
This lawsuit is similar to those filed in Mississippi and other states by Attorney John Eaves Jr. earlier this year on behalf of a group of body shop owners who accused more than three dozen insurance companies of conspiring, through DRPs, to manipulate labor rates and other shop charges to reduce their claim costs.
The suit alleges that State Farm is at the heart of an effort by insurers to suppress labor rates, coerce shops into accepting less than actual or market costs for materials, refuse to pay for many required procedures and punish non-compliant shops through steering. The suit alleges these actions constitute tortious interference, unjust enrichment and violation of Sherman Act price-fixing and boycotting prohibitions. These actions, the suit states, place the shops in "the indefensible position of either performing incomplete or substandard repairs and thus breaching their obligations to automotive owners to return vehicles to pre-accident condition, or performing labor and expending materials without proper compensation."
The suit also seeks an injunction prohibiting the insurers from "directing, advising or otherwise suggesting that any person or firm do business or refuse to do business" with any of the named shops; using boycott, coercion or flat-rate manuals to establish or control repair shop pricing; and requiring the shops to participate in any parts procurement program (i.e. PartsTrader) and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages suffered by the represented shops.